Can I Learn a Martial Art at Home?

by on September 21, 2011

in Beginners Corner

By Brett Kraiger

Can I learn a martial art at home?

In a nutshell: No..

These days you can buy anything online, and I’m sure there are even sites that will sell you a black belt. If not a black belt, then a course that will promise to turn you into a deadly killing maching in just 20 minutes a day.

Complete rubbish.

A martial art, like any skill, requires constant improvement and refinement over a very long period of time before you become proficient. And a large part of this improvement comes in the form of “muscle memory”. As you repeat an exercise over and over again your body eventually works out the most efficient (and hence most powerful) way to repeat that movement. This is done by strengthening the neural pathways and refining the muscle movements until they become almost instinctive.

Tai Chi is often done as a group exercise
by Cherrie ?? under CC BY-ND
Tai Chi is often done as a group exercise

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The problem with trying to do this at home is that you do not know how to perform the movement correctly, and even if you are following along on a video there are bound to be subtleties that you are missing out on. So you will no doubt be pracitising the movements incorrectly over and over again, reinforcing through muscle memory movements that are not powerful or accurate.

An experienced instructor looking from the outside can see these errors and slowly help you correct them, guiding you towards the most efficient and powerful movement possible. Martial arts movements are incredibly complex, and require coordination throughout your body. What might seem like a simple arm movement, a punch for example, also requires coordination of the shoulders, back, abdomen, hips, legs, feet and breath. The founder of Taekwon-Do used to say that even the hair on your head needed to be involved. Trying to pick up all these subtleties from a video would be impossible.

Another issue with trying to train at home is that you really need to be training with other people. While most martial arts have aspects of solo training – usually as kata, patterns, forms, tul – whatever you want to call them – training to defend yourself against an aggressor requires you to learn movement in relation to another person. To do this requires you to learn timing, distance, focus and movement with a wide range of partners.

Everybody moves differently, so it is important that you are able to practice with lots of different people. You will learn to move differently depending on your partner. You may have to adapt techniques against different body types or even against individuals. And you need to be able to learn to quickly change from one technique to another if the one you had planned on using just isn’t going to work.

You cannot achieve this at home even if you have a willing partner.

Finally, as stated above, everybody moves differently. Martial arts are not a “one size fits all” endeavour. You have to find your own path through your chosen martial art. Trying to emulate someone on a video will mean that you are trying to fit your body into their movement patterns. This might be like trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

Is there room for online or video tools when learning a martial art? Sure there is. Learning the outline of a new pattern for example can be done from video or a book. The same applies to learning the basic principles behind a kick or a strike. The book or video can give you the broad principles.

But video or a book can never substitute for the ongoing guidance of an experienced instructor, who can teach you – over time – about all the sublteties of movement and even breathing required to produce the most efficient and powerful movement possible. And nothing can replace the “random” nature of training with a wide range of different partners.

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