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Mind over Matter

"If you can dream it, you can do it" - Walt Disney

We've all read or heard about the fabled mind control skills of the martial arts. Movies abound with martial artists that levitate, move objects, or control others, just with the power of their minds. The "Jedi mind tricks" of the Star Wars movies is merely another example of these legends. Hocus pocus, you're probably thinking. But what if learning to use your mind could supercharge your training--and you wouldn't need to train for a lifetime, you could apply your new mental skills immediately?

The mind-body connection is known to many in sports, but is possibly strongest in the martial arts. Think of the focus and concentration needed to execute a difficult brick break, for example, or to perform a form in front of a tournament audience and a panel of judges. Executing a technique with power and finesse requires a great awareness of your physical abilities and the mental concentration to control them.

Mental Rehearsal

One of the easiest ways to improve your performance is to use visualization. Anything is easy once you've done it lots of times; riding a bike, public speaking, or your favorite kata (form). Perhaps you've only had a limited amount of practice with one particular form. You can still perform as if you've done the form for decades if you use visualization to rehearse.

I find it easiest to do visualization when I'm relaxed. I sit comfortably, close my eyes, and imagine that I'm executing the technique or form. I go through all of the motions in my mind, "seeing" my feet in front of me as I throw each kick. For me, visualization is most effective when I've observed a more expert person demonstrating the same technique or form; I can imagine myself moving my body in the exact same way, even if I don't really know how to just yet. I see the walls of the room I'm performing the technique in; usually I envision myself in my usual workout room--you might want to imagine yourself in your home dojo or kwoon (training hall). And I execute each technique flawlessly. Although I might still be learning how to perform them, in my visualizations I am perfect!

Sometimes I view myself as if I was an audience, or a video camera taping myself. This point of view is particularly effective after viewing martial arts videos, as you are mimicking the same point of view of the videotape. However, this second person viewpoint is not as effective overall as the first person viewpoint described earlier, where you visualize executing the techniques from the viewpoint of your own eyes and senses.

To really make the rehearsal "real", use all of your imaginary self's senses during the rehearsal. Feel the contractions of your muscles as you throw that punch. Hear the pop of your crisp uniform as your kick arcs through the air.

Visualization with Power

One way to power up your visualization is to add scenarios. Rather than rehearse a nice, comfortable, training situation in the safety of your own dojo, introduce "real" opponents to your visualizations. Picture yourself defending against an attacker at the bus stop, or in the parking garage of your office. Would your environment limit the number of techniques you can choose from? If you were defending yourself on a moving subway train, would you envision yourself throwing a spinning wheel kick or using a takedown?

Change your attacker, too. Make it a big burly guy one time, and a gang of fast street toughs the next. What skills would come into play in each situation? How would you fight differently? How would you use your imagined environment to your advantage?

Another benefit of scenario visualization is the cultivation of a fighting mindset. Not only are your techniques flawless when you visualize, but you are courageous and calm. It's hard to know exactly how you would react in a crisis situation where you have to defend yourself. Mental rehearsal of such events before they actually occur--if ever--will prepare you for action.

Mind Control

Using your mind to prepare your body is not limited to the martial arts, of course. In modern times, visualization and mental rehearsal was first popularized after the success of Soviet weightlifters in the 1970's and 1980's. Today, almost all elite athletes use mental rehearsal to give them an extra edge. Even if you're not an Olympian, you too, can apply visualization to give yourself an edge. Just close your eyes, and relax.

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