Consumer based IoT devices are often focused on the basics of our health. Health wearables are a popular use case. It may be a Fitbit counting the miles you have walked or an Apple Watch suggesting you close some the rings for the number of hours you have stood up. Over the past few years I have been exploring what instrumentation could help in the martial art I train, teach and practice which is called Choi Kwang Do. It is global martial art that has been in the UK for the past 30 years, with many classes in the Hampshire and Surrey area. We are lucky to have Basingstoke CKD on our doorstep with Master Scrimshaw, a 5th degree black belt, in the art running the school.

What our martial art is not!

For many of you reading, the term martial art it may conjure up images of bloodied competitors punching and kicking one another. Choi Kwang Do (CKD) is the certainly not that. Instead, we learn how to move and control our body movements, based on scientific principles, which includes blocks, kicks, punches and strikes. As a class, the aim is to help each student gain those skills and feel confident in themselves. Everything builds on that confidence, there is not part of CKD that aims to dominate or beat down a fellow student. We do hold shields and mitts for one another to enable us to gauge the power of our techniques, but equally we learn control, especially as we have classes of all ages and abilities.

My son and I started when he was 5 years old, he is now 11 and we have progressed through the belt ranks together, equally. My daughter joined in fairly soon after we started, and my wife took up the art when we moved here to Basingstoke and had a Saturday class to attend. So as a family we enjoy a shared activity, a family of friends and personal growth. To train requires practice, feedback from instructors and fellow students, and self-reflection, but how can IoT help us?

 IoT – Digital Vision

Being a modern martial art CKD looks to science, more than tradition and this means it is part of the art to try new approaches and ways to explore our potential. The biomechanics of how we block an incoming threat or generate power in a punch or kick requires a fluid sequential movement. When practicing outside of class an obvious approach to improving this form is to use a full-length mirror, not very IoT but it works up to a point. That point is when you turn around or face left or right, you need yet more mirrors. This led me, a few years ago, to try and use the Microsoft Kinect to create a digital mirror.

The Kinect is a depth sensing camera that also understands the human form. It was used to enable gesture-based games on the Xbox for a while, something that did not take off quite as expected. However, it can capture a digital version of a person’s structure, a live animated stick person of dots for joints and lines for bones. One of the interesting things about this approach to capturing data is that it can then render the view of the movements from any angle, overhead, left, right. It can be used to map actual movements and place them against an optimal model too, this can be viewed in real-time or afterwards. It seems a promising use case but the problem with this really was that the resolution of the digital human model was not quite accurate enough, not able to respond fast enough. It was of course designed for broad gestures in games waving left and right not intricate martial arts moves. I am sure the technology will improve, and we will see this appear properly in the future.

For now, in this space, it seems video capture works a little better, with many applications able to ghost images over the top of one another and time synch them. The other option is to instrument the body and I do have a motion capture suit too. This suite of sensors linked to known parts of the body gives a better resolution, but it gets in the way of normal training with setting it up and squeezing into the tight-fitting leotard to ensure the sensors stay in place.

IoT gives a hand

One very successful training aid I have found is the Hykso punch trackers- I was an early backer of these on a crowdsourcing site. Hykso’s product are sensors designed for boxing, but still related to many of the fist strikes we do in CKD. The sensors sit on the back of the hand, strapped in under webbing. They talk to an app that captures the data and helps schedule workouts and targets. These devices are not simple single sensor strike detectors, but an arrangement of sensors that detect the trajectory of a punch up to the point of impact.

It means that it can do things such as count punches, good for fast pace work in a time limit, and they can also determine the type of punch and even more useful the speed of the punch at the time of impact. When punching a punch bag, or a training dummy I can now get an accurate relative assessment of the impact directly from these sensors. For me it means I am able to see and feel the effect that seemingly minor alterations to technique could generate another 20-40% in speed of impact.

The human brain likes targets and tries to hit them, I am sure many people have waved their arms around to get those last few steps to clock 10,000 a day on a step tracker? It’s important to have variety in training, but when I do use them the direct feedback is always surprising. When practicing without a target, in the air, the device is not able to record anything as it is designed to trigger on a sudden impact, so it is less useful for that type of training.

There is scope to have the same technology following form and fluidity, but again it is not likely to appear for some time. Likewise, there is not a good solution for measuring kicks, the structure of the ankle and the placement of any sensor in that area makes it much trickier, but for me it would be a really useful tool.

Have a Heart

The final tool that I use all the time is my Apple Watch and its heart rate monitor. As a self-defence art we train for bursts of energy, fight or flight moments. Instrumentation of both peak heart rate and recovery time are an interesting measure. It helps to be able to match how you feel to the actual results. This is of course one of the common features across all sports and all health so it is the most represented. There are many apps that take the same basic heart data, along with step tracking to try and give a linked picture of any form of training.

The missing link

With all of the quantified self-instrumentation we are not yet at the point of having the ability to tailor the right application to the right collection of data. There are plenty of applications for runners designed around the basic health data but for martial arts such as CKD the combination of varied training and expression of the art in learning patterns and combinations, practicing power and control seems to not yet be benefiting from a full range of services and sensors.

This is quite indicative of the state of the whole IoT industry, including things such as industrial IoT that I cover as an analyst at 451 Research. There are many parts starting to instrument individual elements, but the orchestration and combination of those is yet to be solved. We can expect another wave of entrepreneurial activity around what to do with all this data in the years to come.