It seems like many martial artists and jiu jitsu athletes with ambitious goals tend to neglect the importance of visualization. Although disciplined and consistent hard work is commonly understood, the creation of the lifestyle you desire through visualization is often ignored in a ‘hustle and grind’ mentality of hardcore BJJ athletes. This article will dive deep into how you can utilize the power of visualization to your advantage when preparing for competitions or improving your skills and other aspects of life.
By the end of this short thought-experiment, you will understand the difference goal setting and intentionally visualizing can make on your progression as a martial artist.
The Power of Visualization in Martial Arts
I’m sure we’ve all had dreams before. Not just the ones that occur when we sleep. The idealization of the perfect life that keeps rising to the mind in boring lectures or slow drive homes. Whether it be the moment you receive your Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt or perhaps it’s achieving greatness in the MMA cage. Whatever the dream is, no matter how big or small, visualization is the first step to set the intention of progress towards your accomplishments.
Imagine you’re presented with the task of travelling to your dream destination with no map or tour guide. You might not have any idea how to get there but you can imagine what it would be like to be there. Not knowing what your dream location is will make it difficult to create the motivation needed to reach it.
Your coaches will become your tour guides and the map will be drawn through the techniques and skills you acquire. Training partners can be the equivalent to your travel group. The goal destination may differ but if it’s not in the same direction, there will be conflict on how to progress throughout the journey effectively.
Train Your Martial Arts Mind, Recover Your Broken BJJ Body
Mixed martial arts is a combat sport. Injuries can occur if you don’t utilize the helpful recovery protocols to your advantage. Ideally, you’d want to prevent injuries but if they were to occur, it doesn’t mean you are restricted in becoming a better martial artist. Let me explain…
When you are at a jiu jitsu class and the professor or instructor teaches a new technique during a demonstration, it is often taught with the students watching before practicing themselves. The physical repetition in jiu jitsu is needed to create the muscle memory that allows for a reactive execution of a BJJ move, but it often starts with students being still in their movements to allow for the mind to repeat the demonstration.
If you are injured or overtrained, it may be a better option to briefly continue to train your mind while you allow your body to rest and rebuild itself stronger. It seemed to have worked well for me as I finished a tough BJJ class but still wanted to learn more. I came across some secret BJJ moves through the Submission Shark Instagram account and noticed a technique being taught by a black belt. This move has become one of my most successful submissions in sparring/rolling sessions.
I remember repeating each step and movement and visualized myself performing the jiu jitsu move. I gave it a try the next day and it worked perfectly! Now, I’m not saying that you only need to watch online videos all day to get better at martial arts such as jiu-jitsu. But this experience opened my mind to learning martial arts in alternative ways. Find a balance between body and mind and let your spirit be the guide to visualize yourself accomplishing your goals.
How BJJ Athletes & Professional MMA Fighters Use Visualization
Structure. As explained by Nattie Boss, a BJJ brown belt and the creator of bodybyboss.com. She teaches an effective training schedule called ‘training undulation’. This allows for amplified rest and recovery as well as creates the energy required through optimized sleep, nutrition, and training intensity, and routines.
The BJJ community is filled with many ambitious athletes that prefer to train multiple times a week and have little time to set the intention of their dream destination. If you follow a similar schedule as the training undulation, you can allow visualization to occur during rest activities such as yoga and meditation.
Another way to utilize visualization is to drill the BJJ moves in your head for some extra repetitions immediately after the jiu jitsu classes are over.
"Never stop believing that you can fulfill your dreams," - Jose Aldo
What If My BJJ Goals Aren’t To Compete and I Don’t Want To Be An MMA Fighter?
Visualization isn’t limited to professional MMA fighters or jiu jitsu athletes training for world championships. If you are a hobbyist and just enjoy the art form, you can also visualize yourself achieving your first stripe on your new jiu jitsu white belt or how you would like to look and feel with better fitness and less stress.
Whatever the intention may be or the outcome of the goal, structuring your lifestyle to include even just a few moments of visualization can help you set a destination as well as recalibrate your internal desire to reach your desired place in life.
Ask yourself these two questions regarding your martial arts and BJJ journey
These questions can also be applied to any aspect of life as the lessons learned in Brazilian jiu jitsu and other forms of martial arts often translate off the mats.
- When you are reaching near your goals, what would your life look like?
- When the journey is over, how would you like to be remembered?
Set these two intentions and continue to pursue your life with these ideas in mind. By now you might be thinking, “Okay, this is cool motivation and all but is there any science to back this up?”
The Science of Visualization: Martial Arts Benefits
Mindfulness has been a large part of many martial arts cultures and now science has some reason to support this ancient practice. The benefits of visualization for high-performance athletes reside in the insula.
The insula is a part of the brain that plays a role in body representation. This means that those with a larger insula have been shown to have better cognition, memory and perception when it comes to body movements. Charles Garfield, author of the book Peak Performance: Mental Training Techniques of the World's Greatest Athletes explains how excess physical training can be replaced with visualization, mental rehearsal techniques, and goal setting.
Apparently, through mindfulness and visualization, this part of the brain can be stimulated resulting in a correlation between this method of training and improved athletic performance.
Self-awareness plays a vital role when it comes to finding the perfect balance between mental and physical balance. Understanding when you are slacking off or overtraining can be game-changing for optimizing your training and progression as a martial artist. Similar to the philosophy of flow training in jiu jitsu, too much or too little of one aspect of training can hinder an athlete.
Visualization in striking arts such as Boxing and Muay Thai
Shadowboxing is an individual practice that can sharpen striking techniques. This beneficial training method is great for flow training and staying active on rest days. Its intensity can be easily lowered and raised. However, it can also train the mind by creating fighting scenarios and different variables of combinations in your attacks and help you understand where you might leave yourself exposed if you were in a fight or a sparring session.
This is one of my favourite forms of boxing and muay thai training as it requires no equipment and because you are left without a training partner, you are left with visualizing your opponent in front of you and how you are to approach any imaginative opposition. If you are boxing training for a southpaw opponent, but all your sparring partners are natural orthodox fighters, it may be helpful to create the best southpaw opponent in your mind and see how you would approach this problem as if the visualization were real.
How jiu jitsu practitioners and BJJ athletes and other grapplers can benefit from visualization.
John Danaher, head coach of the ‘Danaher death squad’, a notoriously known group of high-level no-gi BJJ grapplers in New York explains the benefits of this concept in one of his solo drill instructional videos. He uses the example of how high-level strikers utilize visualization to better their practice and why it is also helpful for Brazilian jiu jitsu training.
Although his expertise has been made famous in the no-gi jiu jitsu community, this philosophy still applies when training in the BJJ gi. Next time you are practicing BJJ drills at home, make sure to visualize how it would look and feel in a real combat situation.
As explained by the BJJ black belt, it’s better to train with intention rather than aimlessly flopping around on the mats with no goal in mind. Although it can be difficult with grappling arts such as jiu-jitsu as it requires a lot of physical connection with another practitioner, it can still be achieved to an effective degree.
If you understand the body mechanics of basic BJJ moves, it can be helpful to visualize how those BJJ drills will translate to sparring or in BJJ tournaments.
Searching for more Jiu Jitsu & BJJ articles?
If you enjoyed this article, I’d suggest checking out the full interview with Nattie Boss to receive a better understanding of how to structure your life as a martial artist and jiu jitsu athlete. Along with knowing how to use visualization, the regular maintenance of the fascia system can be a gamechanger in your BJJ journey.
Submission Shark publishes new BJJ blogs and martial arts articles consistently. If you’d like to learn more, feel free follow this brand on social media and join the shark frenzy e-mail list.
Set your intentions now and answer the two visualization exercises in the comments below. It seems like everyone that reads this will have answered them in their mind, share below and flow with the sharks. Please consider shopping for a brand new Submission Shark jiu jitsu gi or other premium BJJ gear if you’d like to support these jiu jitsu articles.