Monday, January 23, 2012


I have a personal bias against martial arts DVDs - not videoing in general, but the idea that you can learn something just from watching it on a monitor.
Many will disagree perhaps, but that has been my experience.
Of course, if you already KNOW physically what you are doing, and just need a reminder as to some of the technical parts, alignment etc of what you are practicing, then they are very helpful as an 'external memory' device, holding information until it has been fully integrated through practice.
The dilemma comes when folks start asking for material to work on remotely that have zero to very little idea of what they are doing.

A common question I get asked is about the availability of training videos of Sonny's material, and my answer has up to now, been no, sorry, not at this time.

Part of me really wants to keep it this way. I believe you learn to 'dance' best with a partner, reacting and moving because they move, and learn particularly well if you have a skilled partner that can lead you and set up 'questions' that you have to find the answers to.
It's pertinent, practical, and in my experience, a highly efficient training method, with hopefully, little 'un-learning' to be done on the way to understanding the art.

The other part of me thinks, sure, why not have some material that is available to practice remotely? After all, the pendulum and all it's variations are perfectly possible to practice solo, especially if you can hang a ball or some kind of weight on a string, from the ceiling to move with ....
But then I remember how errors creep in with no feedback, especially for those with poor proprioception, and am leery to encourage folks to imprint these errors through repetition, if these problems will only have to be erased later. The human mind has a high capacity for delusion and has a particularly hard time being objective, even with physical movement .... So ...

To video, or not to video ...?

Is not videoing preserving the integrity of the method? Or just being a control freak?
Is distributing a learning video sharing knowledge? Or just throwing out meaningless information?


Steve Perry said...

I think you are right. Learning from scratch using a video is tricky at best. On the one hand, if you already have some idea of how to move, it can be helpful. Videos for your own students or others of the same art can be most useful as memory-joggers.

On the other, somebody watching a move and then trying to ape it and thinking they have learned it is apt to find him- or herself in trouble trying to use it. Forms are great for exercise and learning the motions of your tools, but it's shadowboxing, and the opponents don't hit back.

Probably the best use would be for students who have the basics, using a DVD and working out together and adjusting as they go.

Melisa Spence said...

Wholehearted agreement with the inadequacy of learning from video.

Yes to video for historical purposes, and/or advertising actual in-person learning. :)

Anonymous said...

For the experienced, videos (of others) are an excellent way to critique your own skills, comparing what and how you do with the way others move and use technique. Who hasn't watched an MMA video and screamed at the TV, "NO! NO! Pass the guard! Get your leg over!" I also treasure videos of those I know and have worked with, watching the way they move and trying to pick up the subtleties of their perception-action responses. And, as Steve says, they can be decent reference sources. For beginners, videos can help generate interest in a particular art but, I think, mostly make money for the producers.

The greatest value lies in video taping yourself which allows for 'forest vs the trees' critiquing.

Scott said...

Some people may be able to learn, there isn't much evidence to support this but we all want it to be true. Learning is our religion. There is probably a tiny number of people who can learn movement and kinesthetic ideas from video.
Video certainly has been used for dance recreations of historic repertoire, but this always requires extensive notes and the presence of someone who was actually in the original- and that's only has to "look" right.
However, video is an awesome medium for debate, particularly debate about kinesthetic subjects.
I challenge you to an online video duel!

Maija said...

From DWC/Kenton:
I've learned TONS from a martial arts video - but only because I had
immersed myself in the art for years.

I've also learned next to nothing from martial arts videos - and of
course those were the arts I had no base to start from.

So, perhaps, selective video-giving? :)

Maija said...

I too believe that watching yourself on video is hugely valuable, whether this is in a class with others and your teacher, or by yourself. I love that I have reams of video footage of workout at Sonny's, watching him, myself, others, him teaching me, and him teaching others, has given me untold insights I may not have gotten otherwise.
Also our Bagua study group have made it a practice to tape ourselves every day our teacher is in town to teach. As a group, we would review the whole day that very same evening, and with the different body types, and capacities that we held between us, we got a great 'memory' collection, that helped us practice over the years. There was no taping during the seminar so this was the best way to go, and perhaps ultimately more valuable than just watching the teacher ....
I also agree with you Scott, that a conversation via video can be great ... but that's the element I feel is missing in pure 'how to' DVDs - the audience participation ... and the feedback that this make possible.
So Scott, what do you wish to duel about?

The Hackademician said...

I think videos can be helpful for all the reasons that other people list and, as animals, we are geared towards learning from watching others. That's why we have mirror neurons that try to jump start learning when we watch another 'us' do something. A lot of other things go into learning as well and many of those -- especially having an experienced teacher and being able to work with a wide range of other learners -- play a larger role in learning success and learning rate.

Videos have no feedback loop. There is nothing there to respond to student output and change the teacher's inputs to address the parts that are out of synch, so the student will either train and re-train the mistranslated input or will have to improvise his or her own tests to see if what they learned will work.

It's a tough nut to crack.

Jim said...

I discourage video learning for martial arts. Most of the reasons have already been addressed; I'll sum up with the simple lack of feedback and correction.

But I think having the videos and sharing them isn't automatically bad. I'd, for one, love to see some of how Sonny moved and taught, based on your descriptions. You can find some interesting historical footage of my art, Bando, on-line now, and it's really neat to see how things were done "way back."

I'd suggest perhaps some selective sharing, both in whom you share with and what you share. You might have a student who would really benefit from a particular video you have; share it with an explanation. Some clips might be good to share openly as examples of Sonny's teaching style. But simply sharing as "learn from this" without that selection and guidance? No, I don't think that's wise.

Jim said...

One other thing about videos, as I review what I wrote.

The camera is one-eyed idiot. They just seem to miss a lot of things, and they can't convey "feel" very well.

Maija said...

Thanks for all the comments. Video can certainly be used 'for good', but I think the key element that has come out from hearing your opinions, is the importance of the feedback loop to run in parallel with the material.
I agree that this would be ideal.
On another point, I'm honestly not sure about the possibility of 'selected sharing' in this day an age of the internet ... once it's out there, it's gone in some respects.
OTOH, there are many many hours of footage of Sonny teaching, at his home and at seminars. I, too, let seminar hosts video the days I teach to keep for review.
Not much has been made public over the years, if any, and I guess that's the other half of the equation - how many folks, in all reality, are interested enough, motivated enough or nerdy enough to really DO anything with the material they find on a video?
Perhaps it's a moot point after all ....?

Dragan Milojevic said...

" many folks, in all reality, are interested enough, motivated enough or nerdy enough to really DO anything with the material they find on a video?"

I think this really sums it up impeccably. Way too many people today use videos of others to criticize something they never tried, looking at one thing from the perspective of another, often unrelated. I'd say it ultimately depends on the person looking at it and their honest effort to do some sweating over it and practice it with a partner.

I guess, although many of the comments here are very good and to the point, there is really no one good solution to the original dilemma...