Imagery and visualization are two of the most important, yet under-utilized tools a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner can use to facilitate better learning.

The Art of Learning

I first got into mental practice after reading Josh Waitzkin’s book, the Art of Learning. It was an incredible book and in it, he talked about how he recovered very quickly from an injury and attributed it to mentally rehabilitating it using nothing more than visualization and imagery.

Mental practice is the mental rehearsal of a skill that has just been learned when you’re unable to physically rehearse the skill. For example, if you learned a pretty slick transition from mount to the back, you probably won’t be able to practice it on the subway or on the car ride home. So what do you do?

Mentally Practice for Better Acquisition of Motor Skills 

The psychology behind mental practice goes far beyond the behavioral components to motor skills. Studies have shown that:

  • Mental practice combined with physical practice are the best way to learn new skills
  • Will help with rehabilitation in the event you are injured
  • Improve skills involving power and force
  • Facilitate better preparation for actual performance settings

Mental Practice in a Competitive Setting

Before tournaments, I typically devote much more time to meditation and mental practice than I do when I am not in direct preparation. I probably should devote the same amount of mental practice and visualization to all aspects of my training, and this is an area I can still improve on.

Within about 6 weeks leading up to every competition, I end each class by laying flat on the mats and I reflect on my training for the day. I think about the following:

  1. What did I do not so well?
  2. What did I do well?
  3. What did my training partner do well?
  4. What did my training partner not do so well?

You will notice I don’t just think about myself; I think about my training partner as well. 

The reason I do this is to get a better understanding of my training partner and learn from him and what types of strategies and techniques he is implementing to get the best of me. There is an immense psychological component because it helps me to behaviorally prepare better for the next time I face him or her.

When I’m off the mats, at home, I tend to devote about 15 -20 minutes a day, 4 -5 days per week meditating and visualizing the tournament itself. My visualization takes me from the drive/commute to the facility, through the physical preparation to the actual competition, and, most importantly, the incredible meal I eat afterward.

This type of mental preparation helps me take every aspect of competing into account from the anxiety of the commute to the socializing with friends, to the “getting in the zone” time, to the feeling of actually competing.

I do not like there to be surprised so I visualize absolutely EVERYTHING! This is important. 

These techniques work for me, but may not necessarily work for you. Here is a little bit more general five step strategy developed by a sports psychologist, Robert Singer that has been studied and supported by extensive research.

Step 1: Begin to prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.

Step 2: Begin to mentally image the performance

Step 3: Concentrate on very few critical details of your performance

Step 4: Execute the movements in your head

Step 5: Reflect on your performance

(For more reading, click this link)

Also, here is a picture that can help you identify different types of mental practice. Use these techniques and skills and I guarantee you will improve dramatically.

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