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Martial Arts and Virtual Reality - My Thoughts (2017)


Derek James head of the Rewind Group asked me if it was possible to learn Martial Arts through VR. He asked me if it were possible to create an accelerated programme for individuals to learn Martial Arts proficiently through VR. For those of you whose information on me is limited to this article, click here. Martial Arts is very much my passion and interest, so for me, it is very difficult to find one that suits me best. What I have found is that each discipline I have trained in adds to my own way of Martial Arts. This way, I am not pigeon holed into just the one style. People have said I am freestyle, but I am not; I am style free, but I will come back to this point later.


I have been teaching for about 12 years; I have taught members of the public, members of the police force, fire service as well as those who work in security. More recently, I have had the army express an interest in training with me also. My teaching is very application focused; how it’s used and how it can be adapted. My way of teaching is exactly my way of training. It is all based around the individual. I wouldn’t want to teach in the same way to very different individuals because each person learns differently and moves differently. In many ways, teaching the same things to different people to get them to do the same thing is just like being a drill instructor. Teach and regurgitate. Whilst this does have its place, I feel it does not always allow for the individual to grow. Personality within one’s movements such as dance, is essential. If they are only being taught to move a certain way, that personality gets lost. Therefore, it is always important for a student to learn different skills and allow them to be able to grow and develop.


An analogy I would like to use here is me being an art teacher, leading the class. I will paint my own painting with different techniques. I will then teach those techniques to my students as opposed to getting them to copy what I have painted. I want to see what they paint with the techniques I’ve shown to them. If you copy the original, it won’t ever be the original, much like a song. Often, the original is the best. If you keep copying a copy of a copy of a copy, it loses its quality and essence. Eventually, you lose the entire soul of the original. A musician never wants to run out of songs to play; musicians may end up composing their own tunes instead of just playing covers, where they draw inspiration from different forms of music. The genre does not define them. I am the same with Martial Arts.


As Derek was exposed to a lot of Martial Arts growing up, he had a good knowledge base of what Martial Arts is. As we have worked together on several projects prior to this, it is in part, because of my style free approach that he asked me to come talk at Oxford’s first VR Conference (2017) and proposed a project for us to work on together in this regard. 


I really pondered about the potential of VR. Is it really possible to learn Martial Arts through Virtual Reality? Yes. In fact, VR can help with many different aspects of our lives such as children with mathematics and also has medical applications, for instance, VR has helped to improve motor functions in individuals who suffer from neurodevelopmental conditions such as Cerebral Palsy. Virtual reality has been used to help with sports such as baseball and golf. Not only this, Major League baseball teams are actually turning to virtual reality to help players. Eon Sports tested 30 athletes and found that only after a few days of using a VR headset, their decision making had improved by 30%.


If we apply this to Martial Arts, can it help you to learn movements and develop reactions? Yes. It’s an excellent tool for this. NASA had a programme for its astronauts, which was then extrapolated and introduced to the Olympics where athletes were connected to biofeedback machinery, where they were told to run a race in their minds. From the start line, all the way to the finish line. What they found was that as they visualised their entire run, every muscle involved with that run was activated. This is something called Visual Motor Rehearsal, which we are all capable of.


A good exercise to try is imagining you have a cut up lemon in your hand. Look at it in your right hand. Feel the cold peel. Now bring it up to your mouth. Open wide and sink your teeth into that lemon. How does that make you feel? I am certain your eyes will water and you will pull a ‘vacuum’ face. So, we are all capable of Visual Motor Rehearsal accurately so long as we have actually done it before because the neural connection has been established.


We have seen Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo in the Matrix. Neo can be seen downloading multiple Martial Art disciplines into his brain. As soon as he takes the head gear off, the first thing he says is ‘I know Kung Fu’. Is this really possible? Well. It is not entirely implausible, but we are quite far off this level of technological development. Though, you will be able to see what a martial artist goes through, such as an opponent throwing attacks at you, teaching you to move evasively. It will teach you through experience. Experiential learning is by far the best way to learn, doing it virtually allows for your movements to potentially be measured also. 


VR does have its limitations, however. For instance, VR will not make you physically tougher or more resilient. VR will not make you the next UFC champion of the world, but it can definitely be a contributing factor, a tool towards developing further proficiency in what you do. The potential for a Martial Artist to learn through VR via a style free approach that allows them to grow and develop through their own creativity is absolutely phenomenal.

As such, Derek James and I have featured in an article by the Oxford Mail with regards to the Virtual Reality conference on 25th March 2017, which can be seen here.

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