I used to think visualization was a bunch of mumbo jumbo.  It seemed too weird and ‘out there’ for me to really pay much attention to, so initially I ignored the concept in my martial arts practice.

Later, when I came across the imagery and visualization so prevalent in Taijiquan, I felt torn.  Was I going to have to abandon logic in order to embrace Taiji’s study methodology?  After all, how could a formless mental construct affect me physically?

TJFit - peace

But then I read the book The Art of Learning (written by Chess Master / Tai Chi push-hands world champion Josh Waitzkin).  In it, Waitzkin talks about how he handled having his right hand in a cast for seven weeks leading up to the US National Push-Hands competition:

“I had an idea that I might be able to keep my right side strong by intense visualization practice. My method was as follows: I did a daily resistance workout routine on my left side, and after every set I visualized the workout passing to the muscles on the right. My arm was in a cast, so there was no actual motion possible— but I could feel the energy flowing into the unused muscles. I admit it was a shot in the dark, but it worked.” (Josh Waitzkin, Art of Learning*)

Although his language still seemed a little iffy (eg ‘feel the energy flowing into the unused muscles,’) there was nothing iffy about the results – he won the tournament.

Anecdotal evidence is nice, but I also wanted to see what the scientists had to say.  I found several different meta-analyses that all agreed that mental practice such as visualization has a positive effect on performance (Source 1, 2, 3).

So now I’m a proselyte to the power of visualization and try to leverage it in my training.  Whether it’s practicing moves in my head or imagining invisible enemies when applying my moves, it’s proven pretty effective for me.  What are your thoughts and experience with using visualization and imagery in training?  Tell us about it below!

*Waitzkin, Josh (2007-05-08). The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence (p. 131). Free Press. Kindle Edition.


About Eric

I'm a positive psychology nerd and I help develop the Daily Zen content for the Online Academy. I'm also an aspiring actor in China, and spend my free time getting beat up by the good guys in movies and TV shows.

5 thoughts on “Visualization

  1. After reading this, I picked up a Kindle copy of, “Art of Learning” and read a few chapters before bed. It looks like a very interesting book. Thanks for sharing!

  2. “The progress of the individual is governed by their ability of perception”
    Lying in hospital Surgical ICU, tubed, tied, restricted, all that one has is visualization.

    Find and explore the area of surgery, the collateral damage, and gently acknowledge it all in its devastated form. Then slowly visualise it in its original, pre-op form, continually – after all there is nothing else to do.

    Embrace the surroundings, the sounds, the agony of the others – blend with it all, become one in it all and feel the LIGHTNESS OF BEING. Then become whole again.
    Even the ‘experts’ were dumbstruck by progress ! DNA, genetic advantage, “lucky” – they are but words. LIFE is the result.
    This “enforced” visualization was the opening of a door to greater fields of this ability. Each day, each class, each movement, they are all part of, and the source of, personal visualisation.
    But how to ‘teach’ others ? One can only encourage and talk about one’s own experience in the hope that some will actually attempt the same.
    Even if only one tries and makes the discovery – it is a giant leap for that one !

  3. I’ve numerous physical issues from martial arts training from a young age. Visualisations are probably the only thing that keeps me sane. One those days where you can barely move, let alone function, to be able to go into a meditative state and ‘imagine’ a sparring session or training, it keeps the muscles and mind connected in a way we take for granted.

    I don’t think it’d be difficult to teach, once people are aware of the mind/muscle connection.

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