Learning Martial Arts from Videos?

Now that we differentiate between in-person and online learning, let's discuss learning from videos.

When Hatsumi-sensei began publishing his training videos, it was an open question of what people would learn from them and how effective a training tool they would be. Speaking for myself, it took a very long time for me to be proficient enough at the art before I could watch a video and understand something from it.

I know people who have went through several years of receiving martial arts instruction exclusively via video. My sense is that a dedicated student studying from video could be more effective than a lackadaisical student who comes to in-person classes. But having said that, I think it’s inevitable that fundamental errors will creep into training from relying too heavily on video-only training. These errors can be very difficult to correct later.

So while I’m not a fan of learning primarily via video, I can acknowledge there are times or circumstances where it can helpful or even necessary. As the authors of “The Real Life Dangers of Learning Self-Defence from Viral Videos – Martial Arts Experts” point out, before videos people were learning martial arts from books. Quite often this audience wasn’t just enthusiasts, but women who didn’t have access to martial arts classes (such things either being non-existent or unavailable for women).

But one of the great dangers of learning from videos is that they tend to depict combative techniques and situations as being more static and predictable than they actually will be. Even from a technical viewpoint, if you’re confused about a certain point in a technique, there’s no way to get clarification from the video. Even high quality self-defense videos inherently suffer from these problems.

One thing the authors don’t mention is the lively disputes among martial arts practitioners about the practicality or effectiveness of techniques that are taught by different schools, styles, or instructors. In-person instruction offers no immunity to criticisms of ineffective teachings. There’s no shortage of people who will happily say your martial art style/school/instructor sucks.

This article is a useful reminder to approach learning by video with a healthy grain of salt. I would argue that as a supplement to learning, videos can be an invaluable training tool. But they’re probably not the best tool at our disposal.

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