Are you a martial arts instructor or combat sports coach interested in taking your teaching online, but aren’t sure where to start? Are you currently teaching virtual martial arts classes, but aren’t sure that you’re offering the best possible online instruction for your students? Or maybe your classes are going well, but you want to learn how to make the online martial arts lessons experience even better for your students?
You’re not alone. And we are here to help!
When you think about it, we’re all still earning our first stripes in virtual martial arts. Instructors and students alike were thrown into this world pretty suddenly when social distancing measures around the globe pushed us out of the dojo and onto video conferencing platforms. We’re all learning together, which is great, because martial arts are all about lifelong learning, and the virtual practice of martial arts is an entirely new set of skills we’re adding to our arsenals. But it can also be particularly challenging and confusing for martial arts instructors who have gone from being sources of wisdom and experience who are sharing that expertise in their element to sources of wisdom and experience who are still learning how to share all of that expertise in uncharted territory. Your knowledge base is still there — and it’s still the most important part of martial arts instruction and coaching — but the ways in which you can pass it on to your students will probably require some adaptation.
When we were talking to students about their experiences with online martial arts training for last week’s blog, “What To Expect In A Virtual Martial Arts Class,” they gave us a lot of insight into what their instructors were doing right. But they also mentioned some areas where they’d like to see some improvement. So we reached out to a boxing and Muay Thai coach with excellent online and offline training skills to see if he had any tips he’d be willing to share. Here’s what we learned:
1. Remain calm.
Life is stressful. Trying new things is also stressful. You’re probably carrying a lot of tension around in general, and it’s perfectly normal to be nervous while teaching your first few online martial arts classes. But your technique will suffer if you’re not managing that tension, and what your students are able to get out of that technique will be diminished, too. So, before you start each class, you’ll want to apply all of that martial arts training about mindfulness and stress management that you’ve learned over the years.
“First things first you need to breathe!” striking coach Evan Boris, who you can follow @strikingconcepts, tells us. “Everyone is tense during this stuff. Martial Arts and tension have this weird relationship in that tension kills speed and reaction time but it’s also necessary for power and action.”
Here’s an example of a balance between calm and tension:
2. Make sure you’re offering online martial arts training for the right reasons.
Martial arts is a career as well as a calling, and we all have to eat. But if you’re only approaching virtual martial arts training as a business opportunity, it will show in the quality of your instruction and the lack of connection you’ll make with your students. “Remember why you’re doing this. If you’re just teaching because you’re struggling to cover some bills or you’re trying to get in on a trend then you’ve lost before you started,” Boris says.
3. Break down your lesson goals. Then figure out how you can best achieve them with the tools at your disposal.
“You gotta know what you want from your athlete-trainee,” he explains. “What do you want your technique to look like? What are the pieces that make up that technique?”
Once you have that in mind, you can start to think about how you are going to explain and correct those techniques when you aren’t physically present to study your students’ form from multiple angles and manually correct any mistakes. Boris recommends putting together a checklists of specific steps that will allow your students to check their own work. “Checklists allow students to develop a roadmap towards successful habits.”
For an example of how that works, he offers his checklist for the cross in boxing:
“Where are my knuckles in relation to my elbow on the end of my cross? Are my hips pointed to the target ? Is my chin connected to my shoulder? Is the weight over the left instep and right knee equally? Am I in position to punch?”
Here’s a great example of his methodology in action:
4. Engage your students.
At the gym, your very presence can be enough to let students know that you’re observing, and that you’re there for them if they have any questions. But this part of teaching doesn’t translate so well to online martial arts classes. One common concern that came up when we talked to students about their virtual martial arts training was that they didn’t always feel like their instructors were truly involved in the class.
“We had a guest instructor who would show us 14 step combos and then spend the next 10 minutes staring at us. It felt like a grading, not like we were taking part in a class,” one kickboxing student told us. When we asked if there were any constructive suggestions this student might have, they were quick to point out steps that their regular instructor was already taking. “He engages the student. He has us count while we drill. He will watch and then give persona; feedback and corrections.”
“You gotta make it fun,” Boris says. “The trivial and inquisitive nature of students going through checklists and analogies and having to analyze their own work is actually a huge benefit. It’s an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of what and why the students doing something.”
5. Don’t be afraid of the basics.
Boris points out that so many things that martial artists have been doing in isolation forever can be adapted for great virtual martial arts training. “It comes down to imagination and discipline. Shadowboxing, as low tech as it is, the stuff works if you do it right!”