Video Improvement

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.

White Belt Perfection

By Erik HofmeisterKarate Rocks Balance

Every now and then, I encounter either a new student who wants their technique to be perfect, or a teacher who wants their white belts’ technique to be perfect.  Striving for perfection is a good goal, but it must be tempered with the understanding that it is frankly not possible, and may even hinder progress in some students.

Learning anything is a progression.  You first learn some information, then more, and then a little bit more.  At the vet school, we don’t expect first-year students to be able to diagnose anything, much less complex diseases, but we do expect them to be able to make diagnoses 3 years later.  What changes?  Why not expect them to master diagnosis in their first week?  Quite simply, because they can’t do it. There is too much information- they aren’t capable of assimilating the information in a useful manner.  They might memorize the data, but they don’t know how to use it.

Some students want to learn everything they can as soon as they can.  After promotion, they want to learn and master their next kata.  As white belts, they want as much feedback as possible on their technique so they can perfect it.  I have already discussed the utility and necessity of dwell time of information in the brain.  In addition, over-eager students are not grasping the larger concepts of patience, commitment, perseverance, progression, esprit de corps, and understanding. A white belt who develops an excellent front kick must do so at the cost of some other techniques (since there’s only so much time in a day), and may become overconfident in their abilities.

New students have to learn basic elements like balance, strength, and coordination as well as basic techniques like front kick.  Trying to get the perfect front kick out of a white belt is pointless- they may be able to DO it, but they won’t be able to understand it, teach it or, most importantly, replicate it.  The ranks exist to facilitate a constant progression of understanding and mastery.  A white belt has thousands of hours of practice in front of them before their front kick will be excellent because it needs all the elements, most of which take time.  There’s no point in cramming information which they cannot use into their brain in the first week- let them learn in an ordered, steady fashion.

Striving for perfection, continuing toward excellence, is what’s it’s all about.  Wanting or expecting to be excellent with a technique when you first learn it is counter-productive.


One of the first classes at Athens Yoshukai – notice all the white belts.