Win or Learn: Switching to a Virtual Dojang

 

“What the heck is a Zoom?” I asked. 

I have to admit, when we first decided to switch over to a virtual dojang, I knew nothing about the technicalities of how to pull off virtual training. But in life, we have to adapt to situations that are handed to us, that we have little to no control over. It is the cornerstone of this dojang. Pil Sung, “certain victory through indomitable spirit and courage.”

Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a new job, something horrible like losing a limb, or getting used to a stepfather or stepmother, change is going to happen in our lives. Some  changes will be welcomed, some will not. Whether they are “good” or “bad” is up to you, how you choose to see them, how you choose to respond.

To ensure that our students were receiving the instruction that they expected, (and definitely needed) we decided to switch over to virtual training for the duration of the COVID emergency.  The alternative, which some martial arts schools chose, was to wait it out. Which wasn’t something we were willing to do.

So on March 16th, when it became apparent to us that we were going to have to shut down regular operations,, we held a staff meeting and, thanks to my younger staff, we were able to bring technology into the picture. 

I was able to coordinate what I wanted to do, but they were the ones who were able to facilitate it. 

We had to pivot, and pivot quickly. We started out with Facebook live, because most people are on Facebook and they understood it more, and frankly, it was one of the platforms I have experience using.

So, we set up a virtual dojang which enabled us to do these key things: 

  1. Teach the necessary material.
  2. Archive every virtual class that we’d done, so that students have the chance to go back and train if they miss the live feed.
  3. Engage directly with students in real time, particularly those who were in an uncomfortable situation.

We began teaching virtually on March 17th and, at that time, we were able to teach some general classes. We had to tinker a bit with the scheduling to make sure that everybody had access to the classes they needed to continue training while still providing them a path to advancement. 

We eventually added Zoom into the mix because some people preferred that over the Facebook Live platform. Having Zoom allowed us to interact with students even more. With Facebook Live, we couldn’t see our students, so we were adjusting our teaching to emphasize what we thought they were going to have difficulty with. Zoom allowed us to actually see our students and interact with them in real time. 

Safety, as always, was our primary concern. We made extra sure that our links were secured and private. To avoid any possible “Zoom-bombing,” (non-students “attending” virtual training) we had a host for all of our Zoom meetings and virtual dojang presentations. 

Having the host was a great unexpected benefit for us. It allowed us to stop class to ask questions and give us, the instructors in the physical dojang,  some feedback. This helped us evolve our teaching methods.

In addition to doing the classes, we took each curriculum cycle that we complete throughout the year and created a short curriculum cycle review, so that students could go back and look at what they needed to work on, with some minor demonstrations. From there, we taught classes as if you are learning step-by-step. 

One thing we noticed was that, with a virtual dojang, getting people to turn right or left was a more complicated proposition for students at home. Because we’re constantly adapting at this school, we grabbed  a 12 foot ladder and started filming patterns from overhead instead of face on. We got a lot of feedback from students saying that was a HUGE help to them.

The week we shut down was supposed to be test week, where we do our color belt testing and black belt testing. Again, we were able to pivot quickly.

It would have been impossible to do black belt testing virtually. We knew we had one day before the actual shutdown, so we called every black belt candidate that was supposed to test, gathered some judges, and were able to hold the tests the day before the shutdown. 

The color belt testing went on virtually over WhatsApp. I’m proud to say that we were able to test almost every color belt that was due to test for the next rank. 

And throughout the pandemic, I’ve made sure to call each student personally to check in with them from time to time, and that has worked out really well, too. 

So, it has been quite a trek, but we have been able to maintain our high quality standards, both in the teaching and in the technology from what I have seen in some of the Zoom videos. Obviously, it’s not the same as in person, but this has been a more-than-acceptable alternative. The positive feedback and encouragement we’re getting confirms this.

Now, we have an archive of videos for students to choose from, and have established a new way for people to train, beyond the pandemic. 

For instance, we are now setting up cameras in the dojang so that if a student misses class for any reason, they can tune in and take class at their convenience. 

We are also going to offer students the ability to continue training virtually if they are uncomfortable about returning immediately to the physical dojang once we are allowed to reopen properly. 

I really believe we have accomplished the “virtual dojang” concept better than any other school. It isn’t just an instructor barking into a camera. There’s a host, there’s interaction, there’s feedback, and there’s timely follow-up. It’s as close as we can come to holding traditional classes, which we hope to return to soon. 

Until then, we will abide our mantra, “Pil Sung.”

 

Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, register online or call (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!

 

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