Second-degree black belt karate practitioner Joshua Fruhlinger was initially skeptical about online karate schools. When he was researching the subject for a Wall Street Journal article, he found that most of them “have little substance. Some were obvious scams, designed to take the money of those seeking a quick and easy black belt.”
Finally, Fruhlinger found three online dojos he felt like he could give a try. His criteria: “An active and responsive sensei, one who cared about the art form, and a curriculum that was easy enough for beginners to jump into.”
Before he made the plunge, he asked the opinion of his long-time sensei.
“They’ve been doing that for years,” the sensei said. “In the ’80s, they used to sell tapes you could watch, rewind and do whatever the guy on TV was doing.”
Fruhlinger pointed out that now the students can personally interact with their online masters through sharing videos online. Now, online learning is much more than simply watching a tutorial and imitating the moves, as an increasing number of websites offer one-on-one instruction.
But his sensei was still not convinced. “You’re never going to develop a relationship like you and I have, Mr. Fruhlinger. Plus, who are you going to spar with?” was the reply.
Fruhlinger agrees that ideally, one should have an in-person master. But online learning provides opportunities for those who do not have access to proper instruction. After all, if you live in the middle of nowhere in rural Kansas, you don’t always get to choose.
Larry Rivera and Jamie Peleaz of the online martial arts program Enter Shaolin believe that “learning martial arts online the right way was better than learning locally the wrong way or worse yet not learning at all.”
On their website, Peleaz shares her story of being interested in martial arts at a very young age but never being able to train because her family simply could not afford it. When she started working and had enough money, she lived in areas that lacked schools that taught what she wanted, which was both the external and internal aspects of martial arts. She tried driving as far as an hour away to no avail.
She wanted to train with Rivera’s master, Phu Ngo, but they lived several states apart. So she convinced Rivera and Phu to make tutorial videos and put them online. The venture took off.
Of course, they are running a business and promoting their website, but they do have a point. One can practice anytime, anywhere and location is no longer a problem when looking for the perfect master.
Ultimately, though, it depends on each person’s temperament. Some are self-disciplined and will practice diligently after watching a video, while others won’t do anything unless someone is telling them what to do and when to do it. Online masters likely wouldn’t be able to check up on all of his or her students individually. It takes self-initiative for the student to film themselves doing something and send it to the teacher. And while some people can self-correct after receiving feedback, others can’t do it without constant advice and live adjusting.
While it is better to have a regular training partner from the same school, Rivera says it shouldn’t stop people from training, as much of the process does not require a partner. When you do need someone to trade blows with — well, that’s where another function of the Internet comes into play – the ability to meet like-minded strangers.
Again, while the consensus seems to be that there is no substitute for real-life training, learning martial arts online is a great alternative when that simply isn’t possible. Just make sure you have the willpower to carry through without someone breathing down your neck.