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  • Visualising the Opponent

    How many people really, honestly visualise an opponent when they do iai?

    It should come as no surprise to anyone who's seen me do iai that I cannot visualise an opponent at all. I've never managed it and I have no idea of how I should even be trying to do it. I see no opponent. I can generally think about what the imaginary opponent is doing, understand where they ought to be, and what I should be doing in response (or to elicit a response from them) but I cannot visualise them. As a result, my metsuke is poor. My eyes are easily distracted and my awareness of the opponent flickers on and off constantly.

    Many people, including most beginners, like to talk about "seeing" their opponent, but I've never managed it, not even once. After being told by a kyoshi 7 dan that he's never managed it, and he doesn't believe most other people who do iai can actually do it either, I began to think that maybe it's not just me, and perhaps people are keeping quiet about it because they feel it's a basic thing that they ought to be able to do.

    My ability to act as if I have an opponent has improved somewhat over the last couple of years (my iai in general has got worse recently but that's beside the point). However I still think my total inability to actually 'see' my opponent is holding me back.

    For those of you who really can visualise an opponent, what do you see? I don't mean "who do you imagine as your opponent" (I believe the standard answer is "myself"), but what form does the opponent take in your vision? What is your method of visualisation, and how do you maintain it?

    And for everyone else who can't do this - how does it affect your iai, and have you found ways of compensating, or working towards overcoming it? I should stress, I'm not interested in ways to fake it - there's no point in that.

    I know this is a very basic question but I've been looking for an answer for the past five years with no luck at all, whereas other people act like they have it figured out after a couple of weeks. What am I missing?
    36
    Yes, I have no problem
    19.44%
    7
    Most of the time, but not always
    16.67%
    6
    Sometimes, but not reliably
    38.89%
    14
    Not at all
    25.00%
    9

  • #2
    I never actually thought visualisation meant actually seeing the figure of an enemy in front of you as in a self-induced hallucination. I thought it was a metaphor for 'perform your kata with the conviction of having an enemy in front of you'.

    I'm unable to trick my visual system (and basal ganglia loop!) into conjuring up a hallucination of an opponent, and I don't think many adults can. Can you see a football when you're pretending to kick one, or visualise a road scene when pretending to drive? I think very few people can suspend their disbelief to that extent.

    Interestingly, some brain scanning studies (fMRI) use visualisation as a substitute for performing the actual act being investigated (because nothing metallic can be brought into the scanning room and you have to keep very still during the scan). For example, I've had people playing an imaginary piano whilst in a scanner, and when the active brain regions are compared with people playing an actual, all plastic, optical fibre keyboard in the scanner, they are very similar. However, it seems the basal ganglia (an important area in the brain stem involved in many things) suppresses the actual conjuring up of an imaginary image-except in people with specific neurological disorders like schizophrenia.

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    • #3
      Like Kokoro says, you won't actually see an opponent. You'll see an opponent in your mind's eye. I can do this when I'm practicing my primary art on my own, but that's all partner kata so I know exactly what the other person is supposed to be doing. And visualizing there is much easier when I have the uketachi side of the kata.

      Modern iai, as frequently practiced, doesn't have shidachi/uketachi, uke/tori, whatever-your-ryu-calls-it.

      And it's not primarily visual for me. What I experience is a recall of the sensations of pressurethe sensation of moving into range, the pressure of feeling a cut come at me. Any mind's eye images are simply snapshots, and I can't do these at all in iai because we don't practice partner stuff at all (well, I can count on one hand the number of times I've done it in five years). Modern iai, with the almost exclusive nature of solo practice, has none of what I key in on to practice, so I've pulled from my primary art back into my MSr. (With somewhat mixed results according to organizational canon, but that's why one art is primary and one is secondary.)

      Comment


      • #4
        Interesting question...

        Most people I've seen tend to have their eyes cast downwards during most iai kata. Not just at the end when supposedly their opponent lies bleeding before them, but all the way through. Mr Kokoro (BTW are you a heart specialist or a brain specialist? hehe!) might be able to answer this definitively... my theory is that people look downwards when they are engaging full-body kinesthetic awareness. I notice when I do an iai kata that if I look straight ahead at my 'opponent', I feel unsure of how my body is moving. Whereas if I look downwards at a point on the ground about 2m in front I am more able to gauge my own body's position in space throughout the kata. It's much more 'reassuring' for me to do kata this way. However I am never able to perform what I feel is a convincing or accurate kirioroshi. That only happens when I look straight ahead, and remind my self that my opponent is, in the event of kata (a), performing actions (b) to which I reply with (c), and so on.

        So no, I don't really see someone. Not like Luke saw his own face in Darth Vader's servered helmet on Dagobah anyway. And like the brain surgeon said I don't really think it's possible. Not like it is in the movies.

        b

        PS - Faking a visualisation! That's a great concept!

        PPS - Re Beth's post: my iai is not seitei either, and the kata have a kenjutsu equivalent, so that might make it easier to remember what I'm supposed to be doing. Also I like her description of a kind of non-visual concept of 'pressure'.
        Last edited by ben; 15th June 2010, 07:58 PM.

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        • #5
          I can visualise what I'm doing pretty well... when I'm not actually doing it. So no visions for me. What Kokoro777 says makes sense.

          As for making up for it? I think performing like there is an opponent in front of you and knowing what you're doing and what's happening is the whole point, not actually seeing someone there. Add some paired practice to provide more context for the technique and that's enough for a good while.

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          • #6
            I should confess that I had some unexpressed opinions about this issue, and you're all confirming them. I want to clarify that I don't literally mean that I want to learn how to hallucinate. I want to know what kind of visual image people have in their mind, and how they use that to control their metsuke. Some people I know do actually claim to see an opponent in front of them when they do iai, but this seems very strange to me.

            I do paired practise regularly, by the way, in kendo (including regular kata practice). However when there is no-one in front of me I can't hold a visual image of my imagined opponent in my mind. Instead I rely on knowing conceptually what they're doing and roughly where they are. This means that tying it to my metsuke is very difficult.

            Perhaps I'm just not a visual thinker (if such distinctions exist). I don't know if I should persevere with building a visual image, which hasn't worked so far, or concentrate more on what I can do, which is having a 'sense' of the opponent instead.

            Comment


            • #7
              The placement of the eyes at my stage of Iai is simply an act-nothing more. I look here, there and everywhere because my instructor tells me to and it generally feels pretty natural because one looks toward the place where you are about to, or are actually, cutting. So rather than a retinal image controlling my eye movements, I consciously control my eyes.

              I think there is a lot of play-acting in Iai (if that isn't too flippant an expression-I don't mean it to be) and metsuke is just as much of an act as Ochiburi is (who visualises blood and guts flicking off their sword?), although one tries to make the intent in ones consciousness/heart/spirit as real as possible.

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              • #8
                Richard;
                Ask The Boss whether he does or does not 'see' his enemy.

                If you watch his eyes as he performs..... they seem to be reacting to something - - rather than being directed to act [as it were].

                If you see Peter do an embu/taikai - - you may well 'see' his enemy.

                Speaking personally - my iaido is stronger/more effective when my enemy is there with me........ although he seems to come and go at his whim [rather than mine].

                Comment


                • #9
                  I'm with all the above. Interesting to see the voting scores so far. I voted "Sometime" in that if someone mentions it then I try to visualise them but it's not very often. I do try to think about the position of the opponent and what they might be doing but is this the same as "visualisation"? I think being able to do it occassionally well and often hardly at all is enough for me. I sometimes have my doupts that kasso-teki ever came into training in the more feudal times. Someone from Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu should be able to answer this - is it part of the teaching?

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                  • #10
                    Why not try your iaido with an actual opponent? Make it so the actions are "real" instead of demanded by the choreography. Then when you practice without another person standing in front of you you can visualize them there through your actions and your eyes will reflect the position they would be in if a person was in front of you.

                    The opponent need not be actually touched by your iaito/bokken either.

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                    • #11
                      I can usually
                      on a bad day its just a black shape
                      on a really bad day nothing at all

                      But i have an overactive imagination
                      also, at the beginning tim often taught me by bunkai but him as tekki then i had to do it on my own
                      straight after bunkai it is very easy to visualise my long haired half bald dwarf with a big moustache

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                      • #12
                        If you understand the bunkai of the kata then you know where your enemy is. Look at him and cut him (her!).
                        If you are convinced that what you are doing has any meaning at all then the enemy is there. It is as real as when there is a person sitting in front of you.
                        When you work with a partner the enemy must remain as unreal as kaso teki or you will become too emotionally involved in the conflict.

                        When there is a person in front of you that you are drawing against, what you do should be exactly the same as when there isn't.

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                        • #13
                          I have only 'seen' my opponent once lying on the floor away from me after a mega long training session... obviously the brain was tired and I hallucinated.
                          However it is paramount to visualise the opponent. If you watch your senior teacher, he will move in exactly the same way if you were stood in front of him offering a threat at every move, or not there at all... (and I am guessing most of you would not like to stand there anyway!)

                          I am working on visualisation only, with my technique being done subconciously. As Debz says above, metsuke is improved by a 'live' tekki, who has the intent of hitting you on the leg with, say, a shinai, if you leave an opening. This stops the 'single timing' type of movement you see in beginners, as they really slow down during noto etc, and learn to 'watch' with the whole body, rather than just 'look' with no back up or intent and just go through the motions. Your decision when to make moves takes an interesting turn if you try this out...

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                          • #14
                            I agree with both Tim and Peter. It is impossible to move and cut true unless you can visualize your opponent. I help students with their visualization by periodically pairing them up to do kata. Since it takes having an opponent to properly perform the kata, and it's difficult to visualize exactly where your opponent is, having a training partner play the role of tekki can help them recognize just what they should be visualizing.
                            Here's a quick and simple exercise that one of my instructors showed me to point out the necessity of visualization. Sit comfortably, stretch your right arm out to your side, and then smoothly bring it in to touch your index finger to the tip of your nose. Do it again and watch your finger all the way until it touches your nose. Now, close your eyes and do it again, while "seeing" your finger coming in the same way you just watched it. It's not hard to do. Now, picture a nice looking woman (or man) that you know while you bring your finger in again to touch your nose. Did you hit the tip the same way you did while you were visualizing your finger? It works just the same way with your cuts and movements in kata.

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                            • #15
                              There must be visualization and then visualization, because I've watched demos by 6 and 7 dan guys, and sometimes I think "nice iai" and other times I think "oh, look at the dead guy on the floor", clear as day.

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