COVID-19 Gives Martial Arts Schools a Glimpse into the Future of Online Training Possibilities

Interpersonal communication skills are critical in developing the ability to build healthy relationships with other people. You rely on these skills anytime you interact with another human being. Occupations that require particularly good interpersonal skills are teachers, nurses, marketers, customer service agents.

I want to investigate how the evolution of technology and particularly the invention of the internet has affected these skills. Does current technology give the opportunity to someone who once might not have had the chance, to communicate and learn new things. Will technology improve to facilitate this further in the next five to ten years.

I plan to investigate these questions with close reference to a specific current case study. That is to disseminate interpersonal communication skill’s importance in teaching martial arts. And how these interpersonal skills transpose in the digital space.

Part 1 – The Past – Communication prior to the internet, teaching in the dojang

It’s important to note that not long ago to learn and develop any skill whatsoever you had to do so within a reasonable proximity. It was not until what we now consider legacy media (radio, tv and particularly the telephone) were introduced that this changed. The implications of the telephone’s invention on interpersonal communication were enormous. Within 50 years of its invention in the late 19th century, the phone became an essential household tool. Enabling collaboration, invention, ideology different to any of its technology predecessors.

The idea that you had to be in the same room as someone else to communicate with them was disrupted further when the internet was invented in 1983. Even more so in the early 90s when it was popularised. Since then, the telephone has developed into the smartphone. This created a communicating super tool and has changed the way we communicate dramatically.

However, with all this change and ability to interact with people across the globe online sports classes are still not all that common. Especially in comparison to their traditional counterpart. This is particularly true in the martial arts space.

Maybe the lack of digital martial arts classes is partly due the importance of interpersonal communication. In order to properly interact and engage with students there are number of critical steps that must be taken in order to communicate concepts and ideas properly. Especially for younger students. This is known to me as I am an instructor myself and have been for the last 5 years.

Part 2 – The Now – COVID-19 gives us a snapshot into the future

We are an inherently social species. To quote Aristotle ‘Man is a social animal’. A large part of learning martial arts or any sport for that matter is the social aspect. For both the student and the parent, coming into the dojang (place of training), seeing friends and training partners makes up a large part of the enjoyability.  

The question remains, if this community feel can be achieved when learning online

Human’s social ability leaves no wonder to why communication plays such an integral role in our lives today. However, this may also be due to the abundancy of tools and platforms in which communication is facilitated. And the recent advance in technology and especially internet devices over the last ten years. A survey of two thousand Americans found the most popular form of communication was texting (35%). With nearly 90% saying they owned a smartphone. Another survey indicated Over 50% of people felt either “somewhat reliant” or “very reliant” on technology when communicating. That same survey specified 92% of respondents used at least one communicative platform daily.

The stats above confirm what we already know. There is a clear audience for people learning online.

Online learning possibilities in the martial arts space became substantiated recently – around three months ago when the COVID-19 outbreak began in Australia. My club had the option to either close up shop, with potential cataclysmic financial ramifications or move online. We made the easy choice to continue training in the digital space.  

COVID-19 gave us a glimpse into the potential future and potential for martial arts online. While classes were definitely different, and perhaps not as great as being at the dojang the project has so far been a success. With club maintaining around 80% student retention in comparison to some other clubs which experienced 100% drop in revenue and subsequently closed.

The main difference between physical and digital communication is the sensory gratification.  The five main communicative senses include: Hearing, Smell, Sight, Taste and Touch.

While face to face communication incorporates all of the above, a majority are left behind when on the internet. So, which of these are missing when we use technology to communicate? At its best digital media can incorporate just two of the five, they are sight and hearing.

Part 3 – The Future – The next five to ten years

It seems fair to me to assume that five main senses are vital in communicating. The more senses utilised in our interactions with others the higher the level of communication and learning. The lack of the majority of our communicative senses effects instructor’s ability to properly teach over the internet.

Further, the internet is renowned for having a detrimental effect on our interpersonal skills.

And while digital platforms allow us to learn where we once couldn’t, using them as replacement for real martial arts classes has its disadvantages. Primarily the limited interpersonal communication which is so vital in our classes.

Currently the extent to which online classes can replace physical classes is limited. To best solve this would be the introduction of technologies which incorporate the use of missing senses. Two technologies which are currently available but not at their full potential are Haptic Technology and Virtual Reality.

  • Gesture Control Technology

Gesture control technology involves the interpretation of user’s body and particular had movements. This technology works without the student ever coming into contact with the hardware. The potential I see in gesture control technology is developing software which utilises the 3D model approach can use volumetric or skeletal models, or even a combination of the two. This would allow instructors can record themselves doing techniques and student s can test it against the gesture control recording.

  • Virtual Reality Technology

Martial arts training in a virtual environment, while not yet popularised does exist. Some applications include virtual sparring partners and evasion practice. Where I think virtual reality could become useful is acting as the replacement for that crucial social aspect. If VR got the point where avatars and environments could look realistic enough. The entire dojang experience could be recreated. Including the small items which are currently lost in online training

Current technology only allows online training to act as a supplement to coming into the dojang. However, these two up and coming technologies in combination with existing video calling software could make for potential high quality online martial arts classes.

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