Creative Visualization is like a super power. It is the ability to imagine yourself doing something well, then doing that thing just as you’ve imagined. It is used by top performers in athletics and business and it’s practiced by your child during their karate class. Like many things that are learned in the martial arts, it’s not always obvious to them. They practice the skills, but don’t quite know that they are and certainly don’t realize the awesome potential it has to impact their lives.
This is where you as a parent have the opportunity to step in and help them make a connection. You can be the other side of the coin, helping them stretch this skill they’re learning in the dojo into their lives. If you are an adult student of the martial arts keep reading, this all applies to you too. You can translate this skill to your life outside the dojo.
Before we discuss how visualization is learned in the dojo, let’s look at the science. In the book Karate of Okinawa: Building Warrior Spirit with Gan*Soku*Tanden*Riki By Robert Scaglione and William Cummins,they refer to a Russian study done just before the 1980 Olympics. The Olympic athletes were divided into four groups:
- Group 1 received 100% physical training;
- Group 2 received 75% physical training with 25% mental training;
- Group 3 received 50% mental training with 50% physical training;
- Group 4 received 75% mental training with 25% physical training.
The group with the most mental training performed the best. This mental training has been passed down in the martial arts, through kata, for years. This is exactly where it shows up for your child.
It’s not always obvious when a student is using visualization. There are many simple exercises around it that will encourage a quick dip into their minds to see the moves of their kata. One that I like to do is, while they are in front position (at attention with their feet and hands together) I ask them questions about the form: What is right before the eighth strike in the form? What do you do after the third turn? I’ll ask anything that causes them to think about their kata accurately. Getting the answer wrong can have the same value as getting it right because they will redo the form in their minds, correcting it, to verify. All of which causes them to visualize the form in their mind.
You can do this exercise with them at home. Watch them do their kata a few times. Each time pick something out that you can ask them and write it down. The question should cause them to go through the form in their heads. I like things that cause them to count moves. Don’t worry too much about right or wrong. The point is to make them imagine the moves. If you get into a debate, which you probably will, great! You’ve flushed out something you can ask the instructor about. Make it a bet. If you’re right, I’ll take you for ice cream. If I’m right, you take out the garbage for a week.
There is also the full-blown and specific exercise, which amounts to self-hypnosis, or you can think of it as relaxing and focusing. If you’re a “Star Trek Next Generation” fan, you’ll remember the holodeck. The holodeck was a place where the crew of the Enterprise could call up any place or scenario, and interact with is as if they were actually there. Not only did they use it for recreation, it was a place they would practice things or work through scenarios until they got them right.
I’ve got really good news. You have a holodeck sitting right on your shoulders. Here is an exercise you can do with your kids by being the voice that guides them. The exercise is simple. Pick some place cool to do the kata. Why not? They are doing it in their mind. They might as well do it on a mountain top or in the middle of Disney Land. Now travel there or explore the area. If it is a mountain top have them climb the mountain. As they do, make sure they imagine what the environment looks like, feels like, sounds like and even smells like. The more involved their senses, the more immersed in the experience and the more effective the exercise will be.
After a few minutes of exploring the environment, have them do their kata. Remind them that they are in full control, so they can do it perfectly. I don’t want to go into a bunch of visualization techniques here – that’s a whole book. But you can be creative. There are no wrong answers. Have them pretend they are their karate instructor doing the kata. This can cause them to imagine even better technique.
Now when they are nervous about something else – a math test, the school play or that big game – they have this technique. Not only will it help their performance, it’s a great way to relax those nerves. Moreover, they will have become good at visualization because of the practice. When they realize how good they are and how well it works for them, the question will then be, “What do I want to be good at?” The answer will become the next thing they imagine.