When we think of karate training, we typically think of the physical act of training–the sweat, the effort, the pain, etc. People will often mention the mental aspect of training, but they are usually still talking about what happens while you are physically training; things like focus, intent, and envisioning your opponent. There are different types of mental training, however, which you can do while you are not physically training. The two most valuable, in my opinion, are research and visualization.
|My physical karate library, which is much smaller than my digital karate library|
Karate is not only a physical pursuit. In order to truly understand karate, how it works, and where it comes from, you really need to do more than just train in the dojo and practice at home. You have to research it! Research can be done through a variety of mediums–books, articles, websites, videos, interviews, etc. All of these are avenues that take you to information you might not otherwise have learned. They can provide historical context and clues about what karate used to be, and what you should be striving to make it. They can give you new ideas for how a technique might be done or used to make it more effective. They can even teach you new drills or techniques to improve your karate.
Does this type of research replace training? Of course not! It is merely a supplement–just like the strength training or body conditioning you might do to improve your karate. Without actually training, you won’t be able to make use of what you’ve gained in your research, so you must do both! Read books and articles, look at photographs, watch videos, and ask questions. Once you’ve taken in that information, look at how your perspective changes when you are on the mats. Try (safely) or ask your instructor about some of the exercises and drills you might have seen, and see how they work for you. Explore your own ideas after being inspired by the work of others.
|Excerpt from the OMNI study|
As much as we might hate to admit it, there are times when we cannot train–perhaps you are sick, or injured, or even waiting in a place where it would be unwise to act out fighting imaginary foes (airports, government offices, etc.). In these situations, when you would like to be physically training, but can’t, you can still train mentally. Just recently, a study was done at Ohio University and published in The Journal of Neurophysiology, which showed that mentally visualizing physical actions when you are unable to actually do them can help you maintain that physical function. The idea isn’t totally new, but this is the first I have heard of it being put to the test.
|Sports psychology mental skills pyramid from OMNI|
Many high-level athletes (including martial artists) are taught to envision themselves winning whatever contest they participate in. Not only can this type of mental training help you maintain your skills when you are unable to train, they might actually be able to improve your performance when partnered with regular physical training. Motobu Choki once said “when I just think about performing a kata, even when I’m seated, I break a sweat.” I have found that, when I mentally visualize myself practicing kata or working kata applications–especially when I’m exploring new ideas for kata applications–my heart starts to race and I start to sweat, just as Motobu said. When I get out on the mat and finally have a chance to work on the techniques I’ve been envisioning, I feel much more comfortable having done so. The mind’s connection to your body is an amazing thing, and you should make use of it!