Training Online

Before COVID-19 closed everything down I had a habit of showing up early to class in order to take advantage of floor space. Since then my husband and I made some changes to our home so that I now have more room than ever to practice karate. Space isn’t a consideration anymore when it comes to how early I show up for class. But it’s still good for me to keep the habit of showing up early. In the process of adjusting to online classes I learned that I can get lost in what I’m doing and lose track of time. Ironically, I dislike having to keep track of time and I also hate having to remember to set alarms. Accordingly I now get Zoom up and running right away when I come in. This means I could be right in the middle of figuring something out when a sensei comes online. Invariably I get some feedback – which is good! The first couple of times this happened were unsettling to me. In the generation I grew up in, people on TV couldn’t hear or see you. We figured this out by the time we were four years old. The first time I was startled by a sensei’s appearance and subsequent feedback the first thought that popped into my head was, “Big Brother is watching me.” I had to laugh at myself.

Maybe I was too young when I read George Orwell’s chilling dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four (written in 1948). I was 14 years old in 1984 when I checked out the novel from my high school library. I thought it would be cool to read Orwell’s vision about the year I was living in. That book scared me more than the classic horror movie “Alien.” As an introvert I have always valued my privacy and my time alone. The pervasiveness of the “telescreens,” the TV screens that were also video cameras, creeped me out. We didn’t have that technology in 1984, and frankly I hoped we never would. We have the technology now and it’s not all bad.

Unlike the people living under Big Brother’s watchful gaze we are using our “telescreens” mostly for benign and beneficial activities, including martial arts. After a couple of weeks of practicing on my own I started pining away for my little dojo (karate school) tribe. I know how to practice on my own, I’ve learned about conditioning, I know at least some of what I need to work on. I value having time and space to breathe and explore. But it’s not enough. Those first two weeks of quarantine before our sensei(s) got online classes up and running were kinda miserable for me.

But, but, but, but – there’s tons of videos out there, right? I could learn from anyone, right? Yes and no. If I were starting from scratch in a new martial art I would be at a severe disadvantage without a live instructor. If I did not have a good foundation in that art I would simply be mimicking. Mimicking will not get you very far in any martial art. I know – I’ve helped teach a very gifted dancer who is amazing at mimicking what he sees. But even he needs an instructor who is right there, who can see things in three dimensions and who can move in three dimensional space. Not to mention touch – not just to correct but to feed and receive techniques. Physical contact is something we marital artists cannot do right now, and at least in my state we won’t be able to do for quite some time to come. At some point I will need to test the new things I’ve learned on real people who might just show me exactly where things break down.

What I can do with pre-recorded videos is I can gather and analyze information. I love bunkai (interpretations of kata), so I’ve been watching videos about bunkai. I understand that there will be differences between what I see and what I was taught due to style differences. I also understand that one practitioner’s bunkai is not necessarily going to be in line with another practitioner’s bunkai – and that’s OK! I do have to understand the bunkai my own sensei (instructor) taught me and, someday, I will teach others what was passed down to me.

Here’s the thing – I don’t go watching videos about bunkai for kata that I haven’t memorized. But I do confess that a couple of years ago I did use a video to learn a new kata. I was supposed to be learning that kata. I made sure the video was from the same series of videos recommended to me by one of my sensei(s). I’d seen it practiced in the dojo so I had a rough idea of what to expect. I most certainly did not rely on the video alone to learn the kata. But there was one huge advantage the video had over live instruction. I could turn my back to the screen and watch the video using a mirror.

Long-time followers of this blog might remember that I am challenged with directional dyslexia. I have any number of coping mechanisms. As I predicted a few years ago I have a pretty good grasp of the basic principles of karate. I’m sure that’s exactly where I’m supposed to be on my journey right now given my current rank (i-kyu). But still… it’s a huge relief to be able to let go of right and left from time to time. Of course this doesn’t work for kata but it does work for learning complex drills. I had no idea of the scope of my learning challenge until now. It’s probably like someone who was born with impaired hearing getting a cochlear implant. Except… I can use the implant only intermittently and I’ll have to give it up at some point in the future. Totally worth it.

I miss the fellowship. I miss all the things that I cannot do without other people.

There are some learning methods I’ve picked up during this time of quarantine that I will continue to use in the future. It’s far easier for me to take videos of myself in my new space so I’ve been doing way more of that. This tournament season is shot but I’m using my judging skills on myself. Normally I have pen and paper handy in my gear bag so I can scribble notes after class. That’s fine, but I’ve learned that sometimes I need more. Nowadays after class I sometimes open up a video of myself or of someone else in one monitor and in the other monitor I’ll type notes. This is especially nice to do for kata. I can remember far more about the feedback I received when I have a video (even if it’s not me or my sensei) to jog my memory. And who knows? Maybe after all this is over the karate organization I belong to will use online classes for supplemental training.

P. S. – Ironically, I’ve become a minor character from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. I am now the “Physical Jerks” lady on the telescreen because I lead an early morning online fitness class via Zoom. I was scheduled to start this class in person at an athletic club the very week we were shut down due to COVID-19. I went online instead. What can I do but laugh?

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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