Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Dojo Wall

The dojo wall mirrors have been a training tool since I started practicing karate. I remember one of my first class instructors stopping the beginner class in the middle of a kata. We would remain in stance while he walked around and correct each student individually. The instructor would reposition our hands and check our stances. We would look in the mirror and hold the corrected position.

And we waited….

until every student was reviewed. The entire process took 10-15 minutes depending on the amount of people in class. I was a beginner and not accustomed to the stances and hand positions. My arms and legs would ache after a few minutes. We learned quickly what the position “looked like” and “felt like”.

Years later when we opened our dojo, the first major equipment purchase was a piece of mirror for the wall. Mirrors are expensive and we only could afford one piece. As the student population increased, we realized that a 6 foot section of mirror was not enough. We invested in mirrors to cover the entire front wall.

Mirrors are not a necessity but I find them to be a valuable training tool. Here are a few of the benefits:

Benefits of Mirrors – As an Instructor
1. You can see the entire class.
2. In a group class, you can gauge if the students are following along or having difficulty.
3. When teaching kids, you can monitor their position. Did you ever notice kids tend to stand only a few inches from the person next to them?

Benefits of Mirrors – As a Student
1. You can see the instructor no matter where you are in the room.
2. You can see what you look like executing a technique.
3. You can learn to identify and correct your mistakes.

What is your experience? Do you use mirrors as a training tool? Advantages? Disadvantages?


Felicia said...

Our dojo also doubles as a kick-boxing/dance studio (my sensei owns the building) and there are actually mirrors on all four walls. My old dojo was a gym in a community center where we had no mirrors. It took a while to get used to seeing so much of myself during kata, but it is a great help. Without them again when I train alone, I rely on room "markers" - you know, the line in the floor between the tiles, spots on the walls, etc. - but that only helps me get in line. I appreciate the mirrors very much and wish I had them when teaching :-(

I've found that video taping is also a great training tool. Ever tape yourself or your students?

Denman said...

Mirrors are a bonus, but can become an unreliable crutch. In our dojo, the mirrors are on the entirety of the side walls. The mirrors were a real help in learning the Nai Hanchi / Tekki katas.

I soon stopped looking in the mirror because if I was being tested, I would not have that crutch available to me. It is amazing what a 90 degree turn in performing a kata can do to your disorientation.

Journeyman said...

The two main walls of my dojo are mirrored. It would be tough for me to train without them. Watching my Sensei in the mirror allows me to capture the more subtle aspects of a demonstrated technique, whether it be the angling of his body or the movement of his foot.

Interestingly, they also often allow me to see what's happening to me when I'm the uke. I get a sense of what's going on that I can't see (but sure can feel!).

I do often make minor corrections based on mirror me, or can provide feedback to the tori, again when I'm the uke.

Plus, I can check me hair...

Rick Matz said...

Mirrors can be a helpful tool, but they can also become a crutch. The emphasis should be on "feeling" the correct position rather than relying on visual cues.

Sue C said...

I have mixed feelings about mirrors. I actually find it difficult to watch myself in the mirror because it gives me left/right confusion ( I must have some sort of mirror dyslexia!)

We don't have mirrors in our dojo but I have mirrors in our gym at home. I try to watch myself sometimes but often I have to turn my back to it as I make so many mistakes.

Personally I find video a better way of getting feedback since I don't have to watch myself until after the performance.

SenseiMattKlein said...

Have never really used mirrors, Michelle, but after reading this post, can see the benefits. Like Sue says, videos are good too, but not always convenient. Filming can be distracting as well.

My students have often commented how I have eyes in the back of my head, but this would make it even easier to make sure they are all working and not slacking off.

Michele said...

Thank you for your comments!

Felicia: Yes...we videotape a few times a year. It is a excellent teaching tool. It is interesting to hear the students feedback when they watch their own video.

Denman: You are right...the mirrors can become a crutch. We make sure we practice facing away from the mirror too.

Journeyman: :) Of course...the hair!

Rick: I agree. It is important to remember to use the mirrors as a tool and not let them become a crutch. When I first started training, I would check the mirror and see what corrections needed to be made. Now I feel that something is not quite right and use the mirrors to help identify the problem. We explain this concept to the takes time...

SueC: I have left/right confusion too! Once my training partner taped an "L" on my left hand. Teaching and calling out movements has improved my left/right confusion.

SenseiKlein: The mirrors are a big help when teaching a room full of kids. When I taught at the dance studio, I set out a mat for each child so they each had their own spot on the floor. The eyes in the back of the head help too. :)

Anonymous said...

After 35 years of practice, I m, in general, against having mirrors in the Dojo. I do not think they help much as they mainly distract the student from a correct mindset. When a student is directing his or her energy and concentration towards his or her image reflected in the mirror, the centre has been moved, there is a shift from centre/inside to external/periphery that is, in my experience, extremely detrimental to a proper progress in the understanding of martial arts.
Here two main myths about using mirrors to improve your technique as a Martial Artist:

By looking at yourself in the mirror you are able to correct your posture.
This is not true. It is more important to ‘feel’ that you are executing a technique correctly than to see that you are doing so. No mirror can substitute your instructor. And, especially if you are a beginner, you are probably not the best person to tell yourself that what you are doing is right. Plus your centre is not, well…centred as it is outside, where your image is. The general problem I have with that is that you end up missing the moment. That present time that is so fundamental in interiorizing a technique. Take that focus back to your centre and ‘feel’ the technique, interiorizing it, make it yours from the inside. Also, in case you are a higher grade (and I would suggest only second dans in Karate could use mirrors with some limited beneficial outcome) you can only correct mistake that are visible in a ‘face front on to the mirror’ position. Remember that the old say ‘practice makes perfect’ is fundamentally flaw. The correct say should be: ‘Perfect practice makes perfect’. In fact if you are repeating a drill that is wrong you will end up just reinforcing that mistake and by doing so you will end up with a defective technique that will be only too hard to correct.

By mirror boxing (like shadow boxing but with a mirror) you increase your focus
The only thing you increase is your attention to yourself, actually to your mirror image. Sparring mitts are a much better focus tool as they are dynamic, they get moved by your training partner, they make you work on a footwork that is imposed and not chosen (therefore more intense) and they demand your total focus as they can hit back.