Karate in the Age of Instagram

In my usual forays around the internet today, I came across this article about how Lush UK is abandoning social media. Their reason?

“Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly,” the post read. “We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. So we’ve decided it’s time to bid farewell to some of our social channels and open up the conversation between you and us instead.⁣”

And honestly, this is refreshing to see. If a big brand like Lush is tired of fighting with the monsters that own Facebook and Instagram, then it doesn’t feel quite so bad to be a small dojo swimming against the algorithms all the time.

I worked as a social media manager in my past life, before I ran away from corporate to become an instructor, and it was a constant battle of shiny, happy updates and vapid copy, my English degrees weeping on the wall while I used hashtags and SEO-friendly babble to sell books, or book launches. To this day, I still cannot abide hashtags, which are an abomination unto the flow of language and conversation.  Seeing them anywhere other than on a phone keypad and Twitter, where they started their rise, and where they should stay, gives me hives on the inside of my skull. Billboards, whatsapp chats with friends and family, cheesy t-shirts from Mr Price – I barf in my scorn.

But, if you want to play the social media game, you have to play by the rules, and that means hashtags if you want your post to be discovered. And so, on Instagram, I dutifully put in the hashtags, even if it feels like I’m trading parts of my soul for it.  And there’s nothing worse than one line of copy, and a paragraph of hashtags, and that’s one of the reasons why our dojo instagram account doesn’t have 10,000 followers.

Of course, I could just buy followers – it is easy enough, and costs less than one expects.  Risky, though.  And predictably, that article goes on to piously state:

Take the time, energy, and money that you would’ve dedicated to buying followers, and focus instead on building genuine relationships with a real audience. If your content is engaging and authentic, your loyal followers will spread the word and engage with your brand without needing any bribes.

Aye, there’s the rub. In a longer post. I’ve written about the day-to-day schedule a Sensei might have, but to paraphrase here: when you are running a business, it takes up the whole day when you’re doing it with all your heart.  But on social media, no one can see your hard work. By its very nature, it demands that everything is effortlessly beautiful. All is glamorous and charming, all the time.

But by karate’s nature, and that of any martial art, it’s definitely not glamorous. This isn’t yachting in the Bahamas. There are hours and hours of slog – of cleaning and administrating. Of drills done in the morning, when the dojo is quiet and it’s the only chance I have to train.  No one wants to see that. Up and down, repetition after repetition. Who cares? Only me, and definitely not Facebook.

And what about the complications of posting about my students? Sharenting is the new term for when parents overshare about their children online, and there are concerns about the creeps who hang around, looking for information and pictures about kids. Also, there are those who take it to extremes, like the Kardashians:

Last week, it was alleged that American celebrities Kim Zolciak-Biermann and Kim Kardashian (both of whom regularly post pictures of their children on the internet) appeared to have… enhanced recent photos of their daughters, aged four and five. Their stomachs had been slimmed, their skin had been smoothed, and it was claimed (by gotcha account @Celebface) that Zolciak-Biermann had changed the shape of her daughter’s nose, and lifted her buttocks.

Classy.

Now, I teach a lot of really super cute kids, who look adorable in their karate suits. Do I post pictures of them posing to shore up my dojo ‘brand’? Absolutely not.  I don’t even post pictures of my own child online, because I don’t like the idea of any of those tech giants having any more say or information on my life than they already have. I am especially strict about others posting about him online. Why would I then have separate rules for my students?

As it is, I post only pictures of the top or backs of their heads – no faces, no tags, and no identifying markers.  Instagram, and its users, obviously don’t swoon over this kind of content. It’s safe, and boring. Nothing cute about the back of someone’s little head.

There are also legal issues around privacy and photography – this is the South African law around it, and worth noting is this:

You have the right to take photos of anyone or anything if it can be seen from a public area. This includes parks, city streets and sporting events or concerts. This also allows for any private property or buildings to be shot from within the public domain. Any person and member of the public is basically wavering their right to anonymity or privacy by appearing in these areas and are therefore fair subject matter for images.

This makes it interesting when you are dealing with parents taking photos of kids. It may be important to have a conversation about not sharing photos with other people’s kids in them, unless you stick an emoji over their face, as some people do. (Which is weird, but better than blurring their faces so that it looks like a documentary.)  Here are some good guidelines about posting pics, and overall, my rule of thumb is that I try not to post standalone pictures of kids, and these days, only group photos, at a distance, where the faces are small and no one is tagged.

All of this is even before we have a wider conversation about social media and its inherent problems, like how it is linked to the exacerbation of mental health issues in teens, or how it favours right-wing parties. Is this even something we want to be a part of?

Overall, it is just easier to avoid all of this nonsense and risk, and unsubscribe from the unrelenting demands of social media, and especially Instagram. I know its 2019, and everyone, including their pug, is expected to have a social account, and a following.  There’s even the careful monetisation of parenting, with moms (90% of the time, its moms) sharing how ‘exhausting’ parenting is, yet they have the time to make those damn cutesy letterboards with funny quotes and have perfect hair, and still be influencers getting paid that sweet dollar dollar for their twee posting. Parenting isn’t anything like that, and yet its now the new norm.

It all feels hollow, and pointless, and so antithetical to what a dojo is all about that it seems cheapening and soul-destroying to play the likes game. Because that’s all it boils down to: more likes = better, and how can I compete with someone who spends hours upon hours cultivating a careful artifice to attract those tasty likes?  And why should we be forced to compete?

It is important that students are not taught that their looks and image are more important than what they do. There is far more value to the qualitative life than the quantitative one, and social media actively promotes the worst in all of us. What message do we send kids when we post only their best, or use their tempers and failures as funny posts to get likes and comments?  Karate is about long-term goals, the daily work of attending class and practicing. It is the integrity to work when no one is watching, to do the lonely, simple work that progress requires. It is also important that students are taught not to value someone’s training based on their posts. Some people will post literally every time they put their gi on, but that’s no indication of how hard they work, and what kind of person they are on the mat. Social media is the opposite of the simple life called for in the dojo kun, and while it might help us promote our dojos to passing customers, it can easily distract us from what is important: teaching good karate and values.

I would much, much rather take the time to send photos I take of the kids in the dojo directly to their parents, so that they can enjoy seeing their kids’ progress. Especially for the parents who work full time and can’t come watch their kid train. I think that is a much better investment of my time than choosing hashtags.

Apps for Instructors

While the noble art of being an instructor goes back to the first time someone said “hey, let me show you how to do that better”, today we have incredible tools at our disposal. Sure, Sensei Youtube often causes more problems than it solves…

martial arts humor #jiujitsumemes http://instagram.com/p/0NTR8hjpjN/

But we are lucky to live in an age where we can connect with instructors all over the world. Some of them are even on Twitter! Below are some of the apps that I use to free up time for teaching, streamline my admin, continue my education and improve my lesson plans.
(PS: Links below are for Android, since that is the platform I use and there isn’t always an Apple version.)

Metronome Beats 

Cover artYou’d be amazed how many training exercises you’ll come up with when using the humble metronome. It is ideal for teaching students pacing in randori, or for picking up the speed in drills. I like to do a Hell Week kind of exercise where they do basics at 40, 60, 80, 100 techniques a minute. Punches, blocks, kicks – sure, it gets untidy towards the end but it is great pressure-testing and for building spirit.

Beep Test 

For those nights when you really want to test endurance and cardio – the beep test introduces increasingly shorter times to do sprints. Handy for building energy fast in the dojo and doing a full-body warm-up.

Tabata Timer 

The gym rats don’t have to have the corner on High Intensity Interval Training. 20 seconds on, 10 off helps with doing crazy volumes of basics, hojo undo and kata snippets.

Invoices Online

This is the best accounting app I’ve come across yet. It is well priced, offers lots of features and has great support. It is made for South African businesses, so it has easy VAT functions. Once you’ve added your student body, it is super easy to automate invoices and free up hours and hours of your time. It also helps you keep track of stock, expenses, payouts, quotes and more.

Whatsapp 

Trying to get hold of people via email is a pain – spam filters are the enemy and people chop and change emails way more often than phone numbers. It is well worth taking the time to set up broadcasts and holding groups when parents send in their paperwork. I personally prefer Telegrambut not everyone is on it like Whatsapp. (Which is a pity, because Telegram is beautiful to use and has a much nicer variety of stickers and emojis.)

Namola (South Africa) 

How prepared are you for a dojo emergency? Do you have emergency response numbers up somewhere? Namola helps get first responders for medical, fire and crime emergencies exactly to your GPS location. They also let you run tests to check response times.

Any.Do or Evernote

Running a dojo means a checklist for DAYS of little and big tasks. Short-term memory is useless for keeping track of all the little tasks, so I use Any.Do for my lists and Evernote for my ideas. Having an external brain frees me up to think about big stuff and long-term goals. If you think I’m crazy, Tim Ferriss backs me on this.

Pocket

I am a compulsive reader of articles about everything (anything from 10 – 30 a day) – I am always reading about everything from teaching practices to parenting to karate to running. Pocket is a great way to save all those articles in one place. Evernote offers the same functionality but it isn’t as streamlined. Articles are also nice to share as content with your dojo on social media, and this is a great place to store ideas.

Stitcher 

Linked to my compulsive consumption of information, Stitcher is my favourite podcast app. I listen to podcasts on teaching practice, economics, history, medicine, news, the list goes on. Good podcasts for instructors include: The Cult of Pedagogy, K-12 Greatest Hits, The Tim Ferriss Show, Note To Self and The Art of Charm

Pages Manager (Facebook)/Hootsuite

Honestly, I hate Facebook, but a dojo’s got to have a good Facebook page. Use Pages Manager to manage only your dojo page and not get sucked in to larger Facebook and pointless scrolling. If you want to manage multiple social media accounts (FB, Insta and Twitter), then give Hootsuite a bash. I used it in my social media manager days.

Pinterest

As much as Pinterest is full of sickeningly twee photos and mushy quotes, it is an excellent place to find teaching ideas. Teachers, educational psychologists and occupational therapists post their ideas all over Pinterest, and I have found amazing ideas for lesson plans, reward systems and dojo games. Once you teach the algorithms what you want, it serves up handy links and infographics. (Although mine is interspersed with fudge recipes, because that’s my life now, apparently.)

Hopefully this list will help you free up time to enjoy your karate and teaching! If you have any apps that you find useful, please share in the comments below.

Why the Anti-SOPA Movement Matters

I have said before that I am a supporter of Anonymous and all their crazy folks, and today is a good day for a display of fierce, lively internet democracy.

The internet is the only true democracy on the planet, since no one rules it other than its own members, and where everyone has a place to say what they will. While I think Kopimism is an interesting religion, at least on the internet its okay to be atheist. That means a great deal to me, as does the freedom of information. I love the internet, which is why I’ve spent the last hour trying to find out where to install a black-out plug-in for WordPress. I want to show my support for the anti-SOPA/PIPA movement. WordPress has already eloquently explained what it is here, as well as ways to help.

I know that many of my friends will say “but you didn’t give nearly so much of a flying fuck for the Secrecy Bill in SA”. I have given my reasons for that here, but to paraphrase the difference: this is the US government and hundreds of powerful companies, not just the ANC by its misguided self. This battle seeks to repress information internationally, making it possible to arrest people for their fanmade music videos or opinions. Already there’s been an attempt to arrest Occupy protesters who used the #OccupyBoston hashtag on Twitter. What will happen when the government has access to information, and we don’t?

And this isn’t just an American thing; the Mail and Guardian wrote here that there will be a noticeable impact for South Africans. It will give the Secrecy Bill an unprecedented grip on our lives and enable the worst backstabbing since Adam bitched about Eve (metaphorically). Add to this the effect it will have on businesses:

South African businesses could also stand to suffer if the Bills are taken forward. Many companies’ websites are hosted in the US because it is more economical and, in some cases, more reliable than hosting locally. In addition, much of the internet content consumed locally is based in the US.

It is shocking and it should not be shrugged off as “how dare you black-out Wikipedia lol”, which is what is starting to fill my Twitter feed as AnonOps responds to all the fuckwits who can’t see the point of the blackout. This is why I have tried my best to black out my blogs, though my technical knowledge does not match my desire.

I hope that we can all do what we can to keep the Internet free for all, even the evangelists that piss me off. Because on the Internet, everyone gets a voice, and that’s what makes it so special.

Bad Humour

While I might not agree with Ivo Vegter at times, he is the closest thing we will get to a PJ O’Rourke in this beautiful and tormented country. In this article he discusses the potential blowback we may get as a result of Juju Fridays.

I understand the frustration that Malema arises in the best and worst of us, and while I still find him as puerile and insultingly bourgeois as the next person, doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous to everyone to launch an entire day dedicated to making jokes? As Ivo pointed out, those who contributed to Juju fridays have handed him all the ammo he needs to mislead those who are unfortunate enough to follow him because they lack the education and tools.

Of course only the rich in this country can really afford and contribute to the Twitter campaign. Of course its not going to look good that an elite group is taking the piss out of someone who still holds some thrall over less-educated South Africans. We know that it was just satire and frustration and maybe a little meanness coming through. While I’m not calling for the policing of Twitter or any kind of social media, a little common sense would have been welcome.

Unforutnately, we still live in an age where white people think its funny to tell black jokes with that particular accent, and say ‘its harmless’. Of course, being a white, straight English-speaking male means that there are very few jokes directed towards that group, so it is easy to take the piss. Let’s consider the following joke types:

Stupid Afrikaner (Van Der Merwe), dumb female blondes, gay jokes, lesbian jokes, Muslim jokes, fundamentalist jokes, poor/ignorant black jokes (Philemon/Sixpence), disaster jokes (based on the suffering of others in natural disasters or others) and the list goes on.

So, when my white friends tell Philemon jokes, or dumb blonde jokes, then wonder why they’re just not that funny after standard 6, maybe they will understand how unfair it seems when its your gender or group that’s always having the piss taken. I don’t really like that the blonde jokes are always about women. I also really don’t find gay/lesbian jokes funny, as I am sure that they don’t either.

Of course there’s always place for humour, but some jokes are just downright mean. And while I myself am partial to a great joke that takes the piss out of something as indefensible as Shariah law or a sex joke, making fun out of someone for their hair colour seems a bit retarded. Especially since its always a woman.

Likewise, we should all just have the maturity to just ignore Malema. Like the child he is (calling other adults ‘cockroaches’ is not the most fabulous sign of maturity), he should just be ignored. He’ll eventually realise that there are better ways of getting attention. Speaking nicely to people is a start.

It’s all turned into petty name-calling, and a lot of people fail to see the danger of handing a child more sharp sticks to poke back with. Malema’s danger is that his wealth is not an insult to all of us. There are people who see him as successful, not corrupt, and there are enough people who are still ignorant enough to believe the tripe that comes out of his mouth. South Africa is one of the least literate countries in Africa. We are ranked 107th in the world for literacy rates, which is pretty fucking pathetic. Without going on a sidetrack about the failure of the education system, one of the by-products of failed education is the susceptibility of those who don’t have adequate education to the manipulation of politicos. There are some people who think raping babies and virgins cures AIDS because their traditional healers tell them so, and they unfailingly trust their authority. In the absence of education, structures like authority and tradition still hold sway. Churches and elders still have an influence regardless of their superstitious and backward ways. For the love of biscuits, we still allow polygamy. The fact that no one is marching in the streets to protest that our taxes support the president, his wives and 22 children is proof that, for some people, there’s nothing wrong with it.

So, let’s consider how Malema might use the ammo given to him by Juju fridays to show his following (shrinking but still enough to be worried about) that people use the internet to be racist. Because that is what it will be reduced to, and the intricasices of the argument will never go across. Could you sit and explain to people who don’t even have a standard six the full implications of free speech, the vivacity and turbulance of social media, as well as the signs of Malema’s aspirations to start something disturbingly like the SA or SS? We know there’s enough hatred rolling around in his oddly shiny head to make anyone worry. While we shouldn’t have the same approach to him as Chamberlain did with Hitler, there needs to be an informed, mature and firm response to Malema. I don’t promise to have all the answers, but I think that it would be more effective to organise a march to raise awareness around his ill-gained wealth, or launch an education campaign.

There has to be a better way to do this than name-calling on Twitter.