Personally, I find mental practice more challenging than physical training: the mind wanders ... So here are my top suggestions for mental training:In one of the most well-known studies on creative visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules (as described in Karate Of Okinawa: Building Warrior Spirit by Robert Scaglione):Group 1 = 100% physical training;
Group 2 - 75% physical training with 25% mental training;
Group 3 - 50% physical training with 50% mental training;
Group 4 - 25% physical training with 75% mental training.Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, performed the best.
- Go to class! Training in the martial arts develops the mind and body from the get-go. Once a technique is familiar, don't go on auto-pilot:
- Observe: Notice fine details.
- Experiment: Explore variations.
- Reflect: Make notes, start a journal or a blog.
- Practice with an imaginary partner. [Your movement is real; your partner is visualised.]
- Practice individual techniques. Visualise fine details, but also practice the flow of the technique.
- Alternate between regular (migi) and opposite-side (hidari) versions of a technique. I quite like to do one rep migi, two reps hidari, three reps migi, etc. rather than one for one repetition.
- Practice combinations of techniques: you attack, visualise your imaginary partner evading, you do a suitable follow-up.
- Practice counters to techniques: your imaginary partner attacks, you evade and counter-attack.
- Pure visualisation: exercises as per the imaginary partner.
At first the aim is to reinforce what you learn in class and achieve basic competency. With regular imaginary practice deeper observations will arise: these can and should be validated in class. Increased fluency is another benefit, again testable with real partners.
There's a saying that "perfect practice makes perfect". Conversely there is a danger that poor practice can lock in bad habits. For this reason it's important not to eschew regular training for pure visualisation: rather start slowly and go gently.
I should also mention that for the more advanced practitioners teaching, judging contests and assessing candidates are all great forms of mental training that have the bonus of helping out others.