How can I learn martial arts by myself? [Complete Guide 2023]

How can I learn martial arts by myself? [Complete Guide 2023]

Allow me to share my story with you:

I began my journey in the martial arts when I was four years old. By then, the Green Hornet was in syndication, but I loved watching Bruce Lee do his thing as Kato. The next thing my parents knew, I was jumping all around the house, mimicking what I watched daily.

Over the next few years, I trained in my backyard. I got good at breaking but still practised my techniques and thought they were pretty good.

At 11, I started taking professional martial arts classes. The only problem was that my mother moved us around about every three months, so I had three months each of Taekwondo, Goshin Do Karate, Praying Mantis Kung Fu, and Shintaido. I got away from her when I was 16.

I had several different instructors over that period, so when I got away from my mom, I bought Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method (Volumes 1–4), books on Wing Chun, Aikido, Judo, Jiujitsu, and Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu and began practising them in earnest every day with my friend and training partner.

I finished high school, and my skills then were pretty decent. I stood up to my bullies going into my senior year and hospitalized several of them. There’s more to this story, but I’ll reference it later. It’s super important. Story continues after this heading:

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

So, at 20, I joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia. I met Daniel Pecaro, a soldier who had just returned from several years in Korea and was a newly-christened teacher of Taekkyon. I was excited to get to know him, and I had many questions that day out in the sticks- we were on a field exercise. 

We sparred, and even though I had all this training from books and the like, he beat me silly in about 30 seconds flat.

I began training with him six days a week after that, and sometime later, I also became an instructor in Taekkyon. I’ve had many instructors since then, too. 

If I have my choice between an instructor and videos/books (back when I started, the VHS player hadn’t been invented yet- we had 8mm, but those took the money, and my mom’s constant moves after my dad died kept us broke), I’ll take the instructor every time.

Don’t get me wrong- books and videos can be valuable, especially if you already have your teaching credentials/black belt/etc. I have four of them in an art or two (and I’m 50 years old). However, for a new practitioner, I HIGHLY recommend getting a teacher if you can afford it. Suppose you can’t get a second job or something. It’s worth it.

It comes down to that bit of material I said I’d share later. Later is now 🙂 Had I the training of a teacher of Iron Palm, I wouldn’t have broken my hands practising it. Had I had a steady teacher of any art, I wouldn’t have learned how “not” to punch through a boxer’s fracture- I would have known the right way. 

I’d have known about conditioning methods for alternate ways to punch than just Ram’s headway of doing it. I’d have learned proper conditioning methods, so I didn’t give myself bone chips.

Story continues after this heading:

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

Here’s the lesson, and I’ve seen it many times. Having had lots of instruction myself, I can tell you that I can spot a self-taught person every time (at least thus far, in over 25 years of teaching). 

And the lesson? A person taught from “don’t know a thing” to “teacher of the art” will clean your clock because they have the technical framework and the conceptual one. 

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They will understand timing, penetration, angulation, zoning, closing gaps, proper breathing, visualization, intent, and many other things that you wouldn’t have even known to ask about, let alone be motivated to study in the first place.

These come from a quality relationship with an instructor. Your body will thank you, too. Videos have their place, but in my opinion, it’s AFTER you’ve learned an art to the point that you are allowed the privilege of teaching it. NOT before. Don’t create many bad habits that will slow you down when you finally get an instructor.

Can I just teach myself any martial arts?

Technically, I can read books, memorize anatomy charts, practice by visualizing and refining my movements, and get comfortable with all the tools and equipment. Doing all this enables me to perform simple procedures such as removing bullets and closing wounds, maybe even something like removing an appendix. 

My first few patients might even survive. However, anything more complicated than that, or a situation where something goes horribly wrong (that bullet nicked an artery!), and I’m way out of my depth.

I will also likely devise efficient methods and use the right tools for the situation. I am unlikely to be prepared for all the things that could go wrong, and I’m equally unlikely to know when things are about to go wrong. I can learn those things with experience, but that experience comes with a high and unforgiving price tag.

A qualified teacher can show me more efficient ways of getting the job done. These safer methods ensure my patient’s survival, which tools to use in which situation, what could go wrong when it could go wrong, how to accurately recognize when it’s going wrong, and how to handle it when it does go wrong. A teacher will be able to assess my skill with each tool in ways that I cannot and help me improve in ways I could not have known.

[I know this is technically a false equivalence, but bear with me.] Continue after this heading:

How can I learn martial arts by myself? [Complete Guide 2023]

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

You can learn basic self-defence and be pretty decent at it completely on your own, but you will never be able to progress past this basic point. You’ll be relatively safe with defending against basic punches, maybe even basic kicks, but the first time an attacker grabs you for a throw or holds or pulls out a weapon, you’ll be lost. 

You can learn the basic movements of a martial art system, maybe even an entire form, but you’ll never be able to plumb the depths of its applications.

If you’re off by even an inch or two because you couldn’t discern the proper position from the pictures or video, you’ll practice an incorrect method that, at best, will leave you vulnerable and could even cause long-term injury.

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With a teacher, you leverage that teacher’s training and experience to better your own. Considering that your teacher did the same with their teacher, you’re looking at generations of improvement each time a student walks through the door – leveraging the leverage that has already been leveraged many times over. 

The process of learning from a teacher will impart humility in learning that will make you better at learning in the long run. Teachers can be honest with us in ways in which we cannot be honest with ourselves.

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

Many styles are taught in only some areas of the world. It’s okay. You can only effectively train in an art or style with physical instruction in that art or style and practitioners of that style to train with. You could imitate the moves you see in videos or read about the theory, but your understanding would be vastly limited, and in the end, all you would be doing is imitating.

If you wish to study a style that isn’t taught where you live, you have two choices:

Option 1: Move. If it is that important to you, move. Pack up everything you have, quit your job if needed, and move for the sake of studying.

Option 2: Ask yourself what you want to get out of studying martial arts, then look around where you live for the available instruction and study whatever is taught in your area that best fits your needs.

I once had a pair of children, and their mother visit my school. They had moved from another state, and no one in our town taught the style they had studied. Their mother was fixated on the previous instructor and his methods as the ultimate expression of martial arts. She wanted her children to continue to study, so she brought them to my school. 

After an hour of discussing how our school could meet her needs, she left. Three months later, I ran into her again, this time while I was visiting a school owned by a good friend. She was bringing her children to that school to see if my friend could replace the instructor her children had before. She left again, still searching for another school.

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

I ran into this woman and her children multiple times over the next few years. She was always looking for someone to teach the style her children had learned before, the way they had learned it before. Meanwhile, her children learned nothing. They studied nothing and, with each passing year, forgot more of what they knew.

People who seek out famous styles because of things that they have read about… people who will accept nothing other than what their research has told them will be perfect for them to study…. they wind up like this woman’s children. 

Studying nothing. Learning nothing. Worse… they are blind to the wonders they have never heard of… the thousands upon thousands of styles that are deep, rich, and fulfilling but taught in small regions or without significant fanfare.

If you want to study martial arts… worry less about the name of the art and more about the quality of the instruction and whether that instruction will help you meet your goals. As long as it does, who cares what the brand name is?

What’s the first step to learning martial arts (self-taught)?

Teach yourself to find a local school. Visit it to ensure it is teaching what you want to learn. Make sure you can afford it. Take classes.

I’m not sure where all the “how can I teach myself martial arts at home for free” questions come from, but they keep popping up on MBD gift gallery, don’t they?

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If you are a budding Mozart of the martial arts, you might get inspiration from available resources – books (remember when there were books?) and videos. With that kind of innate talent, you can martial arts (self-taught). You might instinctively understand the footwork, body placement, movements, etc., you see.

Find friends to learn the art incorrectly with you since you can’t do much without partners. If you train hard together, you might develop useful skills in rough and tumble, catch as catch can hand to hand.

What basic self-defence techniques should beginners know?

Situational Awareness.

Any technique will be worthless if you allow yourself to be blindsided by your surroundings. Street criminals prey on easily distracted people, so put away that phone and look around for possible dangers.

Take a wide berth when you walk around a corner. Check people talking to themselves for Bluetooth headsets so you know they’re not talking to their imaginary friends. Ensure you can find an exit if the room is suddenly dark. 

Stay at the edge of a subway/train platform. Look around for possible weapons when you have a conflict situation. Keep your distance and be wary of hands hidden behind backs or pockets. Only assume something once verified. Never brandish a weapon. Check your impulses. Be pragmatic about your skills and flaws.

Situational awareness trumps any principles or techniques. I’ve known many proficient martial artists who got into trouble due to inattention, overconfidence, or impulsive actions. I rarely get into altercations because I pay attention and can see them coming so I can step out of the way. Avoiding a fight is better than winning a conflict.

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

Which form of martial arts is the easiest to learn in the shortest time?


There are 5–to 6 moves to learn and a few more varieties to vary. There’s a reason it was the weapon of choice for quickly training militias before handguns overtook them.

Now, you can train much more to become fancy at it and master the weapon completely. But I’d reckon I could make you beat any non-trained person in about an hour or two. And a couple of decently trained sworders if they haven’t faced the pointy stick before.

How can I learn martial arts by myself? [Complete Guide 2023]

Can someone learn martial arts from a DVD?

Can you learn Martial Arts from a DVD? Sort of. (How’s that for the road position between two men who I respect in their answers?)

You can mimic martial arts moves from a DVD. You can reinforce what you are learning from a DVD. You can refine your positioning and posturing from a DVD. But can you LEARN Martial Arts from a DVD? No.

Learning Martial Arts is more than learning the moves/kicks/punches. As Isaac says, in Tai Chi, you can learn the postures from a master instructor on a DVD. But are you learning about the grounding energy and qi? I can’t see that knowledge being transmitted via anything other than a personal, human vector.

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

What basic self-defence techniques should beginners know?

Look up Post-WWII Hand-To-Hand. It specifically works on gross motor skills, which are all you will have when combat stress kicks in.

It teaches you how to fight using huge groups of your muscles at a time. It teaches you some destructive and devastating moves quickly. Moves that you can use right away. 

Stomps, low kicks, hand-in-the-face, hammer fists, etc. As with any “fighting system,” you’d need to spar and train, but you’d be surprised at how quickly you’ll learn once you go up against someone bigger, worse and willing to work with you to teach you.

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Also, learn how to fall. You’re going to. Falling to the ground isn’t the end of the world, you can still fight, but it’s in how you go down that you’ll be able to figure out how to take down the second-rate pigf*cker who picked the wrong motherfucker to go up against.

I ended that with a preposition… what will you do about it?

How do you decide which martial art to learn?

The most realistic martial art you can learn is the one you can do, given your health and interest.

(1) If you’re young, athletic, and heal relatively quickly from injuries, I recommend some combination of grappling and boxing/kickboxing. He is a strong, fast young man who knows Judo and boxing would be hard to beat.

My absolute first choice would be Judo. It’s great exercise, and if you had to defend yourself, throwing someone’s spine onto the sidewalk is probably a quicker, surefire method to end a fight than most punches or kicks.

(2) Once you get into your late 30s, you’ll probably want to take a different path. Whether swinging a hammer all day, driving a Sparklets truck or sitting at a desk, you probably can’t afford the injuries that come with full-contact training. Any traditional karate or kung fu style will help you maintain health and the physical attributes you need for self-defence.

Many people mock Karate’s usefulness, but I know a female black belt who seriously damaged a serial rapist when she probably didn’t weigh much more than 100 lbs.

Kung Fu is also subject to a lot of mockery by individuals who think anything that doesn’t involve rolling on the ground, trying to choke someone, or putting on gloves isn’t real martial art. The fact is, if you’re 35 or older, competition shouldn’t be your goal. 

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

It should be training to defend yourself with a curriculum of studies that improves your health and maintains your fitness as you continue (hopefully) to age. Most traditional karate and kung fu styles fit this bill.

(3) Let’s say you are in your mid-40s… 50s…or 60s. You’ll probably want to look at styles that don’t have super deep stances. In that case, I’d recommend specific Karate or kung fu styles that don’t require a lot of deep stances.

Wing Chun, Bak Mei and Chu Gar (S. praying mantis) have slightly more upright stances. All of these southern Chinese styles are extremely focused on self-defence.

Hsing-I is a northern kung fu style slightly related to Tai Chi. It’s based on medieval Chinese infantry drills and focuses on hand-to-hand and weapon-to-weapon combat.

As far as Karate goes, it’s generally true that Okinawan karate has higher stances than Japanese Karate, so you’d be better off with an Okinawan style than a Japanese style.

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

(4) What interests you? If you’re 40+ and want to try Brazilian Jujitsu, go for it. If you’re 17 and love hsing-I or Wing Chun…go for it. It doesn’t matter how “effective” a martial art is if you don’t love it enough to keep at it. I’m not a big fan of Tae Kwon Do. 

But if you’re absolutely in love with TKD and can make it part of your lifestyle, then that’s what you should study. And when it comes time to use it to defend yourself, five years of loving TKD and training every day will serve you a lot better than 1 or 2 years of going through the motions in Muay Thai or Jujitsu when you didn’t love those styles.

How can I improve my self-defence techniques?

Self-defense techniques aren’t just sparring techniques used on the street. Rules guide sparring, and there are no rules on the street. Self-defence requires defences against strikes, kicks, grabs, holds and weapons.

First, you need the basic ability to defend against several attacks. You will only be successful if you know how to handle yourself out of the ring.

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Second, you need to have techniques effective against a wide variety of attacks. Defence isn’t just blocking, punching and kicking. That approach will get you into trouble. The internet is ripe with high-kickers in fights. These people are fighting, not defending against an attack.

No one who knows real fighting will stand in kicking range and get kicked. They will be out of range or in your face. This is where you must be capable and able to use various responses to random attacks.

How can I learn martial arts by myself?

Third, you need to be able to use variations of your techniques. The one thing you should understand is that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. You need to be able to change a technique or change techniques seamlessly. 

Every time you screw up a technique, continue with what you are dealt to to a successful conclusion. Practising your techniques is what you need to improve your ability; practice until your technique is a part of you. 

(EDIT. Randori, the random use of attacks and defences in kumite is necessary. There are no points, no stopping for points. The participants know who and when there is success, as on the street.)

Point sparring over and over only makes you good at sparring, not capable of defending yourself.

How can I learn martial arts by myself? [Complete Guide 2023]

How can I learn martial arts from home?

Pay a good martial arts instructor to give you private lessons in your home.

Your options are simple: you go to the instructor, or he (she) comes to you. But in-person, direct instruction is essential, and there is no way of getting around this.

Why did you start learning martial arts?

To defend myself and ensure my protection.

There are so many forms of martial arts, and while some practices are ancient and others are modern, they all have one thing in common: People who participate in them love them.

There are a variety of reasons that martial arts practitioners enjoy doing it.

Some obvious reasons are the focus the martial arts teach or the self-defence that makes people feel safer.

Other reasons are less obvious, like the camaraderie that comes with the studio they practice in. Here are a few reasons that people are so dedicated to their martial arts:

1. It’s a confidence booster

Martial arts are physically trying, so prolonged practice helps you get in shape, but the longer you do it, the better you get at it. Both of these aspects of martial arts make it easy for the sport to help boost your confidence.

This is true of any variety of martial arts.

Whether a student begins as a child or later in life, learning there’s a new skill and growing it with the support of your instructor can do wonders for self-esteem.

2. You learn self defence How can I learn martial arts by myself?

Hopefully, you won’t need to use your martial arts skills as self-defence, but it’s always good to have those skills if a situation arises.

While children definitely shouldn’t take the skills they learn in martial arts classes to the playground, an adult who finds him or herself in a dangerous situation, like a street robbery or home break-in, will be happy to have learned the techniques necessary to stay safe without needing a dangerous weapon.

3. It’s a productive way to release energy

While people don’t necessarily feel the need to get into fights, many have pent-up stress that they would rather not be released in an altercation with another person. Exercise is a great way to let out any anger or aggression in a productive way. 

Have you ever gone into a kickboxing class or on a run in a bad mood and finished as if you were walking on air? Sometimes, you only need a little physical activity to get that negative energy out.

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4. It increases focus

The physical aspect of martial arts is a small part of the overall practice.

According to Crow Martial Arts, participating in martial arts can sharpen your mind, allowing you to focus and learn more easily.

The stress-relieving aspect of martial arts is also a key factor in enhancing focus.

For example, how well do you work when other thoughts are racing through your mind? Martial arts helps you tune out those other thoughts and solely zero in on the practice. Once you learn to do that in your martial arts classes, you can incorporate that mental strength into other aspects of your life.

5. The social aspect: How can I learn martial arts by myself?

There are few places more supportive than your local martial arts studio.

Not only will you get to know every member of your class and your instructors, but these people will also support and encourage you throughout your martial arts journey.

Unlike in gyms or fitness studios, socializing is a big part of the atmosphere in a martial arts studio, so you’re very likely to become friends with the people you practice with.

If you’ve recently moved to a new city, consider joining a martial arts studio for some much-needed camaraderie.

How can I learn martial arts by myself? [Complete Guide 2023]

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