So maybe this is long overdue...
The year of 2020 has certainly thrown many challenges to our way of life, especially in the management of the traditional martial arts studio. When restrictions became in effect and led to the cancellation of in-person classes, many studios closed for a month or so, while a small number of studios were willing to give virtual learning a try.
It wasn’t a new concept, as there are martial arts programs offered strictly via remote learning options. But these are far and few in between.
Ironically, I was not affected, as I have been studying with my teacher privately and remotely for nearly 3 years. I observed my normal training method become everyone’s default option, with many struggles seen and complaints heard.
Since I am a pedagogy enthusiast, I was consulted by a fellow martial arts teacher who locally operated a studio. We discussed my experience in virtual learning, and I came up with suggestions that were at least intended as “food for thought”. These eventually were implemented, and with the studio’s commitment to making learning continuously accessible, the studio became the leader in implementing virtual learning for its organization.
While this may be relatively late in timing, I figured to share at least 5 of those suggestions (and more!) that hopefully may help you either launch your virtual learning option or improve your current delivery.
Tip #1: Stage your Studio
The bare minimum for your technology setup includes
Test out your camera placement before launch day, ensuring that you are able to demonstrate techniques and move about within a measured space while still being in frame. Ask another instructor or student to log into the application to observe the live feed (i.e. is your video mirrored, which may cause confusion when giving out “left” vs. “right” cues). Take time to learn about any settings within the application that can impact the overall experience for you and your students. These include:
Please learn to love these features on your application, especially when using Zoom:
And one last thing about staging: Please, please, please, with a cherry on top, use a tripod. Do not hold your mobile device in your hand while live-streaming a class, unless you are advising your students how to readily tackle motion sickness experienced in class. (Yes, I've seen quite a few of these on multiple Facebook feeds, even months after initially launching the virtual program.)
Tip #2: Plan your Lessons
Martial arts instructors typically prefer to teach “on a whim”, using an inspiration for the day or whatever is comfortable or familiar. Traditionally, classes include students from multiple ranks, and instructors have been comfortable leading forms / hung by the count while students performed different ones according to their levels.
This does not work with students needing step-by-step guidance on the virtual space.
Lesson planning becomes a must at this point. Basic techniques can be performed by students of all levels, and perhaps a class dedicated to “Fundamentals” would be open to all. Same goes with sparring/one-step techniques if only covering basic, universal sequences.
However, classes should be separated according to rank level for students needing step-by-step guidance for forms (by the count). This may be a challenge depending on your studio’s size and instructor availability.
Tip #3: Decide on an acceptable instructor-to-student ratio
This issue is typically averted by the presence of senior-ranking students for in-person classes. Junior-ranking students may be assigned to a senior-ranking student on the spot, while the instructor leads a different group within the same class. This option can be available virtually depending on your instructor availability, but first, let’s talk about the sole proprietor.
If you are operating as a solo instructor, then it is even more important to learn your preferred instructor-to-student ratio, which can be simply limited by the max number of thumbnails on your single monitor, and how much you are willing to scroll just to check on more students.
For those with higher instructor availability, you may benefit from this suggestion. It was successfully implemented by the local studio operator who consulted me.
This setup allows the student to remain engaged with the instructors, while at the same time, allowing the instructors to have tangible progress reports from each class. It develops accountability on both sides of the virtual screen.
Also consider scheduling private lessons or “open video chat” time slots for one or two students who benefit from a more private session.
Tip #4: Setup a video submission portal for off-line feedback
Homework assignments are verbalized during in-person classes, with the student able to demonstrate progress by attending class either the next day or at another point within the same week. With the virtual option, this may not be reliable due to scheduling conflicts.
Use platforms such as Google Classroom to allow students to submit homework videos for instructor feedback. While this may take more time from the instructor week to week, it should be a welcomed task as students are proactively choosing to remain engaged. If there is a specific technique that does not appear clear, it may be helpful to ask the student to record from a different angle when performing the technique.
My teacher and I have used Facebook Messenger since I started studying with him virtually. We also created a Google Drive folder for larger video submissions. The coolest part of this setup? We have historical access of my skill progressions, and have the ability to create archives of these videos.
Tip #5: Use this opportunity to mentor students in senior-ranks to learn how to become effective instructors
It’s growing to be extremely popular to deploy leadership programs at our martial arts studios, with these programs targeting senior-ranking teens. Use this opportunity to teach them how to visually observe for technique execution and give them the challenge of creating multiple options for verbal cues when issuing correctives.
When it comes to learning, tactile cues supersede verbal cues, but as expected, virtual learning restricts us to using verbal cues. Mentoring in leadership roles should not stop just because the in-person element has been removed. If anything, this helps with keeping students engaged and studio retention.
For video content creators using an iPhone and Bluetooth microphone, use a video recording app such as FilmicPro or record your audio separately.
Lately, I’ve been noticing video content creators using Bluetooth microphone connections on an iPhone, and the audio sounds distant in a room with minimal acoustic treatment. I've noticed it myself in a recent instructional videos I created for clients. In this example, notice at the 00:08 mark how the audio becomes cleaner as I step closer to the camera, despite my use of a Bluetooth earset.
Use a video recording app such as FilmicPro where you can see your audio levels rise and fall, and even use the same Bluetooth headset/microphone to monitor yourself.
Alternatively, you can record the audio separately, and overlay it with your video in post. Once both the video and audio recorders are setup, clap your hands once right before continuing with your intended content. Use this as a visual and audio marker to synchronize your video and audio when editing in post-production.
Deploy a conditioning class
If you are certified to provide instruction on conditioning methods, such as Iron Palm, Hojo Undo, Makiwara, or mobility, launch a supplemental program. While effective martial arts training does require some partner work, we have a lifetime to partner up later, but we should still use available solo training methods that would prepare us to handle future partner training.
Have you struggled in launching your studio’s virtual program, and would like to learn more? I offer consultations for martial arts pedagogues just like yourself. Request your free informational call back today!
Note: The products and vendors mentioned in this post do not constitute as an endorsement or advertisement. I am not getting paid to mention said products.