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Visualization: Vital Tool for Fighting Mastery

During my martial arts competition career, there were many times, during practice and prior to a fight, that I closed my eyes and “saw” myself performing my kata or fighting techniques just prior to the actual competition. If nothing else, I think it calmed me down, but little did I know how much of an impact it truly had. Many years later, I began to see and read articles on how effective visualization was at improving skills and subsequently, performance.

I was recently watching a NASCAR race (don’t judge me) and saw a tire changer standing on the wall with his air gun prior to his driver’s pit stop. He was rehearsing his moves as if he were removing each lug nut. Some years ago. I recall watching the Olympics and during the high jump competition, one of the athletes was preparing for his jump. As he got ready, I saw his head bobbing up and down as if he was “seeing” himself taking every step in his run up to the bar. You see golfers do this all the time (Yes, I watch golf too – don’t play; it’s relaxing. Again, don’t judge) when they swing several times before a shot or a putt.

In both cases, these individuals were using ‘visualization’ to help them improve their performance. Visualization is basically any technique or process of creating a mental image or intention of what you want to happen or feel or do in reality. An athlete can use this technique to "intend" an outcome of a race or training session. We all visualize although we may not be aware of it. I remember as a child, we use to visualize all the time, we just called it ‘pretending’ or ‘make believe’. Bottom line - we used our imagination but, we always had a good time!

So, the big question is, “Does visualization really work”? And, maybe more importantly, will it work for the combat arts? First, you should consider that many, if not all, top athletes use it. Why? Two reasons – First, it’s easy and can be done anywhere. Second, it works. There have been dozens of studies done but two examples [1] jump out at me.

In 1996, Natan Sharansky beat Garry Kasparov in chess. What is remarkable is that Kasparov was the world champion chess player at the time, while Sharansky had spent the previous nine years in a Russian prison with no access to a chess set. In order to pass the time in prison, Sharansky played chess in his mind. He visualized it!

The second example is:

In a study that was published in the scientific journal Neuropsychologia, researchers found that practicing a task by visualizing it is nearly as beneficial as actually performing the task. But the benefits of visualizing are not just mental. Participants in the study were divided into two groups. The first group visualized lifting weights while the second group actually lifted weights. The first group gained an increase in muscle mass that was nearly half of the muscle mass gained by the participants who actually lifted weights.

There are many other examples but suffice to say that visualization has proven its worth as a viable training tool. This is good news especially for those of us who have limited time to get to the range and put rounds down range. Generally, when we do get to the range, we often believe that shooting a ‘bunch’ means we are getting better. In truth, if we don’t get to the range often and then have a high round count when we do, we generally make mistakes (‘range rust’) and tend to reinforce those mistakes instead of working on correcting them.

How can we practice visualization? The key to visualization success is seeing success, never failure. Top athletes would never see themselves failing – missing a shot, striking out, dropping a pass. Visualization is always about doing it perfectly so that your mind and body can memorize the visual and kinesthetic, hands-on movements when you need to be your best.

So, how can we practice with visualization? Here is one method that you can use to visualize you drawing your gun from concealment [2]:

Once per day, when it’s quiet and you’re alone, sit and close your eyes. Spend five to ten minutes walking your mind through your process from concealed carry to full draw on target. (We have written and posted before about a recommended draw method in detail and we review that in our defensive handgun courses).

You may have your own method of the draw, but here is one you can use:

· Clear your clothing.

· Grip your handgun securely.

· Make a smooth, safe, and fast draw from the holster.

· Keep your finger out of the trigger until you’re on target and ready to fire.

· Move your off hand to your gun hand and bring them together in a perfect grip.

· Get both eyes on the target.

· Quickly align the sight picture, while focusing on the front sight clear and the target now slightly blurred.

· Place your finger on the trigger as you make the decision if necessary.

· Repeat.

You can also create a similar visualization process for success at the range involving the following:

· Sight alignment/picture

· Breath control

· Hand positioning

· Grip strength

· Stance

· Trigger finger positioning and pressure

This is just a brief overview of how using visualization can benefit your shooting skills. I have used it in both my martial arts training as well as my firearms training. I don’t get to the range to really train as much as I like, so dry-fire, AirSoft and visualization make up a large portion of my training regimen. When I do get in a range session, I feel confident my skills haven’t suffered as much as I thought they would.


The Director's Desk

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