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My Aikido teacher advised us (I'm in a beginners group) not to study Aikido movies on youtube, at least not until we get our black belts. He said that's because there are different Aikido styles and we might be studying techniques that are totally different from our particular style. What's your opinion on this? Is he right? Or is it possible to find movies on the internet showing techniques for a particular Aikido style?

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Aikido can be translated as the way of harmony therefore looking outside your school is bad and wrong and should never be done... –  Sardathrion May 31 '12 at 13:49
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I don't get it. How do you go from "the way of harmony" to "looking outside of your school is bad"? Can't I be harmonious with everybody including people outside of my school? –  smev May 31 '12 at 14:12
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I decided not to make this an answer, but as to style: In the beginning you learn the style of your instructor, and it is important to have consistency while you learn all the basic moves. After a while you will start to figure out variations that work better for you. When this starts to happen it is good to reach out and go to seminars or other places to get exposed to different styles. Eventually, the Aikido that works for you will become your style. The style your instructor teaches is likely the style that works for him. –  Jack B Nimble May 31 '12 at 19:33
    
@smev & everyone who does not get my comment should check this definition... –  Sardathrion Jun 1 '12 at 6:40

9 Answers 9

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I've found videos very helpful when I already knew a particular technique (or especially a form), and very unhelpful when I did not.

On those occasions when I became stuck and couldn't remember the next move in a form, it was great to see a video of someone practicing the form in the exact manner I was taught. I have a video set from one of my sifu's contemporaries for exactly this reason. However, this is rare. A particular form or technique can have many different variations from school to school, even within the same style, so even if I was successful at picking up what was in the video, I would end up having to unlearn it later as I was taught the right approach for my school.

If I tried to learn something for the first time, something I wasn't already familiar with, seeing it on film was worse than useless. More often, I would end up not even knowing what happened in the video. Yes, obviously, this guy moved and that guy hit the floor, but what was really going on?

Once I had 8-10 years of experience I started to be able to figure out what the intent was for different techniques. After almost 20 years, I'm able to gain a little more by watching a technique, whether in person or online. However, getting hands-on with a technique is still by far the best way for me to learn.

I think your teacher is giving you just one of many reasons to avoid trying to learn martial arts through video, and I agree with him (or her).

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YouTube may be a valuable tool in learning how to do something (much like this site), but that will vary depending on the student and the teacher. I don't know much about the variance of aikido styles, but I know that there are hundreds of different kung fu styles. While some fundamental movements may be similar or the same, there are lots of different characteristics unique to each style, its forms, and culture that make them very different.

Your instructor is right in saying that you might end up learning the moves that aren't in your particular style. Others might view this as a negative move, because they might see or feel that you aren't being respectful to the system or your instructor if you are going behind their back on your own to learn something else. If an instructor makes a living off teaching martial arts, that person could be seen as doing a disservice to the teacher (and is probably not the kind of student they might want in that case).

You may also end up learning a particular technique incorrectly as well due to inexperience. If you're watching a video that isn't instructional, you only have visual input (and the view could be obstructed) on how to perform that move without a verbal or more detailed or nuanced explanation for it. Some videos may not be performed by experts either, so you might end up learning an incorrect movement from an inexperienced or beginner person who hasn't fully understood what they are doing.

Some systems may not want videos of their style online to maintain the traditional aspect of learning martial arts. I know this is true in various kung fu systems I've met in the Chinatown area. A lot of it has to do with maintaining the tradition, culture, and history that is passed down from teacher to student along with the physical movements and respecting your martial arts ancestors. Some of those videos might outdated or old or perhaps performed by people who aren't fully trained in that particular art.

Since you've written that your instructor has told you not to learn from the Internet, my advice is to respect that person's wishes and not go off on your own. Once you do reach a certain level or proficiency or mastery (in your case reaching black belt status), then I would assume you've reached a level where you can discern what is going on in a video and also interpret or analyze and use it in a way that would be respectful or complementary to your style. I would personally still bring it up with my instructor for discussion and try to share that knowledge and give back rather than go solo and "take, take, take." The context or content of the video might also set the tone of what could be useful or not as well, and that is also something I would also bring up.

One behavioral phenomenon I've seen with students (especially with new and young youths) is that they tend to get very eager after the initial "beginner's hump." They start to get more comfortable and relaxed, often times becoming more boisterous or ostentatious about what they can do (more so in the presence of other newer and incoming students. It's okay for them to feel proud, but they also need to be reminded to not show off (it's very disrespectful) especially when they've only been there for 6 months compared to others who have been there for 6 years.

The point is to have patience and control over one's self and develop that self-discipline when studying an art. My perspective comes from a traditional kung fu perspective on that, but the way I see it is that there is always room to learn and grow more no matter what your age, level, or discipline is.

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IMO observing techniques, even if from other styles, is more helpful than harmful.

Of course you should be able to find techniques from whatever style you practice, assuming a reasonably well-known style.

"Should" you practice another style's techniques before "mastering" your own? That's a separate issue, and it depends entirely upon your goals. Would I suggest studying two different styles of the same art simultaneously? Probably not. Would I suggest comparing different styles? I would, because understanding the differences can enhance the understanding of your own style.

Would I tell your instructor I was doing so? Doesn't sound like it would be a good idea--but I'm wary of instructors that attempt to dissuade "outside" information, whether it's the same art or not, so I'm biased.

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++ Though I do recommend studying different styles at once. Where they clash... is probably where you've found an art or an instructor to be avoided. We did lots of extra stuff in my TKD dojang including aikido, JKD, and arnis and it only helped and prevented the "my art's better than yours" mentality from taking root. –  Ashley May 31 '12 at 21:17
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@Ashley Those are different arts, not different styles of the same art. Perhaps I could have been more clear. IMO mixing closely-related styles can cause issues. I'm a strong proponent of studying different arts; my current primary school teaches JKD, silat, kali/escrima, grappling, boxing, etc. –  Dave Newton May 31 '12 at 21:19
    
Ideally though, there should still be flexibility within the styles. TKD and Karate are pretty similar, but you would wonder why when doing TKD they might insist on a narrower stance and karate might insist on a wider stance, and why there isn't a range of stances you could choose based on your body type. –  Robin Ashe Jul 5 '12 at 17:39
    
@RobinAshe Of course--but the question here is about studying different styles at the same time. IMO if you're studying a specific style, studying a closely-related style at the same time can cause issues because in classes for the given style you should follow the principles of that style, particularly until rather advanced. Stances are relative to body type by definition anyway; my point is that when in TKD class, do what your TKD instructor tells you to. Internalizing a closely-related style simultaneously is difficult, unless you're already fairly advanced overall. –  Dave Newton Jul 5 '12 at 17:43

Videos don't teach technique

Learning from videos is just not an effective way of learning technique. It can work, but it's wildly inefficient and can produce bad habits. One of the primary reasons to avoid video-based learning is that without an excellent feedback system (e.g. great training partners at home, or near-daily practice where you test the video-learned techniques) you will pick up bad habits. Without feedback to warn you away from bad habits, your technique could stagnate.

So even if you could find videos of your specific Aikido style, it probably won't be very helpful.

Videos can teach possibilities or "style"

However, videos of high-level exponents of a style can convey a lot of useful information that isn't about technique.

By watching a significant amount of video, and being discerning about who to watch, what to watch, and the quality of each piece, one can pick up an idea for the "style" of a style, or the approach of a given technician. For analogy, in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it's not too helpful to try to learn the cross-collar choke by watching Roger Gracie. But watching tape of him cross-collar-choking everyone in the heavyweight division is mighty informative about the power of the technique, and of Roger's stylistic approach.

One can get an okay idea of the "feel" or "flow" of a style or practitioner by watching tape. This can be useful as a "finger pointing at the moon", guiding one's practice.

The other somewhat useful thing one can pick up from video is possibilities. I won't learn from a video the "feel" of a technique, or figure out how to apply it well, but I'll at least be aware that it exists. This can be helpful in defense against people without too much expertise, and can expand one's understanding of the problem space.

Reasons an instructor might object

Let's look at it from your instructor's perspective. I've trained under instructors who ran the gamut of opinions on this: totally opposed to outside instruction like video, tolerant of it, or wholly embracing it (though recognizing its drawbacks). I've encountered three serious objections:

  1. It gets old correcting a student's bad technique that was caused by outside instruction.
  2. Learning a snazzy technique from outside of class is great...until you apply it improperly, or without understanding it, and someone gets hurt. Or maybe you just didn't know that there was a rule against that kind of technique (e.g. flying shiho nage in aikido, sacrifice throws in judo, heel hooks in BJJ), and that's why your instructor hadn't shown you it yet.
  3. It takes focus away from what you're doing. This is valid in some circumstances, but is by far the weakest objection.
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I think I understand your point, but do you feel the same for already learned techniques? For example use videos to look back if you remember a technique properly so you can prepare yourself for an exam? –  smev May 31 '12 at 7:24
    
@smev I've never heard of that approach being used in martial arts. Either you know the technique in your bones or you're faking it for the test. Go ahead and try it, but I wouldn't say it's very productive beyond the test. –  Dave Liepmann May 31 '12 at 12:21
    
When my teacher mentions the Japanse name of a technique during class I still have to think about what it means and translate it to a set of movements in my head. Also, sometimes I have to think about how to begin a specific technique. But once I start it the rest usually does follow automatically. I was thinking to use youtube videos for exam preparation so I can try to "remember" the correct technique and how to start it more quickly. –  smev May 31 '12 at 14:27
    
@smev Maybe it'll work, I've never tried that. I think more class time would be more productive. If you've been training less than a year, I wouldn't fret about not yet knowing the names instinctively. –  Dave Liepmann May 31 '12 at 14:31

I've never heard of a good instructor (of any subject) recommending students not learn something.

There's nothing wrong with watching youtube videos to get different technique ideas. Unless you engage in serious 'offline' training, though, you're not actually 'learning' them. Just learning that they exist.

I just dont see what the issue is - if you show up to class and start doing a technique incorrectly, then he corrects you. Its not like you're going to build up massive muscle memories and become untrainable form watching some aikido videos.

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I'm a beginner at Aikido as well. Personally I find looking at lots of videos and reading lots of books very enjoyable, and pretty helpful, particularly when it comes to remembering the Japanese names for attacks, techniques, etc. (for our 5th kyu we have to do 9 arts from 2 attacks omote and ura, so that's 36 combinations to nail down). From reading books and articles I've got a rudimentary understanding of the different schools/styles arising from the main splits that have occurred over Aikido's relatively short history. If you build this background knowledge it should be fairly apparent whether you are looking at aikikai, yoshinkan, ki society, tomiki, etc. and hence how relevant it is to your particular school. If I felt all that was closed off for at least 4 years (probably more like 8) until I reached Shodan I'd probably get bored fairly quickly. Maybe your teacher feels that all the history and politics behind this could be off-putting to new students though. Certainly our teacher discourages questions and analysis during class.

All that said, there's no replacement for hard practice and you can't learn martial arts from videos or books, they are purely supplemental to time in the Dojo with a good teacher, but IME a great way to feed your addiction when you can't get on the mat. :-)

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My advice is to keep looking at videos and possibly change teacher.

Looking is a training per se, in Aikido. (Tada Hiroshi used to teach that, at least: metsuke no keiko)

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Why do you recommend that? –  Matt Chan Jun 7 '12 at 2:58
    
Looking is a training per se, in Aikido. (Tada Hiroshi used to teach that, at least) –  tacone Jun 7 '12 at 6:01
    
added. you don't need to upvote or delete anything btw –  tacone Jul 2 '12 at 21:59

My teachers also object to learning from videos, because they say one should learn in class, during training. I, for one, disagree.

I think videos can be a great resource because they show you exactly what should be done, not what you remember from what the instructor has said should be done. They allow you to see the details of the movement, and you can use them to extract summaries of the techniques

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Not to take away from any of the other answers here, but I would like to add another perspective. I think visiting other dojos and watching videos is something that everyone must do at some point in their martial arts career.

The question is what is the right time?

In my opinion, it is about the time you are a nidan or a sandan (2nd or 3rd degree black belt). The reason for this is that you must develop the trained eye to understand what you are seeing. To recognize what is universal (there is more similarity, for example, between good karatedo and good aikido than difference), to understand what is surface affectation, and to decode the language used by the instructor from the physical reality of what they are their students are doing.

All of the senior martial artists I know have "made the tour" of many other dojos, styles, and arts (watching videos would fall in this category) and it is very, very helpful as you rise towards the senior ranks.

However, as a beginner--anything under shodan (1st degree black belt), you may not be ready for this. It is easier to learn one system, without worrying about why things differ and whether those differences are important. Pick a good instructor, and learn from them.

The reason beginners are not ready to absorb multiple styles or systems is because they don't have the observational skill to see what is important or not important. Sometimes surface details don't matter at all. Especially in aikido (although in all martial arts eventually), the things that don't matter are very hard to see, until you have learned what to see--usually by doing and having done to you so many times that you begin to recognize.

Beginners need the instructor to coach them through the beginners path, helping them to find the core of the correct, fundamental technique.

For this reason, I don't recommend visits, videos, or books to beginners (everyone up to about shodan or nidan is a beginner). It just isn't time yet.

Then, a student is at the point where they truly know their own body, and can read others, then they are ready to begin review and exploration of the larger world. This is an exciting time in any martial artists development. You will see that much that earlier seemed incredibly different is really the same, yet things you couldn't see when you were a beginner have profound outcomes.

Conversely, if an instructor expressly forbids looking at videos, visiting other dojos, or whatever, that is not good sign either. Good instructors should be able to help their students understand the similarities and differences of other styles, and more importantly, why they are that way and what it means.

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