Despite my obvious interest in the practical applications of martial arts I am, first and foremost, a committed martial artist. Although I don’t don a white gi these days I consider my martial arts training to be at the highest traditional level. My old training partner, Brian Seabright always talks about the aesthetic element of what we do and however much we mix and match various arts, we endeavour to make the blend as seemless as possible.

Looking at many martial artists, which is something I certainly do a lot of in a year, I am often disappointed that they, clearly, are not aware of how they appear aesthetically – in other words they are not ‘self-aware’. Self-awareness is a problem for all of us and not only physically, but in our wider dealings with the outside world. Some people never seem to be conscious about what they say or do, or what impression they give to others. Ego has a great part to play in this, as does general ignorance, but in a sporting sense a lack of self-awareness is a major set-back in reaching high, technical attainment.

Self-awareness in a sporting context is handled by embracing the concept of ‘visualisation’. In very simple terms visualisation is being able to see ourselves achieving a successful outcome of an event, be it a set of drills, a competition or other personal engagement. In its broadest sense such visualisation amounts to role playing which can implant a ‘success’ reference in our sub-conscious mind. It’s part of developing a winning mind.

We’ve all probably watched high jumpers before they set off for their run-up to the bar, engrossed in internalising and mentally rehearsing the jump and its successful outcome and often how well this rehearsal happens determines the outcome of the jump. There are two principal ways of practising visualisation, the easiest being the method of seeing an event unfold through our eyes the way we want it to happen. By far the hardest, though, is to visualise externally, as if there is a CCTV camera filming us from a high vantage point and we are looking at this image of ourselves as if we were a third party. We are trying to see ourselves as others see us. This is very hard to do and I struggle to keep this image in maind as I train.

The other way to stay self-aware is to build up, by conscious means, an almost subliminal awareness of our physical actions. Whether we are getting into a car, sitting down, or simply walking down the road we should be self-conscious and alert. Apart from the obvious personal security spinoffs, we create a total physicl awareness which we should take into our training routines. The key to self-awareness is recognising that the smallest movement engages the whole body and nothing we do from pointing at something to punching something happens in isolation.

In martial arts, however, we are often too mentally engaged with the ‘tool’ in use i.e the fist, foot, knee, elbow etc, to the exclusion of the role the rest of the body should be playing. I see people engaged in the execution of a technique oblivious as to what other bits of their body are doing. Often it’s the parts they can’t see such as the rear foot which often trails behind at an incorrect angle, thereby hampering any follow-up technique that suffer.

Working in front of a mirror is an obvious and practical way of assessing how we move and look, but it takes real honesty to be critical about ourselves. To be able to make adjustments, we need to have a ‘role model’ with which to compare, so study closely someone you admire and soak up their movement, even if it’s simply an impression of how they move, not the detail. I still carry in my head images of Sensei Shigeru Kimura, my Shukokai instructor and try to emulate the impression that gives. Take the time to work at this – it will pay dividends.

Peter Consterdine

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