Online martial arts courses are becoming increasingly popular, but are they really an effective way of learning? Is it really possible to learn martial arts online?
Some would assume not, that martial arts can only be learnt with direct supervision from an instructor.
Whilst I do believe that's the best way to learn, this isn’t always a viable option. Depending on your lifestyle, where you live, your work schedule, or your finances, training at a good gym just might not be possible.
So can the martial art enthusiast who wants to start learning but only has access to the internet as their instructor still train effectively?
The answer is complicated:
For some, learning martial arts online can be a great way to improve their skills, but for others the practice could be ineffective and potentially dangerous.
In this article, I’ll be telling you everything you need to know about training martial arts online and where to start.
- The reality of learning martial arts online
- The advantages
- The disadvantages
- The best martial arts to learn online
- Is learning martial arts online right for me?
- What do I need to get started?
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Can you really learn martial arts online?
Learning martial arts from home is far less likely to be as effective as training in a gym. However, if training in a gym isn’t an option for you, and you’re willing to put the work in, there’s still plenty of resources online to help you improve your skills.
From workouts to technique breakdowns to practical drills and sparring exercises, the internet has a wealth of content that can help your at-home training as long as you know where to look.
However, there are some things you’ll need to consider before trying to learn martial arts online:
- What martial art are you trying to learn?
- What equipment do you have available?
- What’s your current skill level in martial arts?
The answers to these questions are going to make or break how effective your training is, so you’ll need to think carefully about what exactly you want to get out of martial arts.
If you’re a beginner, making all these decisions might seem a little intimidating right off the bat, but don’t fret, I’m here to help you do just that.
Advantages of learning martial arts online
Get taught by the best in the world
One of the key advantages of many online courses is the calibre of instructor now available to anyone with a computer or smartphone.
Olympic boxing medallist Tony Jeffries, Legendary Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructors Rener and Ryron Gracie, and undefeated UFC world champion Khabib Nurmagomedov are just some of the big names that have online martial arts courses available.
Learning online gives you the opportunity to learn techniques and strategies from these world-class fighters in a way you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, other than spending hundreds on plane tickets and seminar costs.
Anytime, any place
A big benefit of online martial arts learning is of course the accessibility. At time of writing, lockdown restrictions still continue for many people around the world, meaning training at home is necessary.
Similarly, if you’re on holiday somewhere remote or don’t have time to make the trek to your nearest gym, online training can be a temporary solution until circumstances change.
Learning martial arts online means that you can learn from the comfort of your own home, at a time that suits you.
If you’ve already been training for a year or so and know your way around the fundamentals of your style, using online resources for some supplementary training can be a really great way to work on techniques you’re struggling with.
As a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I had a really hard time getting stuck in unfamiliar positions and not knowing how to escape or defend. One thing that helped me immensely was studying a book of all things – Jiu Jitsu University by Saulo Ribeiro (highly recommended for any new BJJ practitioner).
Nowadays, with all the reams of high quality martial arts content online, using the internet as a resource for supplementary training has become a much more legitimate way to improve in your spare time.
One of the best things about the internet is how we’re given access to information from all over the world.
This is especially true for martial arts, since on a site like YouTube, you can now find technique breakdowns and tutorials for kung fu to karate to muay thai to wrestling and so on. For experienced martial artists looking for a few new tricks to add into their arsenal, this is a dream come true.
Online martial arts tutorials are a great way to get inspired to try out new techniques or training methods, and might expose you to a new style that you’d never have previously considered or come across on your own.
Whilst learning martial arts online has its limitations, it shouldn’t be discounted completely. There’s a lot of great information online, and if you have a bit of know-how you can gain a lot from some at-home training with a well-made online course.
Disadvantages of learning martial arts at home
Lack of active coaching
This seems like an obvious one, if you’re learning online you’re not working with a real coach, but it's worth understanding why that’s such an issue.
A good online video will teach you all the correct form points you need to carry out a particular kick, takedown or kata correctly, but as you’re practicing on your own, there’s no way of receiving feedback on what you’re doing.
There are ways around this – filming your form and doing self-analysis, for example, should be an important part of anyone’s training – but it's a much slower process to try and self-coach your own form than to have an experienced coach make corrections in real time.
Depending on what you choose to study, this may be more or less important; if you’re learning Tai Chi forms as meditative practice, this approach may work well enough for you. However, if you’re learning a style like muay thai and you’re kicking and punching a heavy bag at full force, you run the risk of injuring yourself if you’re not actively keeping your form in check.
More experienced martial artists will have a much better idea of what exactly they need to work on. But if you’re just starting out, the online learning space can be a little overwhelming with how much information is available.
Sites like YouTube, whilst great resources, are packed with thousands of hours of content, and it can be difficult for a beginner to know where to start or what they should work on. This, of course, is different if you’re using a curated online course with a set curriculum, and this is generally what I would advise beginners to do if they want to try and learn martial arts this way.
Even then it can be difficult as a beginner to tell if a course is legit, which is why sites like ours aim to help educate you in what to look for in online courses and make sure you find the right one for you.
Best martial arts to learn online
There are literally hundreds of martial arts with online learning courses, many of which will have varying approaches to teaching, and requirements for learning effectively.
Most of the key differences in requirements will be what equipment you need, and what space is needed to practice in: a sport like boxing requires some basic equipment like gloves and pads, but once you have them you can practice it more or less anywhere. Contrarily, wrestling requires no equipment but your own body, but you’ll need a large padded space if you want to throw someone safely.
In this section I’ve outlined a few commonly practiced martial arts which are examples of striking styles, grappling styles, and traditional form based styles. The vast majority of martial arts you’ll come across will be one or a combination of these three styles, and for the most part you can apply the advice given about these styles to similar arts.
For example I mention boxing as a striking style, but a lot of the same points can apply to striking-centric styles like Muay Thai for instance. With that said, all martial arts are different and it's always worth doing the research if there’s specific equipment needed for your particular art.
Of all the martial arts to learn online, boxing has some of the most content available. There’s hundreds of programs and videos teaching techniques, drills and boxing combos online right now, many of which are free.
One of the advantages of boxing is there’s a lot you can do with minimal equipment. Shadow boxing by itself can be a great workout and requires no equipment at all. If you're interested in getting better at boxing as a sport, you can still grab some gloves and start drilling and training with a partner.
If you want to start sparring however, you’re best off doing it in a boxing gym with experienced coaches present. Light contact sparring can be a safe and effective way to improve, but you should never under any circumstances attempt hard sparring without a qualified boxing coach and first aider present.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
The main issue with training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at home is that it requires a) floor space, b) mats, and c) a training partner (as well as a gi if that’s the style you want to train), which can be a deal breaker for some people.
However, if you have the means, BJJ can be a fantastic martial art to learn at home both due to the large amount of instructional content available for it online and the fact that you can start sparring (or rolling as it’s called in BJJ) fairly quickly into learning the art without risking concussions.
Having practiced the art myself I can attest to the huge online community that BJJ has, making it a great place to ask questions and learn more about the art from fellow practitioners, something that more niche arts often lack.
If you are considering learning BJJ online, just remember that practicing stand-up wrestling does incur more safety concerns than groundwork, and you shouldn’t be attempting takedowns before you’ve learnt how to fall safely. Particularly in a home environment, it's important to make sure you have enough space to safely move around without colliding with obstacles.
Tai Chi (or Taijiquan) is a popular Chinese martial art focusing on various forms: choreographed movements performed for the purposes of health, longevity and meditation.
There's a wealth of beginner Tai Chi content online, and if you’re interested in getting into martial arts as a meditative practice, Tai Chi is a great place to start.
Many Tai Chi forms can be performed with no equipment, making them ideal for beginners. But some more advanced forms do include weapons such as specially designed swords which can be purchased relatively inexpensively.
Tai Chi swords are not sharpened, and often use very flexible blades to be safer to handle, however always check the laws in your area to make sure any martial arts weapons you are purchasing are legal to own.
If you’re interested solely in learning how to fight, Tai Chi is not the best option, however if you’re interested in martial arts as a spiritual and/or health-based practice, Tai Chi can be a great art form to look into.
Is learning martial arts online right for me?
The answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. But in my opinion, learning martial arts online is best for:
- Beginners with no access to gym training
- Intermediate/advanced martial artists looking to try something new
- Casual enthusiasts who want to be able to practice in their own time
- People with an interest in ancient martial arts
If you’re a beginner with no gyms to get started at, you shouldn’t discount online training. Whilst it’s not necessarily the optimal way to learn, with the right course and the right attitude there’s plenty you can take away from online lessons.
If this is you, it’s critical that you do your research and make sure you’re taking on a course that accommodates beginners and that you’re strict with your own training to make sure you don’t pick up bad habits. Remember, when you’re training with online lessons, you are your own coach.
For intermediate/advanced martial artists who already have a grasp of the fundamentals, online lessons can be a way to expand your repertoire and customise your training around what you’re interested in. It’s no wonder why the trend of online technique courses on sites like BJJfanatics has become so popular.
If you are going down this route, just remember that supplementary training shouldn’t be a substitute for training with your instructor, and should be something to work on in your free time.
Maybe you’re not trying to be the new UFC champion, maybe your interest in martial arts is as a meditative practice, a way of getting a good workout, or just something to do when you’re stuck in a hotel room with nothing good on TV. If so, online martial arts training could be really beneficial.
As long as you have a good course, it's a good way of getting introduced to your chosen martial art on your own schedule, whilst at the same time getting fitter and having fun. If you want to take your martial arts skills to the next level, it might be worth investing in some training with a coach in the future, but that’s up to you and subject to whatever your goals are.
If you’re interested in learning martial arts in an academic sense, to learn about the history of a certain culture, or to study the evolution of martial arts through the ages, learning historical martial arts online can be a fun way of starting.
There are many more historical martial arts that you may be interested in practicing: English wrestling styles like catch-as-catch-can and Lancashire wrestling that can trace their lineages back to the 1800s, or ancient Japanese grappling arts like shinden fudo ryu — which would set the groundwork for more modern styles like Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
For these styles, learning online may be your only way of experiencing the art form, and will still give you good academic insight into the techniques and history of the styles.
What do you need to learn martial arts at home?
What equipment you need depends heavily on your chosen art form, as well as how serious you want to take your training. So I’ll give some recommendations based on different styles of martial arts:
If you’re interested in taking up a striking art like muay thai, kung fu, karate, taekwondo, etc. it would be worth investing in:
- Gloves — make sure you’re getting the appropriate glove for your art, muay thai and boxing gloves are made differently and its important you pick the right one
- Pads — essential if you’re training with a partner
- Heavy bag — pricier but a good investment if you’re training on your own, consider a standing bag if you don’t have space to hang one
- Gum shield — only relevant if you’re planning on doing sparring, but essential if you are*
*if you’re doing any kind of sparring without a qualified instructor present, ALWAYS. GO. LIGHT. You should NEVER be sparring with anything above light contact unless you have a qualified coach with first aid training present to supervise.
If you’re interested in taking up a grappling art such as brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling, aikido, etc. you should look into investing in:
- Mats — takedowns and sweeps should always be trained on some kind of padded surface, and only once you’ve spent time learning how to fall safely. Investing in mats is essential if you want to practice grappling from home.
- Gi — some styles, like Judo and BJJ, require you to grab the opponent’s gi to perform certain techniques, in such case its essential you get a hold of a good quality gi that won’t tear after one training session
- Rashguards — optional, but nice to have if you’re not training on smooth surface, I’ve had many a run in with friction burns myself when grappling on cheap mats (ouch!)
Learning martial arts online is no easy task. It requires a lot of commitment and self-discipline, and that the practitioner be much more honest with themself if they want to progress effectively.
That being said, learning martial arts online is not impossible, and there’s a lot that can be gained from incorporating online resources into your training, as long as you know where to look. If you’ve got the dedication to get the most out of a good online course, then it might well be the best method for you.
And if you're interested in learning other sports on line you can check out our reviews on:
- Sports in general on TheSkills
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- Basketball with Steph Curry
- Ice Hockey with Wayne Gretzky
- Gymnastics with Simone Biles