Is it possible to learn A Martial Art online, via a book, a training manual or a distance learning program? Let’s cut to the chase, No, it isn’t.
But there is more to this question than meets the eye and in this article (and as someone who offers online courses) I will delve into where I think online training and tuition does work and why it remains viable for some and for certain methods.
There is a tradition in old styles of martial art, where legend and tails of origin are lost to the mists of time, for some student or other to find an old manual of training and use it to start their journey before finding a teacher. Indeed, before the advent of the internet (yes, I remember this time!) the only access to the various styles of martial art was books. I remember early in my childhood visiting the library and getting all the books on martial arts I could find, then heading out onto the green in front of my home to try all the methods out with my friends. Many a bruise, sprain and tear was invariable the result. But the lack of schools, styles and variation meant there was no other choice, we had to make do. At the time in the UK there was only Karate, Judo, Aikido and a westernised hybridization of these three which was names Jiu Jitsu, but actually bore little resemblance the the true Japanese art of the same name. There was certainly no opportunity to learn some exotic style of Internal Kung Fu or to training in arts like Silat or even, at the time Muay Thai. Schools in these styles were sparse and dotted around the country.
Happily, things have changed and with YouTube and the internet we have an abundance of data on virtually every style and method of martial arts. In addition, we now have Martial Arts schools of a wide-ranging variety of styles in every town, city and village in the country. So, the choices, both in information and in breadth of subject, are now vast. With this seemingly positive change of circumstance however comes the inevitable negatives, the risk of data overload or lack of attention or commitment to a task, low standards of low grade teachers, we all should know the traps of training or finding a teacher by this time.
Regardless, let me ask you, have you ever learned something, anything, without an instructor or teacher being in the room with you? I can guarantee you that the answer is yes. So, have you ever asked yourself, how did you learn that thing? Was it from a book? A Forum? A website? From personal experience? From realisation? From exploration?
The reality is that we learn without teacher in front of us almost all the time. We manage our attention, interest and practice whilst aiming ourselves towards a given goal, even for those with a regular teaching they still spend most of their time ‘learning’ while practicing alone. This is the reality of learning new things, regardless of whether a teacher sat in front of you or not.
So why is it that Martial Arts cannot be learnt online? Well, first we need to adjust this sentence a little. A more appropriate question would be “Why can’t many aspects of Martial Arts be learnt online?”
The answer to the second, more accurate, statement is relatively easy. Firstly, almost all martial arts rely on interaction with other people in a controlled and guided way. When we are training methods which, by their very nature, are combative it would be easy for the amateur or novice to unconsciously escalate the situation.
This is counter-productive to both our skill development and our ability to train. Over the years as a martial arts coach, I have had to break up my fair share of fights. The escalation was hardly ever intentional and was always simply due to inexperience.
Secondly, the martial arts tend to deal with refined mechanics that may be easy to grasp conceptually but are extremely hard to understand or replicate without feeling them expressed in an expert. This is perhaps the greatest way that complex skills are passed on in the Martial Arts, especially in those arts where subtle concepts are at the forefront. There is simply no instance where these skills can be learnt at a distance, online, from a book or training manual.
The reality is that to get the complete picture of any martial art and the depth of understanding required for the martial artist to develop good personal skill, you need to interact with your peers under supervision, you need to feel the methods you are attempting to replicate, and you need to get direct corrections. But the fact remains, you must also study and train alone … a lot.
So, what are the Merits of online tuition?
So why, you may ask, with the above considerations do I continue to present material in an online format? Well, primarily and most importantly, I am not teaching a ‘martial art’. This is very important to understand because it reframes the entire situation. MartialBody foundations are not style specific, do not represent a tradition or style and are not all encompassing.
With this in mind, some of the considerations outlined above simply disappear. Some types of material CAN be taught successfully online. Primarily ‘bedrock’ or foundational skills, New information to layer onto existing knowledge or solo development training methods. We need only look at the students of successful programs like ‘Yoga for BJJ’ or GMB fitness to see that results are possible when the individual is motivated and takes personal responsibility for the training and to frame it realistically with the right approach.
New layers for existing knowledge
We only need to look at some of the highly technical martial arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to understand how online libraries or techniques can help those with existing knowledge.
In my case, when I began training BJJ we only had access to a higher-grade coach once every couple of weeks, the rest of the time we were all left to our own devices. We would get a small amount of information, then essentially be left to embed it and figure things out for ourselves. This turned out to be the perfect developmental environment because we were in a constant state of struggle and we eventually developed 4 national champions as a result.
Once the initial methods were embedded and I received my Blue belt I realised I needed slightly more detail and a way to refine the rough techniques I already knew. This is when I turned to online libraries to help develop the details that I may be struggling with. I used them sparingly but they were invaluable in my early days at blue belt and accelerated my progress. The key however was in how I used them, I did not attempt to learn anything I had never done, I simply gained new information on things I was already doing. This is probably the most common way people fail with such online libraries, they will attempt some fancy technique, when really, they should be focusing on refining the basics they already know. In the later stages of Blue belt, I cancelled the memberships as I had smoothed out some of the rough edges and was able to continue my learning without the online help.
This process of refining existing understanding is one of the best ways that online tuition can help someone already training. When we are talking about body development skills simply pointing out 1 detail can transform how someone performs a given action. Even if they serve a purpose for a short time, they can still point the way in a minefield of details and points missed. I consistently get messages saying the same, where someone was performing the exact movement I had shown, but never realised some of the key details of its purpose.
Gaining foundational understanding prior to training with a teacher.
For many around the world, access to advanced teachers is not a weekly, or even monthly reality. In fact, most people may only get access to a high-level coach once a year at a seminar or retreat. This unfortunate situation means that when you do get access, you want it to be the best and most fruitful experience possible.
I have seen so many people attend seminars and come away impressed, but when asked what they will train the answer is ‘I don’t know? There was so much info’. But I insist this isn’t necessarily because the coach or the material wasn’t clear, it is because the participant lacked preparation.
When I would travel to visit elite coaches or martial artists, I would spend a couple of weeks before the event digging into the methods that the teacher taught. I would watch their videos, read their articles, and explore their art or method and try to replicate the things they were teaching. This meant that when I walked into the session I was informed.
Similarly, if you want to get the most out of a given training protocol, training in the foundations at a basic level will give you an idea of the system you will encounter first hand. More importantly it will give you ‘good questions’ for the teacher when you finally meet them! If you are booked to train at a seminar with someone and they offer online tuition, I would suggest (if finances permit) that exploring their courses is a good opportunity to prepare yourself to get the most out of the training.
Did you learn how to do that bicep curl?
Here is a question for you. How many of you have sought instruction from a teacher on how to use a dumbbell, or barbell? How about attended regular classes in how to Jog or how to run?
I would wager that most have simply headed into their gym and got on with it. Is there any doubt that with correct running instruction you would be able to run faster or longer, or with a strength coach you would be able to list more with more efficiently? No. So why don’t we gravitate towards physical teachers in these things?
I only know a few people who have really learnt to lift weights from a strength coach. Most people will either just go and try, or watch a YouTube video or two on proper form before they do. In many body development or physical training methods, we are happy to simply watch videos and try ourselves with absolutely no direct guidance. Now, let me say this will NOT get you near the level of development a dedicated strength coach could help you achieve … but for most, they simply don’t care, especially in the early days.
MartialBody training is firstly concerned with providing physical attribute training and is primarily based in solo training methods that one must perform at home outside a class environment. The intermediate and advanced methods will never be presented in online course, because they require more detail, however, the transformation starts with very basic foundational physical training methods. These methods are the first skin of the onion, and will help someone begin their journey. They are not enough alone, but they are the start point and make no mistake, progress can be achieved in the foundations without the teacher by your side. I have had several people who trained these methods daily at home and when I finally met them, they really were not far off the mark.
It would be a mistake to imagine that these methods alone are the entirety of MartialBody training, indeed, these methods would not remain the focus after they have initially been engrained, but the bedrock needs to be laid and that training can be started through online courses.
In conclusion, let me say that if you have a good teacher, a good training group and are developing in line with your expectations, online tuition should not be considered. There is simply no need to start new material if the material you already train is fulfilling its purpose.
However, there remain many who do sign up to my online courses who either do not feel they are getting the most out of their current training, are looking for new details, or are exploring foundations. I maintain that it remains a logical, practice and useful tool when viewed as only one small part of the complete picture.