Visualization as a teaching tool.

Robert Barton 

Visualization as a teaching tool takes several forms from the very short momentary exercise used to teach a technique to longer sessions that take place with a more formal meditative approach. As Goju instructors we use several of these approaches in our instruction. The term visualization notes the obvious visual component but we prefer to include tactile and auditory components also in order to make the experience as real as possible. A Goju instructor should be ready to employ visualization in order to aid a student any time. In this essay we are going to look at visualization and how it can be used in training. At any time during training when we are working with a single student we can employ a short quick visualization to help in training.  This is used on the surface to help the student learn but we as instructors may also be using it for other things. The first use is simple in that it allows us to guide a student through the technique in his or her imagination and allows the student to have some of the experience of doing it perfectly. This also helps to pattern the skill into the mind and so can cause the skill to be learned faster. Here is a simple scenario of how we can use it in this application.

 A student is experiencing difficulty getting a sidekick down so you walk up to him or her and take control of the process like this: in a voice modulated for one to one interaction “Give me a moment and let’s do this together. Just look at me for a moment and take a deep breath….. now let it out…. good, keep doing that, relax and listen to me. Close your eyes and imagine that you are standing there in your fighting posture, see yourself there, now imagine that you can feel the floor under your feet and you can feel your body in position, good. Ok, now see and feel your right leg as you bring the knee up to chamber position, a really perfect position and feel how you are pivoting on the left foot, very good. Now extend the foot out to the target and feel your perfect leg and foot position, right foot turned to the blade edge and left foot planted on the ground, hands and head are up and you are looking right over the foot at the target. A perfect kick then you bring the knee back to the chamber and pivot back into position and put your right foot back down and you are back in your fighting posture. Keep your eyes closed and now I want you do it a again a couple of times, just imagine that perfect kick and you can see it and hear the uniform snap and you can feel it. Good now you know what a perfect sidekick feels like and you know that you can do it so I want you to open your eyes and go back to working that kick with that goal in mind.”

This can be done for any technique, combination or kata. It takes a little over a minute and can drastically shorten the learning time on a technique. But let’s talk about the very subtle level of what has gone on here. If you read back through it you will see that I started by going one to one with the student without saying stop or no or anything negative and then by suggesting relaxation and deep breaths I am introducing a calm mental state which is more effective for learning. Notice that as I guide the student through the technique I used the sense of vision but also added the feel of the technique and the sounds to make the imagined experience more real. I also used no negative words or statements and never pointed out what to avoid in performing the technique and stayed with what it takes to do the perfect kick keeping my words constructive*. This keeps a very positive and constructive feel to the exercise and also makes the student associate a positive feeling with the kick. Before I finished and while this student was still relaxed and experiencing some success with a difficult technique I affirmed that the student can do it and knows what it feels like and set that in his or her mind as the goal. The use of this positive language and approach helps very much on a secondary deeper level mentally. Now on a deeper level emotionally I have helped the student to feel better about the technique and that he or she can and will get it and that his or her instructor is certain of it and confident of his or her ability and potential and I have also headed off any sense of frustration with training or with the technique. On an even deeper social level the student has had a safe, supportive and appropriate positive interaction with an authority or leadership figure.

 So the basic structure is this: make it personal and one to one by speaking gently you  modulate the voice to a very personal level and usually slow the pacing of the words a bit and when working with a child do not stand over them, try tend to kneel to one knee, and then direct the student to relax and give them something to use for that purpose with the deep breath. As you guide them through the mental exercise include visual, tactile and auditory triggers and always with positive language. As you finish, direct the student to feel good about the experience and about the technique.  If this is used regularly with students they start to respond to it more effectively and can actually learn to respond with a very relaxed open mental state. They are also learning to feel more positive about the challenges of training and are less likely to become frustrated.**

Again there is an obvious level to when this can be used which is any time that a student is having an inordinate amount of difficulty with a technique. While it is useful in this application there are many more subtle applications where this can be useful and even more so than just fixing a technical challenge. I tend to use this a bit more often than just when a student is having a very difficult time with a skill.  As with our techniques which have a surface or obvious level and an okuden or occluded level, many of our teaching techniques have this also.

The area where I find this of greatest value is in the area of pattern breaking unpleasant thought and emotion patterns in training. People fall into patterns of though and these patterns lead somewhere and sometimes where these patterns customarily lead a student is not where they should be. So if you see a student having a bit of difficulty and becoming frustrated you can step in with this technique and break that cycle which could have led to the student feeling more frustrated, angry or even some self loathing. By breaking that cycle whenever you see it you can actually help to make that cycle less of a habit and teach that student to take another approach to dealing with the early stages of frustration. The student learns to have options rather than just be trapped into repeating that pattern. If we pattern break the negative pattern often enough we can break the tendency toward the pattern. The important thing here is that not only do we break the pattern but then we teach the student to insert a different response into the process and so we give him or her a tool to use.

With students who frustrate easily you can actually use this technique a few times until the student is accustomed to it and then suggest that he or she use it when practicing at home or alone if frustration starts to come into the picture. Actually this tool can lead to a more generalized approach for dealing with frustration by simply using a tree stage process first where you use the tool with the student then suggest the student use the tool in a very specific way to help him or herself when having this training problem then thirdly by suggesting that the student try it when other things are causing frustration.

Another area of great value is in the area of social support. Sometimes you may realize that a student is a bit shy but could benefit from some positive interaction one to one but in a very non-threatening way. This can serve that purpose. Some students may show signs of feeling alone or may obviously have trust issues with people in authority or leadership positions and this exercise can be used to help build trust between student and teacher. It can help speed up the process of connection and trust between student and teacher with new students especially those students who may have studied elsewhere and might be a bit hesitant in the new school or who may have actually had some unpleasant experiences with the previous school.

This tool can also be used to help refocus the student who is distractible and has let his or her mind wander or who has gotten excited and worked up. You should use this when you see this happening and before the student has reached the point of disrupting class or doing something which is a discipline issue. It helps to keep that person feeling more positive toward him or herself and the class feeling more positive toward him or her since the students other are not being disrupted.  This is a technique that can be used to help teach students with ADD to behaviorally deal with it. When we are not quite ready to transition the whole class to a new thing or activity but that first student is losing focus, we refocus the student and then work toward the transition according to class plan. When this is done regularly the student is helped to develop focus for longer periods of time.

When using this technique it is best that the instructor use it while an assistant or senior student is calling count or leading the group activity. This helps to train the apprentice instructors by modeling a good teaching practice. It also keeps the group activity from being disrupted as the instructor works one to one. Assistant instructors can also do this as the class proceeds normally. It can also help to facilitate efforts by an instructor to make sure that every student feels like he or she has had a moment of full, undivided attention from the instructor during the class period.

This short form of visualization can also be used with groups, even an entire class. I sometimes use a short visualization with a class to calm them down a bit and get them ready to transition instead of jumping from one thing to another suddenly. This is especially effective if you have some students who do not do well with transitions. It can also come in to play when you notice that a few of your students are very out of breath and need a moment to recover. Instead of having them separate from the group or stop the group and have them wait you just simply lead everyone through a calming visualization of the technique, combination or kata being worked on. This will allow students a bit of recovery time after an extremely demanding exercise without anyone feeling that he or she is holding the group back or missing something.  It is a tool to allow the instructor to regulate the physical demands according to the capabilities of the students and to do so seamlessly. Students will automatically learn to self regulate their own practice sessions this way and become more self aware of their own bodies.

For instance you are teaching a demanding combination and you notice that perhaps a couple of your newer students and a couple of your more senior in age students are starting to tire and run out of air, maybe one student has asthma and you notice that he or she is struggling a bit. You keep the class together and productive while giving those people a moment to recover but keeping everyone learning and it might sound like this: “Alright everyone just stand where you are and take a deep breath, now let it out and keep breathing deeply and slow yourself down a bit. Let’s all close our eyes and go slowly through that combo in our minds. I want us all to see it and feel it as we go along. Imagine yourself in your fighting posture now do the techniques perfectly as I count slowly….. one…. two….. three… four, good now lets repeat that and keep breathing……. very good now I want you to imagine the combination at full speed, see it, feel it, hear the snap of the uniform great, now do it one more time with a mental training partner….. excellent.. now take a deep breath, open your eyes now everyone turn to your left and face the back adjust your uniforms turn back toward me and we’ll go on to the next thing.”

Again we lower the voice volume a bit and slow the pacing slightly while we start of with a relaxation queue and we use positive statements throughout the exercise. No student was singled out and everyone got a moment of physical recovery time while the mind stay engaged. The group stayed together and maintained a positive attitude. And those students who were starting to flag got the positive reinforcement that comes from making through the physical part without having to stop but they also had their physical response and capability managed properly. Class cohesion did not suffer from any sort of division or resentment and was helped because they all stayed together. And this was all accomplished by you in the very subtle way which is characteristic of a good instructor.

Now we should examine a longer format for visualization. All of the same principles apply for relaxation, voice modulation and pacing and positive framing and phrasing along with only including what you want to see on the performance. The difference here is simply that the format is longer and so we often sit the students down and we direct them through more complex series of techniques. This application can be used for reinforcing kata which take longer. The student or groups sits and is queued to relax and focus and then is taken through the kata movement by movement as you speak to them guiding them through the mental exercise.

This longer format will also help in teaching sparring skills, especially when you want to shift a student from a problematic habit to a new habitual response. An example of how this may be used could be in addressing a student who backs straight away from a charging opponent. We use a longer visualization format to have the student visualize using an angle in response to an aggressive attack and the student visualizes this new response numerous times. Then the student follows up with a physical practice starting in slow motion and working toward being able to apply it at full speed during prearranged sparring. If free sparring is avoided for three weeks and the student does the exercises this way each day the new habit will become active and should have replaced the old response when free sparring is once again allowed.

Another common application for the group visualization is to review and reinforce a class near the end. The students are directed to sit and are led through a review of what was covered in the preceding class refreshing their minds and bringing all of those new techniques and skills back to their attention. This can last a couple of minutes and then the students can be allowed to sit peacefully for a few minutes of quiet meditation. The obvious application here is that the class material is reinforced. A more subtle level is that the students are being allowed to calm down before leaving the class. This also gives the students a period of time to physically readjust so that the heart and breathing return to normal and the body cools down a bit. This is especially good in cold climates in the winter to avoid students running out into the cold air while still hyped up while hot and sweaty and breathing deeply and no jacket on. Students are also able to leave with a very positive feeling that the class was a learning experience and can easily tell someone what was learned that day and what was done if asked. Overall the students become more aware of the material and the training process as a whole.

In summary we see that visualization can be formatted to different lengths of time. Visualization can be applied to teaching a wide variety of skills. Visualization can be use to facilitate individuals or any size group. We also see that visualization can be a valuable tool that the teacher may apply for numerous reasons from directly teaching a technique through a general review and reinforcement al the way over to managing people, behavior, perceptions and relationships. At first the instructor in training will apply these techniques in the most direct manner but as he or she advances and practices these methods there can grow a subtlety to the application of these skills. 

*It is important to only introduce what you want the student to experience in the visualization. Were we to include what to avoid, the mistake as we mention it would actually become part of the visualization. I have seen this mistake made by instructors attempting to do a visualization with a student and including things like “see the punch without the hyperextension.” It is simple, introduce into the exercise only what you wish to reinforce.

**If you read back through that paragraph you will realize that it was actually a written visualization guiding you through the technique as was the first time you encountered the exercise. By this point you have been taken twice through this process using the process to learn it.

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