The next time you head out to practice some kata by yourself, bring along some imaginary enemies. These are sort of like the imaginary friends you had as a kid but, these guys want to hurt you. It is often easy to forget that every move, in every kata, is designed with another person in mind; an opponent. We can get so caught up in perfecting our form that the entire exercise becomes a solo performance instead of practice for real combat. So, let your imagination run wild.

In “The Power of the Mind: Visualization I” I suggested visualizing specific attacks prior to “reacting” with each move in your kata. Another valuable, and often overlooked, way to use visualization is what I call “generalized visualization”.  With this training technique, you imagine an opponent in front of you but you don’t concern yourself with the details of his attack. Instead, you develop a strong sense of his threatening presence. Ask yourself questions like how close is the opponent standing, is he bigger than you or smaller, is he fighting from a stationary position or rushing at you? Is he alone or are there others around you?

When you get to the point mentally where his presence causes you to feel concern or anxiety, you will notice lots of things about yourself. Your heart rate should be elevated and your breath should be quicker. But what about your weight? Are you on your heels because you feel overwhelmed? If he is very close to you, you may have trouble fully extending your techniques. How are those blows effecting him? If you are hitting his body then where are his arms and legs? If he is further away from you, what part of his body are you engaged with?

All of these questions should lead you to not just run through your kata, but to fight for your life. In the process, you will find flaws in your technique and stances that make you feel weak or unprepared. Correct them and keep fighting. And, if one of your moves takes on a menacing application that you had not considered, such as a neck break, or choke hold, go with that idea. I sincerely hope that you and I will never need such moves but they are a part of martial arts training and we do ourselves a disservice if ignore them.

Visualization tools allow us to imagine a vast array of threats and scenarios, specific and generalized. They allow us to practice our techniques within that heightened state of awareness. Your imaginary enemies have a lot to teach you. Who knows, maybe they are your friends after all.