Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Can you learn martial arts or self defense without a teacher? Answer = No.

I'm not sure where the idea of "self-taught" skills originated. I'm sure it's something that's rooted deep in history and it would be a mistake to assume the origins of the concept started in modern times. In art history there are examples of naieve painters, ones with no formal training, who became recognized for their contributions to art; some that come to mind are Grandma Moses and Edward Hicks.

I believe the naieve, or folk, painters make a valuable contribution to the field of fine arts.  However, I don't think it's reasonable to generalize the concept of self-taught art over into the Martial Arts field.  A Martial Art is a complex physical skill that is ultimately rooted in combat.  In painting the consequence of poor applied performance is lack of recognition and negative criticism; failure doesn't involve immediate negative physical consequences.

In the Martial Arts if one pursues a self-taught program of training and then tries to apply their skills in a "real world" arena the consequences are immediate and physical.  The consequence of failure in the applications of martial arts skill includes serious injury and/or death.

Unlike other fields of study in the humanities there are no prime examples of self-taught martial artists that are recognized for their contributions to the field.  Many people will mistakenly point to Bruce Lee as an example of a self-taught martial artist.  That would be a mistake since Bruce Lee was classically trained in Wing Chun kung fu during his early years in Hong Kong.  Even when he studied in the United States he sought skilled martial artists to train with and develop his skill sets that later were labeled as Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do.  Just because Bruce Lee dictated the direction of his own training and study, that does not mean he was self-taught.  He learned from other martial artists, such as Ed Parker and Gene LeBell.

Bruce Lee's philosophy "style of no style" has been hijacked and misrepresented to justify the reasoning behind self-teaching modes in the martial arts.  One need only truly examine the life and work of Bruce Lee to understand nothing about the man advocates for self-taught training programs.

If one truly is motivated to learn a Martial Art and has invested a lot of time into teaching themselves then I encourage them to seek out a relationship with a senior or master level martial artist.  Once you establish a good working relationship ask them if you can test out your self-taught skills under a controlled enviornment.  I am positive you will find self-taught skills insufficient to be competetive or reliable in application.  A refusal or fear of testing ones own skills against others is a definite sign one understands deep down they aren't up to the task.

I stand by the position that one cannot learn a martial art without the physical presence and guidance of a teacher; videos and books do not count as "a teacher".


  1. Amazing post and very interesting stuff you got here! I definitely learned a lot from reading through some of your earlier posts as well and decided to drop a comment on this one!

  2. That's true. No one can learn martial arts on their own, even if they have; it isn't called martial arts anymore. There are certain steps or procedures on the perfect forms when defending, striking with precision, and evading attacks with perfect rhythm. You can learn these things if you're involved in martial arts training. Even great martial artists know the true origin of these.

  3. Nice post!! I am agree with you that a Martial Art is a complex physical skill that is ultimately rooted in combat.

  4. Consider this shaolin monks studied the movements of animals and meditated to create the forms of martial arts what you say is pure ignorance, art is a physical expression of your own imagination and tocstudy martial arts one must always begin with the art of imitation, while it is true a "teacher" if you will can teach you what they know and that is all even they will want to test and create the unknown or unheard of as far as martial arts goes. Now as for real world techniques what classifies this? Its not the 1800's anymore criminals dont use sai's or katana's they use syringes filled with drugs and knuckle dusters, so any technique you can learn, teach yourself or think of and apply is a martial art which originally stood for war arts, and in war there are no forms techniques or classes or drills and the world is always a war zone so in short yes you can teach yourself martial arts instantaneously if you should be specific aboutcthe matter.

  5. I agree with Kenay. A fool will tell you something is impossible but a wise man will tell you that anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it.

  6. this is why i do not like martial arts because you need to pay lots of money to just learn how to fight.but me personally i perfer assassination arts and self defense methods one because all the moves in those methods make use of gross motor movements like in street fighting/improvised fighting anybody can learn how to use a knife and anybody can learn the simplest moves like the headbutt hand yoke blow and the knee strikes and foot stumps with assassination arts the only thing you need to do is to study human anatomy stealth poisons and knife handling. i am sorry but life is not that simple for everyone not everybody has money for martial arts and sometimes the money runs out then where are you.so if you can not pay for training or get someone to teach you there are all ways other ways too become strong.