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Can I teach myself martial arts?

Yes, you can absolutely teach yourself martial arts at home. However, how well you can learn from books and Youtube will depend on your innate abilities. For example, your ability to grasp abstract concepts, your awareness of details, your ability to memorize, and your experience level, all play a role in how much you can learn without an actual teacher. 

Kung Fu

That being said start somewhere, anywhere. When you get to the point in life where you can find a qualified instructor, that's the best way to go, but in the meantime start training now and you will be way ahead when you start training in an actual class

Step 1. Use a mirror and video to self correct

You can learn a lot from books - footwork, the basic guards and attacks are already a hell lot and will occupy you years to master. To self train requires a lot of discipline and more importantly self criticism. 

The biggest problem is training on your own is, that you don't get feedback from an instructor, right? So you have to kind of learn how to self-correct. The first thing you can do is: practice in front of the mirror.

A large mirror's a great way to start.  Don't be delusional. Actually look in the mirror, examine your stance, and look at your elbow. Is it in the correct position? Look at your weight distribution is it where it needs to be? Look at your knees. Are they bent enough? 

I also think that people should use their phones to film themselves from different angles. That way if they are using videos or books they can compare how they are moving to the teaching materials they are using. 

Phones are actually way more useful than a mirror for correcting details. They allow you to see yourself form a familiar angle, without having to simultaneously perform the move. 

I would say that even people who have schools that they are attending should make videotaping themselves a part of their training routine. It would benefit them as much as it would a person who has no instructor.

If I could get my students to do this, I know they would increase their rate of progress by at least 300%

Step 2. Use equipment to further your training.

Do something with something. Train with an object, a thing. What kind of thing? It could be nunchucks, a knife, rubber tubing, exercise bands, a ball, a heavy bag, a stick, a jump rope, or a pair of dumbbells. Whatever. Really, you can train with anything. Just remember the bigger picture. 

The idea is to enhance your attributes. Attributes are things like balance, rhythm, strength, speed, endurance, and coordination. These are things that will help you execute simple techniques at a high level.

I wonder how many martial artists ever cared to consider the benefits of learning things like juggling, writing / drawing with the non-dominant hand, archery, driving a stick shift, and things of that nature. 

Even in mundane tasks, like opening the door, or eating with a fork, we can choose to try it with our non dominant hand. Optionally, you can choose activities that make you synchronize your hands together. But how many martial artists would look at something like juggling and think “that’s hard training for martial arts!” 

If it’s difficult physically, I say train it!

So, if you’re training alone and want to make the most of your solo practice time, do something with something. Then when you hopefully get the chance to practice with another human being, you’ll have some experience managing the resistance and controlling the pressure caused by something outside of yourself.

For me at least, challenging myself is what martial arts have always been about.

Las Vegas Kung Fu Academy

Step 3. Find someone to train with (most important)

First I have massive respect for your dedication, you'll train by yourself if you can't train with others. However, let me give you one cold, hard fact. Fact—you will never be a GREAT martial artist if you only train alone. It’s impossible. There is simply no substitute for a live training partner. Your cat doesn’t count. 

There are two goals in martial arts training—the first goal is to control yourself, and the second goal is to control somebody else, specifically a bad guy who is out of control. If you’re training solo, you can go a long way towards that first goal. You can develop your speed, strength, flexibility, coordination, your stamina, and you can do it in a million different ways. You can do calisthenics, plyometrics, isometrics, forms, shadow boxing, visualization, meditation, and videos— all good. 

But ultimately, my friend, martial arts is about relationships. It’s about relating to another human being, In particular someone who is trying to hurt you. A human being who wants the opposite of what you want, and is fighting hard to get it. Learning to manage a person like that is the second goal of martial arts training. And to achieve that goal, you will always need another person.

It’s not too different from playing a multiplayer game in single-player mode sure you have practiced and learned but eventually, you need to compete with others to see how effective you really are you need to test yourself. 

You can learn to fight without a partner. However, it's extremely likely you will fail at first You haven't learned to measure distance or actually strike another human being. You will look like an idiot but keep in mind, that you will likely perform better than someone without any training would. Remember, the only thing worse than training martial arts by yourself is NOT training in martial arts AT ALL.

Of course, it's a much better idea to train with multiple partners, The more partners you can get the better.

Look up “partner training drills” on youtube. Every style, Karate, Wing Chun, Boxing , Kali, Judo and Jujitsu has partner drills, ranging from the very simple to very complex.

First, get your partner to attack at 50% speed while you only defend, then gradually step up the tempo, then reverse the roles.

Train at home but try to find an actual school if possible.

Thanks to youtube, I think it's easier than ever to self teach yourself martial arts. With youtube, we can substitute a coach for video instruction, thus leaving only the sparring and competition aspects of martial arts training. 

When you think about it, the people who created martial arts styles in ancient times, had to try techniques to see what would work and what wouldn't. Generations down the line, those techniques would be refined and improved, and added upon, but during the early developmental stages of creating fighting systems, someone had to apply and use these techniques before passing them on to others. So, if possible learning from established traditions will cut down on your learning curve.

The question of whether you can learn martial arts at home has been definitively answered in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s after the explosion of interest in grappling arts, specifically Brazillian Jujitsu after the very first few Ultimate Fighting Championships. 

At this time, qualified and experienced BJJ instructors were very few and far between, which meant that the primary resource for those interested in BJJ, grappling and MMA were videotapes and books.  

There were many isolated groups (many based out of traditional martial arts schools) who were primarily self-taught with supplemental trips to seminars from legitimate instructors a few times a year, often for years.

The results were very clear - self-instruction, even with the best training partners and materials can only get you so far.  Not only is progress slow, but there is also a point at about the advanced novice level where progress plateaus.  The general experience of guys who had practiced for years in isolation was that they would end up getting demolished by beginning blue belts when they stepped into a real school. 

First chance you can enroll yourself into an actual school. You won't be in the same situation forever. When you can't access a dojo now, perhaps you can access one later. 

Just like anything in life, instruction from an experienced mentor will save years of study and prevent poor techniques. With martial arts, solo drills are important but they will only take you so far. studying the literature and videos are actually beneficial to everyone no matter what your method of training and learning is.

The concept of "no mind"

Obviously, if you are reading this article you think that knowing self-defense is useful. However, Self defense techniques are useless unless you can do them under stress, right? The real test is always how you will react when you have to actually use it. In real life when you need to use your techniques, there is no time to think.

Instead, you want to not think. You want to just react. You want to flow.

You are then just reacting, you are using something known as No Mind or Wuxin.

Mushin (mental state) 'Mushin' in Japanese and 'Wuxin' in Chinese (無心 "no mind") is a mental state.  

Sometimes when I talk to people about this I mention driving. Remember when you first learned you were checking this and that but now after so many years you are just doing it without any direct thought of what you do next. That's how Mushin or “no mind” is experienced. Your techniques have a flow to them. It's almost like a dance when it actually comes out. 

It's time to get started

If you start with a good foundation, you can keep building from it. That is what we do when we stand on the shoulders of giants that came before us and when we listen to the people that have used and trained their arts. The beauty of the internet is that it gives us data, to see what works and what doesn't.

Now get out there and train.