By Erik Hofmeister
Improvement in your karate can come from a number of sources. You may think about karate, imagining yourself doing a kata. Your instructor may observe you and provide feedback. Your peers may have different ideas to impart. At camps, you may be able to learn different ways to do things from different instructors. Reading and watching videos can be tremendously helpful. Most martial artists never do one thing to improve their skills. Most organized sports players, particularly on school and professional teams, do this one thing. They watch themselves on video.
Self video review is one of the most powerful tools we have for improvement, but it is remarkably underutilized. People hate seeing themselves on video. They are highly self-critical of their videotaped performance. They don’t like how they sound. It’s hard to set up the camera and then take the time to watch it. Video has many barriers. But the benefits are impressive.
My first time doing self video with the intention to improve was in preparation for the 2014 Athens Tournament. All of the head instructors agreed we would enter the competition in order to shame our blackbelts into competing. I chose to do San Shi Ryu, which no one around Athens knew or could help me with. So I recorded myself. I’ve known this kata for a long time. I tested to 4th degree knowing it. I thought it was pretty good. The video was really just to confirm that it looked good, not really to help me improve.
The first recording was… not great. Maybe it was good, but I saw about a dozen things I was doing not as well as I knew I could. So I fixed some of them, and did another video. I did about 4 rounds of this over the 2 weeks preceding the tournament, and my performance improved noticeably. In teaching students in the classroom and the dojo, I have learned so much by watching myself, and my student evaluations improved as a consequence.
Even if you have access to a knowledgeable instructor, sometimes you need to see yourself doing something in order to understand it. I have students who do a technique which I have tried to fix in several different ways, with minimal progress. Showing them a video of themselves has resulted in them immediately changing something I had spent the last 6 months trying to change.
If you are training on your own, or are higher ranked than most of those around you, or are preparing for a high-level test, self video is huge. I regularly do self video to make sure I am constantly _improving_ my karate, not just _doing_ my karate.