Artificial intelligence is coming for martial arts | MMA Science Weekly

Your regular rundown of the studies, experiments, and hard science going on in the world of mixed martial arts. This week focusing on the growing field of artificial intelligence.

By: Christopher A Baker | 1 month ago
Artificial intelligence is coming for martial arts | MMA Science Weekly
This is your brain on artificial intelligence. IMAGO / CHROMORANGE

No previous technology has ever been credited with the power to destroy human civilization (here by the world’s richest man), revolutionize medicine (here by the world’s top science journal), or forever alter popular music (here by the world’s top selling hip-hop artist). All of which may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the growing excitement and panic surrounding artificial intelligence (AI).    

Heading a little further down that path, is it also possible that AI could revolutionize martial arts education? Or are artforms steeped in traditional practices immune from the disruptions of modern tech breakthroughs? This is what Ye et al. (2022) investigated when they compared traditional martial arts education to a new approach that integrates AI-based video technology. Their findings suggest that (like it or not) gyms embracing these new technologies may be the training grounds of the future.

Application of Artificial Intelligence Technology in Martial Arts Education Governance (2022)

In their 2022 paper, Ye and colleagues highlight some of the features that make martial arts education unique. For one, they note that martial arts have a long and celebrated connection to traditional cultural practices in China, including physical fitness, Chinese medicine, and morality development. They also argue that unlike other forms of education, “the way of class has not changed for so many years. During the class, the teacher will explain, demonstrate, and correct errors. Most of the time in the class is the teacher’s demonstration and the students imitate the movements.” 

This is consistent with my experience training martial arts. The instructor would demonstrate a technique. We would pair up and try the technique. The instructor or other aides would watch the students and offer corrections and commentary. Then the students would practice.

Outside of that, when the class ended, so did student access to instructional material. This is why serious practitioners need to maximize their time in the gym, and why it’s not uncommon to hear stories of up-and-comers living where they train—like rising star Khamzat Chimaev who “lived in the gym, in a small storage room under a set of wooden bleachers…for two years”. 

But researchers found that the traditional approach to martial arts training makes it hard for students to maintain interest, particularly when the instructor is focusing on other students. They found this undermines student enthusiasm and ultimately undermines long-term interest in the field.

For competitive athletes, that situation might not bother them one bit. Self-selection has always been part of combat sports. But gym owners and operators know how important causal students are to keeping the lights on. Plus they never know when one of those causal students might turn into the next big thing.

Ye argues that artificial intelligence video can prep students for in-person instruction

It’s in spots like that where Ye and colleagues argue that integration of artificial intelligence-based computer technology can help. For example, before class a teacher can post online links about the history and culture associated with a technique. They then post artificial intelligence-generated instructional videos that demonstrate techniques in easily viewable and manipulatable ways, allowing students to pause, rewind, zoom, and repeat video demonstrations from different orientations.

That kind of integrated technology allows students to familiarize themselves with the techniques before class begins. Students can ask questions about movements that are still causing confusion, and the instructor can address their feedback during the live class. After class the students can then review the lesson and videos online. 

Ye and colleagues found that this hybrid classroom not only improves student interest and enthusiasm but also increases active participation in class as well as martial arts problem solving. They conclude: “by watching videos of martial arts technique moves, one can gain a deeper understanding of the technique and learn faster and more regularly.”

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About the author
Christopher A Baker
Christopher A Baker

Christopher A Baker, PhD is a cognitive scientist at UIC studying memory and indicators of in-group/out-group status. He is an avid fight fan and failed high school wrestler.

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