The Birth of an Internal Arts Website
Respect - A Question of Character?

Learning the Internal Arts through Video

The martial arts are full of legends--tales of masters who could fling a larger opponent across a room with the flick of a finger, or masters who could defeat a crowd of martial artists without being injured.

One legend tells of a young student who wanted to learn a form from a master. According to the legend, the master performed the sequence of movements one time, turned to the student and said, "I will be back in one year. You master this form!"

One year later, according to the legend, the master returned and the student had, in fact, mastered the movements. And he didn't even have a DVD player!

I'm a visual learner and I've studied martial arts since 1973, but I still can't memorize more than two or three moves in a row by just watching a performance once. In 1978, however, when I bought my first VCR, it opened up a new world of martial arts training for visual learners like me.

Imagine if you had videos of some of the great martial arts masters of the 19th Century. Imagine if you could watch the creator of Tai Chi, Chen Wangting, perform his movements in the 1600's in the Chen Village. Legendary Hsing-I master Sun Lu Tang, the creator of Sun Tai Chi, lived until the 1930s but sadly, not long enough for camcorders and VCRs to be invented. Chen Fake, Chen Xiaowang's legendary grandfather, lived until 1957. What a shame we have so little on video to see how they moved.

Since the early 1980s, martial artists around the world have been recording themselves on video. The rise of the VCR and DVD gave us the chance to stop a master in his tracks or slo-mo the movements like never before.

The body mechanics for these arts are incredibly complicated. It takes years of study to do them correctly. I've learned in person from folks like Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang and his brother, Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, their students Master Ren Guangyi and Chen Bing, and American students and disciples.
I've also purchased their videos and have found them lacking in true instruction. Not all great masters are great teachers. My best teachers have been Americans--students of these masters like Jim and Angela Criscimagna (disciples of Chen Xiaowang)--who questioned beneath the surface and explained, in plain English, the mechanics behind the movements.

It takes someone with years of face-to-face instruction to be able to decipher the body mechanics that the masters show on video but don't teach on video. And that's the problem.

If you try to learn martial arts through video, the challenge is to find someone who can actually teach visually. Most masters only do repeated movements at different angles with very little instruction on body mechanics. Without proper body mechanics, you can't do the internal arts properly. Some of the best videos I've seen have been by martial artists who were not considered masters, but they were good teachers and knew how to use video.

If you try to learn martial arts on video, find a way to get feedback on your techniques and movements from a qualified teacher. We all believe we look like a great master when we perform, but the reality is usually different from the self-image in our heads.

Use a camcorder to record your movements and then compare them to the video you're studying. Be brutally honest with yourself. Get a friend to look at both videos and tell you where you're making a mistake. Is your body really doing what the instructor is doing?

Some of my students who live in other parts of the world put private videos on YouTube for me to watch and critique. Sometimes I make video replies to show them the mistakes they're making. I've done this for my students back in Iowa. I now have students as far away as Japan.

Nothing can replace face-to-face teaching and hands-on corrections, but if you live in an area without people who teach the arts you want to learn, and you're a visual learner, the development of video and the Internet has given anyone a chance to explore the arts like no other time in history.

Comments

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Sean C. Ledig

Great post, Ken!

Video is one of the greatest inventions for martial artists. It's a way of preserving the ancient forms and techniques. It's a great way to take notes of what you've learned and to check yourself out.

I also like it because it eliminates one of my biggest pet peeves - instructors who hold back knowledge. Now, if your instructor is holding back for less-than-ethical purposes, you can usually find DVD or video of another instructor teaching what your teacher won't.

You've never held out on me, Ken. But I've had other instructors who did.

And on several occasions, I've called the teachers who produced the videos I've bought to ask them to clarify some things. Some are unwilling to help unless I visit them and pay money.

But most I've found are so glad to see that someone has an interest in what they're teaching that they open right up.

Your post brings up another point of martial arts training: Students need to do their homework. It amazes me that some people think they can go to class twice a week and really learn what is being taught.

Guess what! You can't! One of my Tai Chi sifus used to get so annoyed that the only time most of his students practiced was during class on Saturday mornings.

The story of that student who learned that form and had a year to practice it shows the importance of training on your own. I can relate to that student.

I've been learning Yau Kung Mun for several years. My instructor in that art travels regularly in connection with his work. I may not see him for weeks or months, so I practice on my own.

Thankfully, I do have video of him and I can email him with questions.


Gary Liu

Hi Ken.

Having seen many internal martial arts DVD's, it is a real breath of fresh air to view yours. I appreciate the honest and point blank delivery of the body mechanics analysis, and your genuine interest in helping others along their martial development really shows.

I remember getting disappointed and frustrated by too many DVD's and videos where just the movements are shown with absolutely no explanation. For someone with little background in internal martial arts, might as well watch the old Charlie Chaplain movies for value. I ended up turfing those DVD's.

Although like you said, nothing can replace face to face instructions, I do believe your style of DVD instructions will go a long way towards bridging the gap. Just want to wish you good luck. I have gotten many good tips from your DVD's myself and am grateful for it.

Ken

Gary,
Wow, thanks for the testimonial. When I was in TV news, I hired a lot of young people out of college. Although they had degrees, they knew very little about how to do good TV news. When I was a young reporter no one helped me. I had to pick everything up by watching carefully and emulating the really good people. When I became a manager, I decided to help the people I hired to cut years off their development by watching their stories with them and coaching them on how to do it more creatively. Ironically, I got an email today from John Gumm, a weatherman at the ABC affiliate in Cincinnati. He told me I helped him by hiring him in the Quad Cities and coaching him. Even after I left the station he reminded me that I called him and gave him some coaching advice that helped him immediately. Now he's in Cincinnati making more than I ever did in TV. :)

I guess that coaching instinct is the same one I use in kung fu. I'm not a master. That's obvious to me when I see the videos I produce. But I'm a teacher, and sometimes a teacher can get across ideas better than a master. Then its up to the student to practice and become better than the teacher. :) I sure appreciate your nice comments. This is the same approach I'm using in the new website at www.internalfightingarts.com. One new member who joined this week said "I feel like I'm in a dojo." That makes me feel pretty good.

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