One of the most commonly heard divisive statements instructors have made to each other in private groups and forums throughout this pandemic: "you can't learn a martial art online".
There is something missing from the online experience when it comes to learning martial arts, especially grappling arts like Aikido. But it's not the screen.
It's the lack of a teacher.
When you move to an online space, you lose the hierarchical structure of the dojo. Just like all those masterclasses that only work for a few industrious and naturally talented people - the rest of us learn best when there's an exchange between teacher and student.
As often as hierarchical structures may fail us (think gender imbalances, those who take advantage of their station, and those who undervalue themselves as a student, etc...), these structures create a relationship that vastly speeds up the learning process - when done correctly. Here are a few things to look for in an online course: 1. Will you have direct access to the teacher(s)? One of the main issues with teaching relationships is scalability. 1 teacher can only handle a certain number of students before the experience becomes the same as an impersonal video that doesn't address the student's specific needs. First and foremost, the teacher must set a limit for how many students they want to work with, or create a hierarchical structure of teachers who work with the "chief instructor" to disseminate knowledge. The benefit of this tiered structure, is that the "chief instructor" spends time teaching teachers, as well as their group of students. The drawback of course is that the "chief instructor"'s student "pool" must now be smaller to accommodate the teaching of teachers.
2. Are the classes in a constant state of re-development? Another red-flag is when content is created and then assumed to be the purest and best form of that content. A teacher's job in this area must also be to constantly re-evaluate the content they are creating based on how it's being received, how the students are absorbing and putting that knowledge into action, and how the student population changes, along with their needs. For example, if you have a group of individuals with a high natural level of athleticism, you might gear your program towards that baseline. 6 months later, your student group will have expanded, and now may include a number of students with little to no experience with movement arts. Now your content could be viewed as restrictive and keep those students from staying and progressing.
3. Does the teacher have their own teacher? This one is critical. Even the greatest surgeons in the world have coaches. Why? It's not because they don't know what they're doing or need help day-to-day. It's because they understand the value of constant and consistent feedback on their performances. The coach will never be as talented or have the same track record, but that's not their purpose. Their purpose is to be an objective monitor of performance and use established criteria to measure and help the surgeon remain at the top of their game for as long as possible.
There are of course many things to look for in an online course. For martial arts, these are probably the top 3. Why? Because they give you as the student the best possible chance to experience something normally only possible in a live environment: the life-changing experience of martial arts practice.
As our dojo continues to expand its online programs, these 3 things are top of mind for us. What are your top 3 criteria for getting the most out of an online program?
As always, I love each and every one of you and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
See you on the mat,