Can’t Be Done!
Martial arts distance learning is often viewed with skepticism by long-time traditional practitioners. And with good reason: there are many valid reasons to criticize the idea. It’s important to note that more people criticize partnerless distance learning than backyard group study.
In the interest of fully informing potential students, let’s take a look at the typical criticism.
Criticism of Any Distance Learning
Local Study is the Best Way to Train
Absolutely 100% true. If you have the opportunity to train locally with a qualified instructor, that is always the best route. The advantages are obvious: better oversight, ability to spar/train/practice with multiple other students, instant feedback, etc. I don’t think any instructor (including those listed here) would argue with that.
You Need Multiple Practice Partners
Some people do study martial arts via distance learning with a friend or group, but that is obviously inferior to studying in a studio setting where there is a class of students. Practicing a technique against a 6’4 250# linebacker is obviously different than the same technique against the proverbial five-foot 98-pound weakling. Different people throw punches differently, have different speeds and reactions, etc.
Criticism of Partnerless (Solo) Distance Learning
You Simply Can’t Study Alone
With some styles, it’s completely impossible to make any progress studying alone (other than general fitness). For example, Jujitsu requires a partner to practice on. While you can work on some elements of many styles (forms/kata, drills, etc.) alone, and simulate more through the use of dummies, ultimately whatever you’re studying will require a human partner.
You Can’t Develop Timing/Rhythm/Etc. Alone
As anyone who’s moved from studio demonstration of techniques to putting on gloves and sparring knows, there’s a world of difference between static practice, even with a partner, and full-speed contact against someone who’s actively trying to move against you. Also, there’s a significant consideration of control. If you watch experience black belts, they can perform lightning-fast moves against an opponent stopping a fraction of an inch (or hitting at reduced power) when training. (Watch Larry Tatum sometime and you’ll see what I mean). While there are many drills one can do in order to improve control, nothing beats a live partner. It’s difficult to simulate the unexpected.
You’re Going to Learn Habits That Are Hard to Break
Practice actually doesn’t make perfect – it makes permanent. In the martial arts, higher level belt techniques build on those learned at lower belts. If you learn a lot of bad movements, basics, etc. you may spiral into something that is difficult to correct. It’s something like getting off course by 1 degree. After 1 mile (white belt), it’s not much change, but by the time you’ve traveled 10,000 miles (black belt) you’re way off course.
You’re a Star Wars Kid in Your Parents’ Basement
You buy some tapes, watch them while you sit with a tub of popcorn and a bottle of beer, make a few chopping moves in the air, and a few weeks later your black belt arrives in the mail. Of course, any program that would certify you as a black belt with that kind of effort is a worthless belt mill.