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While most of the gyms and dojos where I've trained so far had mirrors to help you work on your technique I think videos are underused. In my opinion, taking a video of e.g. a sparring session or while training technique is much better than looking at a mirror, because you can fully concentrate on what you are doing and watch the resuls later.

Historically, this is understandable, as video cameras used to be expensive and replaying the videos used to be cumbersome. But nowadays, where smartphones have ridiculously good cameras I believe it could and should be used more.

What is your take on this? Does filming and analyzing yourself in training help to improve technique?

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Until you've tried this in some kind of physical performance sport (my first exposure was in springboard diving) you can't realize how useful a tool it can be. But I've only done it a little in martial arts, and don't want to make too strong a claim. Why don't you try it? –  dmckee Feb 19 '12 at 20:06
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We occasionally film ourselves fencing, and its amazing how much poor technique you can pick out to improve on, when you can analyze it later. I know there is a "stigma" against filming in some dojo's, so depending on your instructor it might be a hard sell. –  Chris Feb 21 '12 at 14:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Its really useful. Most useful the sooner you see it afterwards. I've found, in the past, that anything relatively tricky (like jumping techniques, or flips) really benefit from this.

Many times with instruction I've been told, "you just need to do X" and I'll think to myself that I was doing X! Very easy to sort out the "I thought I was doing X" once seeing the video shows how far off from doing it you were!

This is best if you do the technique and instantly watch it on video. You have awareness of what your brain was telling you and now you can see what actually happened.

It's just like mirrors can be useful when drilling techniques.

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Does filming and analyzing yourself in training help to improve technique?

Yes and video is even more important to the coach. Video becomes an objective record that student and coach can both examine in detail. There is no room for interpretation of the facts: this is what actually happened.

Full disclosure: I hate looking at video of myself.

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Hate? You only "hate" looking at yourself? Lucky man. –  dmckee Feb 19 '12 at 22:01
    
@dmckee, well we have to pick a word. I do a fair amount of public speaking as well and had to help edit a video presentation of one of my talks. I was ready to claw out my own eyes before we were done.... ;-) –  Bob Cross Feb 19 '12 at 22:04
    
I know what you mean, I find it actually painful ;-) But it helps with other things, too, like public speaking as you mentioned in your comment. –  Robert Petermeier Feb 21 '12 at 19:37

A tool is only as dangerous as its user.

Analyzing yourself is only as good as you are able to be objective, and only as good as you will be at analyzing yourself.

Sending a video to a teacher because of geographical reasons is a good idea, if the teacher agrees to it. The teacher can make corrections.

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There is a huge problem with videotaping yourself and playing it back for your own purposes, in my experience. When I was first starting out, I would often times (along with another buyu) film classes and go back and review the footage, especially what I was doing, and correct my technique based on that while I practiced between classes.

Let's take, for example, the waza of ganseki nage. I'm going to show you the technique the way Takamatsu Toshitsugu performed it as an authoritative reference. See it on YouTube.

Now, since I was performing the technique as a new student, I was watching videos of myself with a hunched over back straining with all my muscle (I didn't have much) to make the technique work, and eventually my partner's balance would get disrupted by me pushing my leg out wide, etc. So I was watching what worked, and unable to see that it was wrong.

My first clue was years later when I learned the real fundamentals; the principles on which the art operates. I kept my back in alignment to maintain balance, I used my strong (rigid/bones) parts against their weak (flexible/joints). I took their space. It took years of training to learn how to have eyes for the art. I had to learn how to examine the art from my instructor so I could see the problems I was facing the way he did.

We are subjective animals. We want to view our abilities as flawless, but we are inherently flawed. As soon as we start to have the ability to some degree to perform an act, we want to think we are the best at performing that act. This is human nature; we are naturally biased toward our own abilities because it helps us have a desire to continue to learn. But we are completely unable to learn solely on our own. We make mistakes that we can not recognize, even in subjects such as math and science. We see farther by standing on the shoulders of giants.

If you want to film someone, film your instructor. It'll be far less of a waste of tape.

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It's a lot like playing back your game in go or chess. Incredibly useful, incredibly powerful, but easy to read too much into or not see what is blazingly obvious to someone with a little more experience. In go our expression is that you are 4 stones stronger when reviewing, but services like the Go Teaching Ladder exist, in part, because sometimes 4 stones is not enough to actually see what is going on.

We used to do this with some frequency when I was rapier fighting. Except that when we played back the tapes, we would actually do it on a "pizza night" and get a large group of us together to comment. That way you got the benefit of more experienced input and of being able to watch those who are weaker than you, both of which in turn can help you analyze your own technique. That gives you the best of all worlds (so long as you have thick skin, they can identify a lot wrong in a group setting like that).

In many ways it is similar to looking at another student of about your level and seeing what they are doing differently from either what you are doing or what you think you should be doing. Last night I was doing this with the other black belt student in the class: Trying to see what she did that looked different from my mental image or from what I was doing, and asking for clarification about which way the technique was supposed to look. Similarly, by looking at yourself in a video you can see minor variations from how you may think it is supposed to look, and it gives you an opportunity to ask questions and gain clarifications. It is similarly beneficial to look at others in the same light, since it helps you with identifying your own gaps in technique.

I do think it is easy to walk away with a mistaken impression of what you are doing wrong, but I don't think that removes the fundamental value of the exercise. It just means that when you are doing it, it is worth remembering that your analysis is not perfect, and part of what you are doing is training yourself to analyze students for when you teach in the future. In that light, I've found it useful to pretend that the person I am analyzing is not me: it is someone else who I am trying to help or who I am trying to understand, giving a level of depersonalization to the exercise.

The other side of this is that the problem with looking exclusively at people much better or much worse than you is that what they are doing is going to be subtly different. Or in some cases what they are doing is not quite the same technique, or perhaps they come from a slightly different school. By looking at others your own level while analyzing yourself, you can see a little more of how the technique is taught at your school to people of your level.

So long story less long: absolutely use it as an exercise, but with a few caveats/pieces of advice:

  • Don't do this in an echo chamber: Get the feedback of others.
  • Practice reading others as well as yourself.
  • Depersonalize it.

That's what has helped me the most with this sort of exercise.

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