I’m going to write about something that might be a bit controversial in the martial arts community right now – and something that might get me in trouble back at the dojo: learning martial arts online. It is a topic that I see debated everyday online, and one often spat on by traditional martial arts instructors.
Can you successfully learn martial arts online to any sort of expert status? Can it be done without a teacher? Is it ‘real’ martial arts? Insert your favorite question here.
My thought is this: it all depends on the student and the way he practices/trains, the same as with in-person training at your local Karate or Kung Fu school.
You know what? That’s how a lot of us trained back before the Internet, too. For those of us old fogeys back in the 70s and 80s who didn’t live near a school, or who wanted to learn MORE, we had to do things like take trips to the library to find books detailing forms or techniques – or we ordered magazines (like Black Belt Magazine!). And, even further back than that (yes, the world existed before any of us were around), martial artists learned from training manuals written and illustrated by other masters. Bruce Lee drew out all of his training for future reference, and that’s been going on forever.
Will it be a bit more difficult to learn without a teacher correcting your stances, posture, forms, etc? Absolutely. Anyone who is self training is going to run into that issue. You’re going to end up taking the long way on a lot of stuff. There are two things that can help with that problem.
First, find a partner to train with. Most martial arts material is meant to be used on someone else (even if none of us want to do it). You really do need that physical interaction and feedback that comes from performing a punch or block on another human – and even more so with a throw or lock. To be honest, there are a lot of ‘real’ martial arts schools out there that don’t do enough of that hands on interaction beyond light/point sparring. If you have a good, motivated training partner, then you’ll be able to take your martial arts to the next level…and that’s true with online or offline training.
Second, find a way to get video of yourself practicing your forms and techniques. If you don’t have someone else watching and correcting you, video will let you do it yourself. Self-analyzing what you’re doing, right and wrong, is a tool that will allow you to correct, tweak, and adjust things to perfection. This is a must.
So, is it possible to become a martial artist on your own, watching videos on the Internet? Absolutely…and, yes, I know as an in-person teacher myself I am supposed to hate the idea. But I don’t. Coming clean, I watch videos and take online courses to improve my own forms or to learn new material all the time. The Internet is a wealth of information and a fantastic learning tool. That is all it is, tho: a tool. What you do with the tool – how you use it to build your art – is far more important.
If you have a passion for martial arts, don’t let anyone tell you there is only one way to learn. Go out there and get as much information as possible, and then practice, practice, practice. When you’re done with practice, practice some more. Refine your technique, ask for help online, and explore. You’re doing what martial artists have done for centuries, pursuing knowledge and bettering yourself.
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