I can’t stress this enough. Learn to visualize.
For one, visualizing helps us see what we’re doing. When we’re performing a kata, we’re not just throwing our arms and legs wildly into the air. In our minds, our intent should be to picture attackers in our mind who intend to hurt us. It is our responsibility to make sure that does not happen. We shouldn’t just memorize a series of movements.
Secondly, visualizing helps us see where we are going. This is how we make it through the form. Think to yourself if you’ve ever been doing a form, had a brainfart, and forgot where you were in the movements. There’s a good chance you thought to yourself, “This isn’t the right place for me to be in. I know where I need to be for my next movement, and this isn’t going to help me get there.”
In some respects, we should be exhausted after performing a kata because, in our minds, we have just eliminated several attackers that wanted to cause us harm. We’ve fought a handful of attackers in a matter of 45 seconds.
I was inspired to write this post today after an article I read at YMAA. Yang’s Martial Arts Association has been around since the 1980s, and YMAA is a leading publisher in the martial arts industry. The article caught my eye because it focused on tai chi chuan, an art I’ve practiced now for a year and a half. But even though karate and tai chi chuan come from different traditions, the methods of visualization the two use are very similar:
“Even when you can do the form very well, it may still be dead. To make it come alive you must develop a sense of enemy. When practicing the solo sequence, you must imagine there is an enemy in front of you, and you must clearly feel his movements and his interaction with you. Your ability to visualize realistically will be greatly aided if you practice the techniques with a partner. There are times when you will not use visualizations, but every time you do the sequence your movement must be flavored with this knowledge of how you interact with an opponent. The more you practice with this imaginary enemy before you, the more realistic and useful your practice will be. If you practice with a very vivid sense of enemy, you will learn to apply your qi and jin (power) naturally, and your whole spirit will melt into the sequence. This is not unlike performing music. If one musician just plays the music and the other plays it with his whole heart and mind, the two performances are as different as night and day. In one case the music is dead, while in the other it is alive and touches us.” –Dr. Yang as quoted by David Silver, Yang Tai Chi for Beginners, Jan. 30, 2012