Monday, June 25, 2007

Using YouTube for educational and research purposes

In the previous post, I briefly skimmed over a few ways in which YouTube can help market your studio or share your art with the world. As you may have learned by now, there is a great deal of martial arts video circulating on YouTube, ranging in quality from pheonomenal to poor.

It might be extremely tempting for one to say "hey, I can learn this form/style off YouTube! Yay!" This is a great thing to say if you want to watch the veins on your instructor's forehead pulse with anger.

However, I think this is important to address, since Pandora's box is now open, and chances are you will either stumble upon or intentionally find an advanced form that you'd like to learn.

It is extremely difficult to learn a form based upon video alone. Depending on your level of experience and ability, it may be very hard for you to see exactly what is going on, and more importantly, why these subtle differences are important. In some ways, it would be akin to learning a form by only watching your instructor do it over and over again, never offering instruction or changing the angle for a better view. Ever notice how most forms online have a good portion being performed with the back to the camera? How can you be sure of what's going on then?

Let's say you are well versed in body mechanics, have a good sense of the skill you are mimicking or have just decided to give it a shot anyways. A real problem lies in the quality or accuracy of what you are copying. Many Masters, for example, will never share everything on video. In fact, they may either re-arrange small portions, perform sections out of order, mirror imaged, etc just to be able to spot the copycats from a mile away. In this case, they are sharing the essence of their art without giving away what they see to be the secrets. Unless you, or someone you know, are in a position to judge the authenticity of a video, I would be cautious in trying to duplicate their efforts. You also have to be wary of for issues of timing changes, changes made to make a form more "tournament friendly" or just accomodations for space.

The above assumes that the person demonstrating is an expert. Chances are, a lot of the video on youtube is created by someone is just the opposite. Search for videos showing Bassai and you will find dozens of style variations, and hundreds of quality variations within each style. Remember the last tournament you judged and saw 20 different Pyung Ahn E Dans? What if somone videotaped one of the poorer performances, uploaded it to YouTube, and another poor soul decided they would emulate this particular video?

That being said, YouTube can also be an excellent training tool for the advanced student who already has a solid foundation. You may wish to search Youtube for other WTSDA students and see how they compare in technique and delivery. Want to be a hyung champion? I'm sure you can get some excellent ideas from Youtube as to what works. At the very least, you learn how to pay attention to details in performance which, if applied to yourself, will help immensely. Instructors might use Youtube to come up with some new conditioning exercises, combinations, target drills and more.

For my own research, I have used YouTube heavily to research So Ho Yun, a form from the Korean kung-fu style of Sip pahl ki. So Hu Yun was allegedly among forms learned by HC Hwang, son of Hwang Kee, when sent to a Sippahki school.

This form, also performed at demonstrations by CS Kim, appears to have significantly influenced the Chil Sung and Yuk Ro hyung performed today in Soo Bahk Do. While I don't practice these forms, I'm sure the principles that lie beneath them are also expressed in Tang Soo Do as practiced today. By studying So Ho Yun, I can gain a deeper appreciation for my art and its technique and philosophy.

By digging a little deeper, I found some very different versions of So Ho Yun that all have something to offer.

The magic and perils of YouTube

You have probably heard of Youtube, the video sharing community. In a way, Youtube is much like the text-driven BBS that you dialed into and downloaded funny text files and images. 15 years ago, you were on the bleeding edge of technology if you had a 14.4 kb/s modem. You could download an ENTIRE PICTURE in just one minute!

As hard drive space increased along with the bandwidth, it has become almost dirt cheap to host video online. As a result, people are freely sharing their interests with the rest of the world. A small percentage of these folks are sharing their passion for martial arts as well.

Just a few years ago, if you were interested in seeing a martial art in action, you had two choices: find someone in person, or shell out $30-$50 for a video. If you're interests were Tae Kwon Do, Karate or Judo, this usually wasn't too hard, as almost everyone in the US is within driving distance of one of these arts. But for something a little more exotic such as Silat, Ditang, Pigua, or Tae Kyun you were pretty much out of luck.

While video sharing has been on the Internet for some time, Youtube took down a lot of the barriers of video sharing (paying for disk space, web know-how, etc) and in turn, a lot of martial artists came out of the woodwork ready to share their passion.

How does Youtube help a martial artist? It depends on your level of creativity and open-mindedness. From a marketing standpoint, you can upload videos from demos, classes and tournaments, and then embed them into your website. From an ambassador standpoint, you can share with the entire world your passion for the WTSDA.

But what about the educational perspective?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Attribute Building versus "Practicality."

When was the last time you used nunchaku in a fight? Since it probably happened fairly recently, I'm sure it is still fresh in your memory. Let me ask you, did you find it best to stick to "traditional" methods of locking and trapping, or did you use more circular spinning strikes? Of course, your last fight could have been different, so feel free to consider all of your prior nunchaku duals before answering my question.

Wait, what?

You've never been in a nunchaku fight? Hmm, well, surely you have used your 6 foot staff in battle recently. I see that it is quite clean, so I can only assume you are fastidious in its care.


Well, surely you plan on getting in a nunchaku melee in the near future? Perhaps Outlook is even programmed to remind you, preferably in advance, as showing up without nunchaku would be less than honorable to your and your clan.

You disappoint me.

I have no beef with "traditionalists." My beef is with "traditionalist snobs." You have your way, I have mine, wonderful. When you just have to tell me how your system of twirling a stick while wearing pajamas makes much more sense than mine, you might be a traditionalist snob.

"My school practices koryo methods handed down by Joe Blow, which he used to survive a minor skirmish in the late 1600s. Your methods are quaint and would obviously get you killed on the streets. I don't know why you even bother."

Of course snobbery then usually falls to the wayside for jaded cynicism, where they can boast that I teach these skills "to cash in." If you think I'm cashing in, I'll give you the number of my loan officer and the two of you can have a nice laugh together.

For me, first and foremost, weapons teach attributes. I am not particularly interested in recreating the dueling culture of a caste system that has very little to do with Korean arts in the first place. What I am looking to teach is confidence, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, good movement and creativity. The hand strength used when practicing sai (not to mention the motions) transfer extremely well into grip strength and the ability to perform wrist locks. If you want to explore the possibilities and get into flipping the nunchaku over your head, striking it in mid-air and changing the rotation, or whatever, I don't care. Eventually, the skills I teach you will make you a better fighter and a better, more efficient martial artist.

Should I teach nunchaku as a self-defense skill? Well, I could. Unfortunately, nunchaku are stigmatized to the point where they are illegal in some states, and quite damning in others. Let me be clear: if you go Bruce Lee on your attacker, you stand an excellent chance of being incarcerated after the prosecution paints a picture of a "Martial Arts Expert Weilding a Deadly Weapon." Not to mention concealed carry laws rarely extend to nunchaku or any of the other lovely buki you see in the catalogs. Speaking of concealed carry, firearms have pretty much negated the nunchaku to performance art anyways. And guess what, whether you're spinning them over your head or mimicking the "old ways" it is still a performance art.

You want practical? Buy a gun and learn to fight with a pen and belt and maybe a cane. Mmm, Bic Hyung Il Bu anyone??

Of course, then the haters will just give you grief for not carrying a "Real Pen" like a Mont Blanc.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

maximize your training time as an instructor

It's an odd thing, you may think the head instructor of a club trains around the clock, constantly honing their skills and keeping their edge. Even if you know that's not the case, it doesn't really hit you until you're in that situation. More specifically, it doesn't really hit you until you've been in that situation awhile and find yourself "suddenly" 20 pounds out of shape, and huffin/puffin after 10 minutes of drill.

So you've got 15 minutes before class, you've found a nice corner to hide in, so what do you do in such a small block of time that you won't injure yourself?

After doing a quick shake to loosen up all my joints, about 100 jumping jacks and maybe a nice slow naihanchi to warm up my legs, i'll throw a few stretch kicks, and find something to focus on.

An excellent drill to work on is what I call one-step shadowboxing. i'll find a corner or a mirror, and use my reflection to practice one steps. I don't practice them in the "traditional" way of starting from choonbee, kihap, etc, since that would like a little odd. I'm not working on perfect stances or targeting. Instead, I'm going for speed from hukuljaseh. One after another, one through thirty, and then back down to number one.

From there, I try to go right into my kick onesteps, doing the same thing. In this case, I'm really looking to try and flow from one kick to another, so sometimes, I'll do the one-step mirror image, so I can merge from one to another easier. I'm trying to do these as fast as possible, so by number 15, I'm usually a little tired.

Shadowboxing with one-steps is excellent for several reasons. First, it's a good aerobic workout, second, it allows you to visualize using your one-steps in a sprarring situation. I'll talk more about why you should be doing that later. Lastly, it's a great way to build your recall of all 90 one-steps.

More often than not, you don't get a chance to practice as much as you'd like anymore. When a student asks "what's number 27 hand technique?" you as the instructor must be able to recall it within a second. The longer it takes you to come up with it, the student loses faith in your ability and begins to wonder why there is such emphasis on memorization. After all, if the black belts obviously haven't memorized them, why should they?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

power versus aesthetic: a common problem.

Recently, I've been house hunting. We've looked at neighborhoods all around Columbus, trying to find exactly what we wanted. While we had some criteria in our minds, we each knew that we'd know the right house when we saw it.

A lot of listings looked great on the surface. Large square footage, ample sized rooms, attractive photos. When we drove to see the property, it was a completely different story. The house, and the neighborhood around it was completely run down and neglected, in many cases less than ten years after construction. A closer look at these houses reveals that unlike their counterparts, these houses were built with cheaper materials, cheaper labor, looser tolerances, and much MUCH less land.

Why would such a house sell in the first place? Questions of economics aside, these houses sell because they look nice (at first, anyway) and look exactly like what the ideal house should look like. Unfortunately, looks alone do not make a good house, and these houses are eventually revealed for what they are when put to the tests of weather, usage and time.

Quite a roundabout analogy for martial arts, I know, but bear with me.

I've seen some good looking forms in my day. Really low stances, fully extended kicks, an excellent sense of timing, shi sun and kihap. All of these factors are things we've been told the judges look for.
(note: I am NOT saying the people in these photos are lacking in talent. I'm just using them because they nicely exemplify the qualities I'm talking about. I'm sure that they are all excellent martial artists.)

Much like the sub-par houses, you can't always tell what lies beneath the surface.. It depends entirely on how you train. A lot of people pay close attention to building up these external details, but completely neglect the foundation that they should be built upon. As a result, the martial artist is incomplete. They may be in a low stance that looks good, but can they stay that low when they transition to the next stance? Will a stiff breeze blow them over? Can they break more than 1 board with that really pretty side kick?

Once these habits are built, it's hard to go back in and fix the foundation flaws. You literally have to tear down the house, and build it back up from the bottom.

What about the other end of the spectrum? Intense, powerful students who lack polish. You've seen them, and a lot of us used to be that person. Usually, this is the student you watch in frustration, because you see their commitment and dedication, but deep down you know that it is U-G-L-Y (they ain't got no alibi!)

Now, a lot of people are more willing to give them a pass, because "it worked, right?"

Did it work? Maybe to a certain extent, but they too are missing something. Give them a challenge that is appropriate for their strength and size, like a 3 board low block. Chances are they will hit it hard - really friggin hard -- and bounce right off it. Why? They have the same problems, lack of stable foundation, neglecting the proper angles, timing and control. In many ways, this student is a lot more dangerous because they are more likely to cause injury to other students and themselves.

Both tragic examples from opposite sides of the spectrum suffer from an inbalance between power and aesthetic. The balance between the two is something that every martial artist struggles with. YOU MUST HAVE BOTH.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Maybe we have OK form, but we have too much strength and haven't harnessed it properly yet. We need to look in the mirror and pay attention to details.

My favorite story is about Master Brian Fisher, the former WTSDA Grand Champion. He'd practice charyut/choonbee in front of the mirror for hours. You might think that is window dressing, but he also had incredible power behind his technique. He spent that time harnessing what he had.

Some of us have excellent form, but tend to bounce off whatever we hit. We need to build up strength in our technique through targeting, conditioning and strength training.

Most of us need to do both. I have an excellent left leg side kick, but my right is no better than a green belt.

"Some martial arts are very popular, real crowd pleasers, because they look good, have smooth techniques. But beware. They are like a wine that has been watered. A diluted wine is not a real wine, not a good wine, hardly the genuine article.

Some martial arts don't look so good, but you know they have a kick, a tang, a genuine taste. They are like olives. The taste may be strong and bitter-sweet. The flavour lasts. You cultivate a taste for them. No one ever developed a taste for diluted wine." - Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Which one are you? What about your students? In order to keep them on the correct path, you have to identify these problems, and develop a plan to fix them over time. Even if you spend a month working on keeping hands closed and chambered when they should be.

Your dedication will pay off, and then you continue the process of ryun ma once more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Internet flame wars. What are they good for?

I've found myself in the middle of yet another useless argument for no real reason except for ego. In reading the linked thread above, I was very interested to see how much other people claim to know about the WTSDA dangum and janggum hyung. Better yet, these folks seem to "know" why these forms were added in the first place.

Naturally, feeling insulted, I felt the need to weigh in with my own opinion on the matter. Obviously, I'm proud of my Association and the people who work hard to make it better everyday. Certainly no group is without their critics. Anyone big enough to have even moderate success has probably managed to offend somebody along the line.

If I wanted their opinion, I would join their (certainly perfect) organization. So I should just continue along my own happy way and keep doing my thing, right?

This is one of the many pitfalls of sharing information on the Internet, and it's one that is big enough to prevent a majority of users from wanting to get involved. There is a group of users all over who have nothing better to do than to post negative comments on everything, while sharing nothing positive of their own. Doing a Korean art? Don't worry, someone will come along and "educate" you about how all the hyung you do were either "stolen from the Japanese" or "just made up." I guess no one created their hyung, they just magically appeared in a vision from the Gods. Other groups will completely bad mouth an Association on one hand, and save/copy all of their curriculum with the other.

There are people who will look at a youtube video of a 5 year old "little dragon" and tear him apart, telling everyone who reads that the art is "crap" and that we should stop wasting our time and switch over to MMA, UFC, ABC, XYZ. All this because a proud parent wanted to share a pic of little Susie at her first tournament.

So, the natural response is to push back when pushed. Unfortunately, it doesn't do anything to change the mind of the original commentor, and probably just makes you look stupid to everyone else for getting dragged into the discussion in the first place. So just like sparring, try stepping offline and re-directing with a more positive comment. Maybe along the line, someone will learn something in the process.