Is the Future of Kung Fu Virtual Reality?

I know Kung Fu.” The bald-headed master leans toward his student.

Show me.” This memorable dialogue takes place in the 1999 movie The Matrix. What  follows is a flashy martial arts training scene. The master and student spar impressively, but there is a catch: their battle happens entirely in virtual reality.

Virtual reality – or VR – is an emerging technology.

It is mainly being implemented in video games and media installations. As of now, developers are only just beginning to explore its potential. Headsets such as the Oculus Rift allow users to navigate in exciting 3D environments. However, these devices are currently awkward and clunky, so a truly immersive VR experience isn’t possible yet.

At the same time, developers are toying with motion-sensing technology to create interactive experiences. This hasn’t been specifically adapted for martial arts training just yet.

For instance, the Nintendo Wii includes a motion-sensing nunchuk controller, which looks like the training weapon of the same name but doesn’t have the same function. Technology is developing at an incredibly rapid rate.

In the near future, there is no doubt that users will experience truly immersive VR training for martial arts. Here is a look at what can be expected from VR training.

The computer: a new kind of teacher

As the student holds her pose, her trainer avatar comes closer to inspect her form.

“Pretty good,” he notes. “However, your legs are only bent to an angle of 176°. You still haven’t reached a full split yet.”

With findings from the VR system’s analysis, he explains exactly what she needs to do to improve her posture and flexibility. The program is fully interactive, so she asks questions whenever necessary.

martial arts virtual reality Kung Fu
Jet Li tries out some virtual reality for himself.

Motion-sensing technology will be a key feature in VR training interfaces.

When the user throws a punch, the system will record its exact speed and pressure. The system will analyze precisely which muscles are activated and determine the angles of the user’s posture to provide feedback on technique.

Aside from technique, VR training will also provide feedback relating to the user’s health. Interfaces will be integrated with medical monitoring technology so users can keep track of their heartbeat rates and nutrition levels.

What’s more, the system will alert them when they are at risk of injuring themselves during training. It will be able to detect bone fractures, hyperextension, and more. It will also be able to provide constructive feedback on shaping physique. Users hoping to improve their technique as well as physique will favor VR technology with a physical component.

On the other hand, a purely mental, Matrix-like system could allow users to practice their technique without actual physical movement. This would prevent damage from overtraining and even give injured or handicapped users a chance to keep practicing.

A variety of styles, teachers, and exercises

The student is feeling uninspired with her Karate. Perhaps I’ll try some Jiu-Jitsu instead, she thinks. Maybe as a cool-down activity, I’ll study some yoga on the side.

With a few clicks, she downloads new training programs and she’s instantly ready to learn!

Users will be able to choose between countless styles of martial arts. In the absence of a human instructor, they will easily be able to fit training into their schedules without worrying about class times or teacher availability.

Not only that – programs will be created to give users one-on-one time with digital renderings of experts from every field of martial arts. They will even be able to choose trainer avatars based on martial arts masters who passed away long ago.

Thanks to VR technology, the likenesses and teachings of the great masters will continue to inspire many generations of students.

A variety of fun training programs will also be developed for users needing extra motivation. For example, training games will allow users to fight alongside their favorite fictional heroes from movies and video games!

Respecting the human element

The trainer avatar looks at his watch.

“You have been logged into the system for a period of two hours. Your sodium levels are low.The system recommends that you take a break and nourish yourself.

Weather reports from your region indicate that the sky is currently clear and the temperature is cool, at 17°C. Perhaps you could go for a walk?”

The student takes an energy bar for a snack and leaves the VR center. After walking about two blocks, she reaches a park. She sees a crowd of older people practicing Taiji peacefully. Their movements are graceful and there is a beautiful harmony in their coordination. Looking content, they are clearly enjoying each other’s company.

martial arts robotics Kung Fu
Shifu Jet Li learns some new tricks!

Even when VR training interfaces become widely available, many people will still opt for more traditional approaches.

After all, the human element of practice is at the core of martial arts training.

Even the most realistic training simulations won’t be able to recreate the feeling of community that traditional training provides. Despite this, students could still use VR training as an effective supplement to their practice.

For example, they could learn basic techniques in the VR system and spar in real-time to get the best of both worlds. They could use VR training as a form of solo practice and still enjoy the communal experience of martial arts when their schedules allow for it.

By the end of the training scene in The Matrix, the student has caught up to his master. Acknowledging his student’s progress, the master says,“I’m trying to free your mind.”

When VR becomes a genuine reality, users need to keep this in mind. VR training will be useful and fun, but users must foster a healthy relationship with it.

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