Aikido and Visualization
Part 2by Jim Lahue
Jack Nicklaus said that he never hit the ball until he first visualized where he wanted it to go. He saw his swing, he felt the connection, he pictured the ball's path. And, as a result, the ball very often went exactly where he intended.
On the previous page, I wrote about how you can use visualization to improve your skills at Aikido. The same is true with other aspects of your life. If you see something first in your mind, it is much easier to achieve in reality.
But while the practice of visualization is available to all people, there is an idea from Aikido that can make it much more powerful: Positive Mind. For visualization to really work, you not only have to see what it is you want to achieve. You must apply your positive mind, and truly believe that you will achieve it.
For example, you can say to yourself, "I will be the President of the United States." You can see yourself at the inauguration. You can picture yourself in the Oval Office. But if you don't really believe you'll become president, you probably won't.
The difference between idle daydreaming and effective visualization practice is the belief that something is going to happen. With effective visualization, you feel a sense of confidence that what you are imagining will actually come to pass.
Jonathan Bannister (founder of the Rochester dojo) once recounted to me how Sensei had given him a Koan, or question for meditation. He asked Jonathan, "How do you beat the man in the mirror?" The answer, Jonathan told me, was "I already won." By having the belief that you will win from the beginning, you accomplish the real victory.
Kokyu Dosa teaches you this. If you practice Kokyu Dosa with someone much stronger or more accomplished than yourself, it can be very frustrating. You start to think, "I will never beat this guy." But that is exactly the opposite of what you need to be thinking! Instead, every time you fail to push that person over, tell yourself, "I will beat him next time." See yourself pushing him over. Believe it. Fail again, then believe it more. Faith is strengthened more by hardship than it is by success. This is how your positive mind, and your ability to make things happen in your life, progresses.
So here are some ideas for getting started with visualization.
First, you have to figure out what it is you want to achieve. It could be something short- term, like getting through a presentation that's been worrying you, or more long-term, like climbing Mount Everest. Don't worry about whether you think your goal is achievable. In fact, you should ignore those things that are clearly possible, and just write down those that seem beyond your reach.
Next, you have to work on visualizing what you want to achieve. Your practice of Aikido can help. For if you can learn to watch an Aikido technique, replay it in your head, then see it from the eyes of your instructor, you already have the skills you need. You just have to apply them to your goals outside the dojo.
If you want to be a lion tamer, for example, then go see the best lion tamer in the world. See him every chance you get. Replay in your head what you saw him do. Then practice putting yourself in his place, in your head. See things from his point of view. Assemble a whole collection of videos in your head, of yourself as the world's greatest lion tamer.
(Some people say they can't create pictures in their head. If this sounds like you, I suggest you look at a book called The Einstein Factor. It has an entire chapter of exercises for people who have trouble getting their internal videos playing.)
Now here's the critical part: You have to believe what you see. You have to train yourself to have a feeling of confidence that what you see in your mind will actually come to pass in your life. This is the most difficult part of the visualization process, and the part, therefore, that is most often left out. But this is also where Aikido training can help the most.
The very practice of Aikido helps you develop your positive mind. You can't avoid it. So, for starters, you may try to practice visualization right after Aikido practice, or after you do ki exercises at home. But regardless of when you do it, the gradual, long-term changes that Aikido practice brings about in your mind and body make your visualization practice stronger.
Still, I have found that it is sometimes so hard to believe you will achieve something that's very important to you, that the very act of visualizing it increases your doubt that it will ever come to pass. So, here are some ideas for you.
As you imagine yourself being the world's greatest chef (or running the fastest mile ever, or doing three cartwheels in a row, or riding an elephant across the Sahara desert), do a ki exercise, too. I've found that wrist exercises work best. They offer a little distraction to keep your mind off of your doubts. But more significantly, these exercises reinforce your feeling of one-point and positive mind. So if you say to yourself, "I will be the first person to walk on stilts on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers," doing ki exercise simultaneously will help you feel more positive and believe it more.
You can also make your visualization training an adjunct to your meditation practice. Sit in seiza and practice keeping one-point for a little while. Enjoy that feeling for itself. Then, as you maintain the same posture and keep the same feeling, work on running those mental videos. See yourself winning your race, but not with an excited, exhausted feeling, but with calmness and confidence, like there was never any doubt.
I recently saw the documentary on Muhammad Ali, "When We Were Kings". It reminded me how Ali used to talk so confidently about being The Greatest. Though it often came off as arrogance, by talking this way he was giving himself the confidence he needed in the face of a daunting task - in this case, beating George Foreman. By saying he was the best, he not only convinced others, but himself. It was his positive mind, I believe, that truly made him The Greatest.