June 2008

Using Visualization as Part of the Learning Repetition Process in Martial Arts Training

One of the most frustrating aspects of learning any complex motor skill, such as a martial arts movement, can be the amount of repetition required for the skill to move from the clumsy and slow conscious incompetence level of skill to the unconscious competence level where we just seem to perform the movement without thinking.

Research has shown that the first 6 hours is most important in the learning and retention of a new skilled movement. During this time the skill should be practiced in suitable sized chunks, with attention to the principles and main points of execution, and performed in a deliberate and precise manner under controlled conditions.

Repetition is absolutely essential for the acquisition of any skill and, while there is no replacement for the hands-on mechanical drilling of a martial arts movement on pads or with a partner, the amount of time required for drilling can be very demanding on the average student. The majority of people who practice martial arts, whether it be kickboxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, escrima karate or mixed martial arts, train as a pastime or for reasons that enhance and add to their lives, aside from their everyday affairs. Therefore, time to drill the new skills adequately enough can be tough to find in their busy lives.

Another methodology that can assist, with the learning of motor skills, is that of visualization or visuo motor behavioral rehearsal (VMBR) training. Several studies have demonstrated the power of this technique and it is useful not only for the learning of new skills but also the improvement of existing motor movements. The techniques have become standard in the training regimes of elite athletes throughout the world.

A study by Dr Blaslotto, at the University of Chicago, demonstrated the power of visualization in the development of basketball players. In the study he divided basketball players into 3 groups: One group threw no baskets for one month, a second group threw practice baskets for 1 hour a day every day for one month and a third group just visualized, for an hour a day every day for the month, throwing baskets.

The 3 groups were then compared in their ability to throw baskets. The first group, that had not practiced, showed no improvement in their ability to throw baskets. The second group, that had practiced throwing baskets, improved by 24%. Most surprising was the third group, that had only visualized throwing baskets, improved by 23% in their ability to throw baskets!
Another study, carried out over 18 days, by Lohr and Scogin (1998) using VMBR with relaxation and prematch anxiety imagery noted significant improvements in mental and sports performance when compared to a control group that actually deteriorated in their performance during the same period.
There are many other studies supporting the use of visualization in the practice of skilled movements indicating that it not only provides an essential methodology for elite athletes competing at the top of their game, but also provides those students that practice sports, especially martial arts, with a technique that can facilitate their learning. It can do this by giving them a method to visually repetition a newly developed skill, thus effectively increasing the amount of practice that they can perform.

In a blog I wrote back in December 2006 I outlined an NLP/neurosemantic technique that works extremely well for the visualization process. By taking some time out each day,when you have the time that will not be interrupted, to visualize some aspect of your game or new technique that you wish to develop, you can greatly enhance your skill base in whatever discipline you wish. This also has the further value of going far beyond martial arts or sports and can be used for learning any material.

So get to it and make it part of your training program.

Lohr B, Scogin F. (1998) Journal of Sport Behavior. Vol. 21 (3) pp 206+

Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895)
Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)