How to learn techniques from video, Part 2

In part one of “How to learn techniques from video“, I mentioned there are different kinds of videos. Let’s look at that a bit closer.

You can make three broad categories of videos: Live footage, demonstration, and instructional videos. These three are all vastly different from each other and that’s where the trouble starts: if you expect one and get the other, you think it sucks. If you believe  instructional videos are “The Truth”™, then you’ll think demonstrations are bullshit. If you truly believe the best way to fight is what you see in live footage (because it’s “real” and the everything else isn’t), then you’ll laugh at instructional videos .

I believe these two sayings apply whenever you want to learn from a video:

  • Don’t compare apples with oranges. Know what you’re looking at and judge it as such.
  • Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.Instead of focusing on what you perceive is bad, look at what is good, interesting and potentially useful for you.

Especially this last part is crucial. I’ve been reviewing books and videos for a long time and I have only one goal when I write them: Find the value in the book and who would benefit from it. Maybe the book didn’t do much for me, but that doesn’t make it useless. I always try to write something positive in a review and only rarely fail to find it. It’s a matter of picking the good between the bad and mediocre that may also be there.

Throw out the one, not the other.

Throw out the one, not the other.

It’s the same thing with watching a video: If you want to learn from it, whatever that “it” may be, start looking for the positive. If you only want to validate and reinforce your own ideas, that’s fine. But then don’t complain you can’t find any decent videos because you find them all crap.

Back on track, let’s talk about those three categories:

Live footage

This one’s pretty simple at first view: Something happens and a camera gets it on tape. Live footage is usually, but not always:

  • Poorly filmed. The action is often hard to see because the cameraman moves too much. Or it’s CCTV images taken form high above, which isn’t the best angle to view a fight.
  • Chaotic. There’s no time to set everything up and make sure the action is filmed perfectly: The fighters don’t stay in the shot, they move behind obstacles, spectators walk in front of the camera and so on. You rarely get to see everything perfectly.

Check out these fights for a few examples of this:

The first one shows a bunch of kids going at it. They’re pretty much crap at fighting and it shows. The Turkish boxer handles himself pretty well considering the circumstances. The final video doesn’t show it well enough but the MMA drag queens take care of business big time: one punch per opponent and it’s over.

All of these videos show “real fights” but every fight is different. If you’ve been exposed to the violence in one of them, you might not believe the other kind exists. Imagine switching the opponents between all the videos:

  • Would the fight between one of those kids and the boxer look the same as in the first video?
  • Would the MMA drag queens have stood there with one of those kids, holding with one hand and striking with the other?
  • Would the boxer have manged to beat down the MMA fighters as easily as he dropped the guy in the white sweater?

Obviously, there’s no way to know but that’s not the point. The point is that live footage of an incident shows one thing and one thing only: that incident. Violence and fighting is bigger than just one incident, no matter how intense it gets. Not every fight will be like that. Some will be worse, others will be a walk in the park by comparison. And it can always go from one extreme to the other in a heartbeat.

The biggest issue with watching live footage and basing your fighting techniques on those images is that it doesn’t prepare you for the other kinds of violence you might encounter.

Also, it’s pretty easy to criticize the performance of each fighter. You can nitpick every little thing in these videos, even what the drag queens did. But again, that’s tossing that little baby out with the water he just peed in…


I’ll distinguish this category from instructional videos by it’s emphasis: It only shows things but doesn’t explain them.

Stating the obvious, demonstration videos are meant to show something, usually in a positive way. There are some basic ways to go about it:

  • Crisp and clean. Just showing the techniques and nothing else. You want to show skill.
  • Spectacular. The same techniques, but emphasized and exaggerated to make them look more over the top. You want to impress people.
  • Dramatic. Now we’re moving into Hollywood territory by using camera angles, lighting, music/sound effects, etc. You want people to feel certain emotions.
  • Reenactment. This is standard procedure in some police investigations but martial artists do it all the time. The goal is to recreate an event, in most cases a specific fight or technique you saw used.

To a certain extent, these things get mixed together but they’re also mutually exclusive. It’s hard to show skill if adding drama to the demonstration is more important. And vice versa, the most dramatic and moving demonstrations have less to do with skill than with those other factors I mentioned in the last bullet.  Reenactment rarely shows the most amount of skill because it also shows everything that went wrong in the fight. And you can go on like that for a while.

Here are two videos at opposite ends of the scale to give you an idea.

This is Don F Draeger doing a crisp and clean demonstration:

The demonstration is very structured and formal (as Japanese-style  demos often are) and shows primarily technical skills, both physical and mental. Spectacular and dramatic, it is not.

This dramatic video is from Vincent Roca , who I trained with once and is a nice guy.

Notice the ominous music and sound effects, the fast editing, the emotional trick of showing a dad walking with his daughter, the short action sequences shot from close by and specific angles, etc. If you want to learn something form this clip, you’ll have a very hard time because of all this. But it does make you want to train with Mr. Roca, which is the whole purpose.

Notice how these videos look so much different from what you saw in the live footage.  Demonstrations show you idealized versions of fights, or they show only a very limited aspect of them. That’s not good or bad, it just is.


Now we’re finally getting to the ugly little step-child of videos. The one that creates all the problems and misunderstandings.

Instructional videos teach you techniques, ideas and concepts.  They will virtually always include some demonstration as well to give you a better idea of what the material should look like, but that’s not the meat of those videos.  As with all teaching tools, there are too many styles and approaches to list them all here but there are some common points:

  • Slow. Look at the live footage and pick a technique, any one will do. Then try to teach it exactly like that to somebody else. You’ll quickly find that even watching it in slow motion doesn’t give you all the details you need to teach it as you see it. That’s why instructional videos show techniques slowly. You learn better that way.
  • Step-by-step: Every technique consists of several components. A right cross has a step forward, driving off the back leg, a hip turn, torso turn, extension of the arm, slight retraction of the other arm and I’m not even covering all of the finer points. The purpose of an instructional video is to teach you not only all these steps but show you which sequence they go in and which ones happen simultaneously. Pausing at each step is the best way to do so.
  • Static camera/best angle. For better viewing, the camera doesn’t move at all and the presenters stay in the frame. The camera is also placed in the best viewing angle to capture the movement. Very often, this means a long shot for most of the instruction and close ups of finer points. This is very helpful for explaining a technique but (especially the long shot) makes the footage look less impressive than a dramatic demonstration. It will never look as spectacular than the clip from Mr. Roca.

The overall goal of instructional videos is to give you the information you need to learn a technique, the tools to practice it and a demonstration of what it looks like. No more, no less

Here’s an excerpt from my Pad Man video:

Notice how I do a LOT of talking. Some might say too much and that’s OK, but I believe in giving out as much information as I can when I release a book or DVD, so I try to mention everything I think is important for the topic at hand.

Along with talking about how you can hold the Thai pads, I also show it as clearly as possible:

  • I show the position facing the camera and then sideways.
  • When necessary, I switch positions with my partner so my body doesn’t hide what I’m pointing out.
  • I’ll point with the finger of my other hand on the pad to emphasize certain things. Like at 6min11, to point out the slight diagonal angle of the pad.
  • The camera comes closer when I’m pointing these things out. It zooms out again when my partner does the technique on the pad. This way, you get both clear instruction and a good view during the demonstration part.

When you watch this video, you’ll notice we never hit full power or did long combinations on the pads. Doing so would have been a waste of time and tape. This part of the video is not about how to do an intense three min. round on the Thai pads. It’s about teaching how to hold them. Unfortunately, that means the footage isn’t all that spectacular. But if you’ve never held a pad in your life, information is more important to you than looks. That’s the goal of this video, not how awesome it might look.

Case in point, here’s one viewer’s comment:

my bad , i didn´t read the headline i was focus on the fighters very poor performance.?
But great vid for mitsholders !

My response:

No worries. My partner in this vid is not a professional fighter or anything like that. He is however a great guy for spending hours on end with me in the studio. Besides, fighters too often want to show off, which is not what you need in an instructional video. You need somebody reliable who takes instruction well? so the material gets captured correctly by the camera.

With this comment, we’ve come full circle with 80KungFu’s comment in Part 1: He totally missed the point that in an instructional video, you don’t try to recreate all the factors of what you see in live footage but only the ones needed to give the best possible instruction. That’s why the demo partners in these videos often look like dummies just standing there: they’re supposed to do that so you can see what’s going on.

If they would act like real attackers, everybody would be crying over how they can’t make out anything on the video they just bought. The instructor would also be forced to crank up the intensity levels of his techniques and there would be a truckload of injuries or worse on both sides. And you’d still not get any decent instruction. But it would look more “real”, I’ll admit that…

That’s it for part 2. In part 3, I go over the original video of mine that started this whole thing and expand on it with some more footage I shot last week.


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  1. I don’t feel like I’m doing your port justice, but that was an impressive breakdown. And I thought it was tough just doing a description of a move on a blog!

  2. I don’t feel like I’m doing your port justice, but that was an impressive breakdown. And I thought it was tough just doing a description of a move on a blog!

  3. Garry Hodgins says

    Just read this, after my last comment. Basically, my point, each event is seen in isolation, no context.

  4. Garry Hodgins says

    Just read this, after my last comment. Basically, my point, each event is seen in isolation, no context.

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