Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
April 22, 2016

It’s All In Your Imagination

Last week we considered the social-emotional aspect of training emphasizing that it is not only the physical component of martial arts that is important but also the spiritual component. This week, we shall consider an aspect of third and quite possibly most significant component of training: the mental component.  There are many aspects of the mental component of training; today we will touch on the aspect called imagination.

If you have trained at the Western New York Karate Center, I know you have heard Hanshi Ed or Hanshi Jim say “your instructor should be able to see your opponent” when you are training in kata.  I dare say that extends beyond the practice of kata to the practice of kihon as well. As one trains, one should be visualizing the opponent and the action the opponent is taking that one is initially responding to and then visualizing how the opponent would react to each action one takes in response.  One’s imagination of the opponent should be so strong that it can almost truly be seen by others watching you as you train.  Proper imagination of one’s opponents not only helps instructors better evaluate your progress in training, it will definitely improve the quality of your technique; taking wooden or robotic replication of action to a level of visceral and evocative performance.

The importance of imagination in training is not restricted to imagining an opponent.  One should also focus one’s imagination in training solely upon oneself.  As Sensei Jesse Enkamp (KaratebyJesse.com) relates in his “25 Scientific Karate Hacks,” mental visualization, or imagination, appears scientifically supported as a method for improving one’s performance overall. He cited a study reportedly conducted at the University of Chicago where visualization of free throws, without actually physically performing them, was as effective in improving free throws as physically practicing free throws for a month.  That is to say, if we can strongly, clearly imagine how we want to do a technique; we can significantly improve how we actually perform it.

If one has ever attempted to determine a bunkai for a portion of a kata or develop an ippon, often the biggest stumbling block when performing it is first imagining it.  If we cannot first imagine the bunkai or ippon as it is to be performed and the reasons for it, it is almost guaranteed that it will fail to feel realistic; that the bunkai or ippon will be without spirit. Certainly with repetition, one can still find the heart of the technique.  But, employing imagination as a part of this aspect of training will help you find that sense of spirit far faster than through physical repetition alone. 

Certainly the trick here is being confident it what we are imagining. Believing that one is visualizing the best way to perform a technique. I challenge the worrisome to consider that imagining how best to perform a technique, “correct” or not, will nevertheless enhance one’s progress in training far more than not using one’s imagination at all.