Motor Imagery and Visualization in Jiu Jitsu OR How to Get Better at BJJ if You Can’t Train

This week I won’t be going to jiu jitsu class because of a cold. Rest and recovery is what I need. And lots of hot Aguapanela with ginger (a Latin American home remedy for when you are sick, and it’s tasty).

Since starting BJJ over a year ago, I’ve had to take weeks off, here and there, after getting sick or getting injured. When that first happened, I felt bad that I was missing time on the mats. I thought I would get worse and fall behind my teammates. But after missing a week here and there, more and more, when I came back to class I noticed something: I didn’t get worse,, I got better. How the heck did that happen?

Well it turns out, that watching BJJ competitions, Youtube and social media videos on jiu jitsu techniques, and basically thinking about rolling all the time, actually helps with our mind-body connection.

Kinaesthetic Motor Imagery

Thinking about jiu jitsu all the time makes you better at jiu jitsu.

“Motor imagery (MI) is the cognitive ability that allows an individual to perform and experience motor actions in the mind, without actually executing such actions through the activation of muscles (Moran et al., 2012). MI thus enables one to practice movements without needing to physically perform them.”

K. Richard Ridderinkhof, Marcel Brass

Thinking about jiu jitsu all the time makes you better at jiu jitsu, especially if you can’t train.

“MI may be particularly useful in
conditions where practical limitations constrain physical training, such as biomechanical rigidity, limited physical strength, pain, fatigue, risk of injury, limited access to equipment, etcetera.”

K. Richard Ridderinkhof, Marcel Brass

But you need to pair the visualization with doing the hard work, showing up to class and learning, failing, and applying what you’ve learned. Motor imagery also makes you more competitive.

“MI has been shown to facilitate the learning and acquisition of motor skills, as well as the maintenance and retention of previously acquired skills (Cooper, 1985). The frequency of MI use increases with competitive level (Hall et al., 1990), [and] differentiates professional players from amateurs (Lotze and Halsband, 2006),”

K. Richard Ridderinkhof, Marcel Brass

“Although MI is typically employed to complement physical training, even studies in which MI replaced physical practice altogether have found significant performance improvements in such events as golf putting, trampoline routines, and platform diving (Grouios, 1992; Isaac, 1992).”

K. Richard Ridderinkhof, Marcel Brass

First Person and Third Person Imagery

Imagining or watching yourself or imagining others and watching other people.

“Mental imagery can be experienced from one of two ‘viewpoints’: a first-person perspective (1PP) or a third-person perspective (3PP). Using 3PP, the individual imagines the motor action from the position of a virtual onlooker, watching herself perform, as if on a home video. Using 1PP, by contrast, the individual imagines performing the action not only as if looking through her own eyes, but typically also as if sensing her own motions.”

K. Richard Ridderinkhof, Marcel Brass

First person imagery is when you imagine yourself performing the moves, through your eyes. For example, you may replay a sparring session when the heavyweight new white belt who is also a black belt in judo, kosoto-gari’s you straight to your back and is now on top of you in side control.

Third person imagery is when you imagine the move being performed by other people, you are an onlooker. Or you are watching a video of someone performing the moves. For example, you watch yourself competing in the video your wife took from the sideline of you and the other white belt grip fighting for four minutes without any action and getting penalties for delaying.

Don’t feel bad for missing BJJ practice. Getting sick or getting hurt happens to all of us. Missing time is part of the game. Just don’t forget about it, think about it often, and you’ll come back even better.

See you out on the mats!

SOURCE: How Kinesthetic Motor Imagery works: A predictive-processing theory of visualization in sports and motor expertise

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