This has been written for all students (past and present), prospective students and anyone who
is passionate about martial arts.
People who join a martial arts class want to do so for different reasons: to attain a Black
Belt, to fight in competitions, to learn self-defence, or to do something physical and improve coordination.
Several people ask if there is an online course in martial arts, to substitute the need to
attend regular classes. While there is a time and place for online learning, martial arts is a skill
set that needs to be practiced in a three-dimensional setting. To quote Senior Grandmaster
Anthony Kleeman of Los Angeles, “repetition is the mother of skill” and “all skills are perishable
without regular practice”. Online courses are great for a refresher, and useful to break down
moves and to review the material multiple times. When it comes to learning about oneself,
testing physical and emotional limits, putting skills to the test on training partners of different
shapes and sizes - not to mention testing out how our nervous system reacts to a simulated
situation whilst under pressure - nothing can substitute three-dimensional training.
Miyomoto Musashi never went online to win his battles (oh wait, that was the 1600s).
Nor did Raja Lapu-Lapu, when he slayed Ferdinand Magellan on the Island of Mactan in the
Philippines, 1521. Believe it or not, there actually are some things we can’t learn on our iPhone,
tablet or laptop.
We live in an era where people can date online, learn a new recipe, or play a good game
of chess, but martial arts is a 3D practice. To quote one of our instructors, Guro Rob Bryant,
there is no “badass app” to download in martial arts, there is no online course that will give a
comprehensive and realistic preparation for real combative skills and applied knowledge.
For a person to become truly accomplished in martial arts we are looking at a 20-plus
year journey. That 20-year period also depends on how frequently and consistently the
individual trains. Currently in the Western world it’s rare to see a student train more than once
or twice per week.
Let us take another look at the word “journey”. We are not able to simply land at the
destination point in martial arts without a journey, and that journey itself may be tumultuous,
arduous and strenuous – and the path may be filled with twists, turns and uphill battles. These
battles may be with our own ego, or our own sense of self. We may be challenged in reviewing
the knowledge we thought we had already attained, we may need to release old thought
patterns or body movements to invite in new ones.
The practice of martial arts is potentially a vehicle for self-discovery. The journey
towards obtaining self-knowledge is vast and could be likened to an abyss. It is said that 10,000
hours of practice is a minimum to obtain Mastery. Malcolm Gladwell is quoted in saying “If you
look at any kind of cognitively complex field, from playing chess to being a neurosurgeon, we
see this incredibly consistent pattern that you cannot be good at that unless you practice for
10,000 hours, which is roughly ten years, if you think about four hours a day.” Very occasionally,
students will leave a class after attending only 20 hours of martial arts practice, training only
once per week. The student may have hoped to gain applied skill more rapidly or they may wish
to “bolt on” something to their existing practice. Oftentimes the same student who leaves after
20 hours of practice still has not understood the importance of their footwork, one of the most
basic and fundamental aspects of all martial arts.
“The problem with all students is that they inevitably stop somewhere. They hear an idea and they hold on to it until it becomes dead; they want to flatter themselves that they know the truth. But true Zen never stops, never congeals into such truths. That is why everyone must constantly be pushed to the abyss, starting over and feeling their utter worthlessness as a student. Without suffering and doubts, the mind will come to rest on clichés and stay there, until the spirit dies as well. Not even enlightenment is enough.
You must continually start over and challenge yourself.”
― Robert Greene, Mastery
You Can’t Learn Martial Arts Online
Why YouTube, Websites and Apps can never take the place of a Dojo
As instructors, we often use the expression “emptying your cup” to allow for new learning.
Senior Grandmaster Ron Lew from San Jose, California says, “take the cup away, there is no
cup, just flow”.
Martial arts involves left-right brain co-ordination, it’s multi-dimensional, it’s hand-eye
coordination, it’s social development, it’s personal development; it’s so much more than a
physical practice. It’s meditation in motion, there’s stillness and silence, there’s potential for
contemplation. Martial arts is a lifelong spiritual practice, if we allow it to be.
The practice of martial arts may involve sweat, bruises and sprains; it may inflict heat,
cold and pain or a fractured bone. While it’s true, these things won’t be experienced as readily in
an online package, we need to reevaluate the usefulness of such experiences.
Many martial artists believe that blood, sweat and tears make us grow into better and
stronger versions of ourselves. These experiences do not make us weak, but in fact the
opposite. It is through facing adversity that we find our strengths, learn about our limitations and
learn to go beyond them. Ceilings can be met and we can learn to push through. There is a form
of surrender that can be used that goes beyond physical capabilities. How can these concepts
even be explored if we do not allow ourselves to undergo momentary discomfort?
A martial arts instructor has the unique role of guiding their students to be the best
version of themselves, and every student is on an individual journey. Not everybody wants to be
a fighter, and that’s okay. Not everybody wants to earn their Black Belt – that’s okay too. People
come to class for different reasons and sometimes that reason is deeply personal. An instructor
cannot bring the best out of a student if they encourage weakness or shortcuts. Growing can be
uncomfortable but without growth we decay, so there must be a choice about developing
endurance, persistence and commitment. There is no fast road to accomplishment in martial
arts. It takes hard work and dedication and that takes time. Robert Greene also poses the
question “will you learn how to focus and move past boredom, or like a child will you succumb to
the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?”
We all learn differently. Some students are highly visual, some auditory and some
kinesthetic, and most students are a combination of these. It’s the instructors’ role to find the
best way to access the students’ learning pathway. It’s the student’s role to be brave enough
and patient enough to embrace something new and to trust in the process, which includes
A long-time student is frequently asked, “Why do you do that? What if you get hurt?”
What if we experience cold, wet, heat or suffer in any way, shape or form? What is the
worst that can happen? These experiences prepare us for life. What if we are diagnosed with an
intractable disease? What if our loved one dies? These are harsh realities. What prepares us for
these experiences? What skills are we given to face these experiences, and how will we handle
our own emotions in relation to them?
Some people refer to the current era as containing a whole generation of snowflakes. As
far as I understand they are not referring to the beautiful mathematics of geometry which
contain some of the key explanations for the universe, according to top scientists such as
Professor Brian Cox in his book entitled Forces of Nature. They are referring to fragility.
What happens when an entire generation of students are taught by parents and teachers
that coming last is good and that everybody deserves an award? When deep down the child
knows the truth, they are fully aware that they came last because they did not perform at a level
that was in direct competition to their peers.
What about teaching children that coming last is last and next time they may just have to
try harder, study more and train more? It’s okay to recognise that our self-worth is not based on
our accomplishments, but why should we tell lies about reality? It sets people up for a lifetime of
fear about truly achieving and a sense of emptiness when it comes to self-knowledge.
Potentially this method of “educating” also perpetuates self-righteous, self-deserving beliefs and
does not serve in teaching what it takes to accomplish the things that we desire. Belief in self
starts in childhood and we don’t help children by lying about reality, we weaken their confidence
in their own ability and reduce their resilience.
Many students walk into a dojo unaccustomed to discomfort or constructive criticism. A
former student said:
“I do feel it’s true…. that my generation places more value on convenience, positive
experience, and avoiding pain and suffering more than ever before. But maybe that is
why I keep coming back to class, seeing a glimmer of something that you guys can
teach me about fighting, humility and spirit that I couldn’t learn about anywhere else”.
The humility and openness of this guy’s attitude is refreshing. He’s right. Without the armed
services, without martial arts, without survivor weekends in the bush, where do people learn
these skills? These skills are not only for war-time, they are also for times of peace. We learn
about ourselves in our darkest moments of adversity, we learn deep compassion for others, we
learn patience, tolerance, acceptance, perseverance, benevolence and many other positive
traits. We don’t get to develop these deep value systems or skill-sets on a computer or iPhone.
I must admit there are times when I want to go into my cave, when relatability seems
non-existent (a student breaks a finger nail and they want to skip a week of classes). But then I
realise that the upcoming generations need these skills and they need us. Life is full of
pain/pleasure, ecstasy/sorrow and all of the colours in between. Wrapping oneself up in cotton
wool for our entire life does not prepare us for anything. What happens when the people who
are afraid of physical contact get into roles of power? Are we going to ban all contact sports?
“In the future, the great division will be between those who have trained themselves to handle these complexities and those who are overwhelmed by them – those who can acquire skills and discipline their minds and those who are irrevocably distracted by all the media around them and can never focus enough to learn.”
― Robert Greene, Mastery
About the author:
Master Andrea Wheatley has been training in martial arts for 30 years and teaching for the last ten years, in Barcelona and more recently in Melbourne, Australia. She currently holds an 8th Grade Black Belt in Cacoy Canete Doce Pares and is 10-times World Champion in Sports Eskrima (full-contact Filipino Stick-fighting). She has had 70 full-contact fights in Filipino Stick-fighting, against female and male opponents, and she has won most of them.Master Andrea has sparred full-contact with individuals of both genders and different weight categories in multiple styles including Brazilian Jiujitsu, Filipino Stickfighting (SportsEskrima), Boxing, Taekwondo and Muay Thai kickboxing.She has also broken multiple bones in her body through her training and other pursuits(including her elbow, clavicle, ribs, multiple fingers, pelvis) and has previously torn hamstrings and knee ligaments. More notably, she has pulled herself out of a wheelchair on three separate occasions after surviving devastating illness which temporarily destroyed her muscles – along with other systems in her body. In one of these episodes she was left with a form of paralysis from her torso and through one of her legs to her toes for a period of 3 years, caused by nerve damage affecting three of the main nerves exiting from the spine. She feels inspired by war veterans and other survivors, and has learnt to train through most of these injuries and setbacks, including the three year recovery from nerve damage – even if that meant at times sitting in a chair to train. Master Andrea is one of the co-founders of Women Fight Back (Aus) where she volunteers her skills and time to deliver a program of Free Self Defence for women and girls. She is currently training a group of fighters to represent Melbourne, Australia at the upcoming World Eskrima Tournament to be held in commemoration of what would have beenher chief mentor, the Supreme Grandmaster Ciriaco “Cacoy” Canete’s 100th year. Master Andrea is also an Osteopath and has a deep appreciation of how the body functions and what it takes to heal, through the integration of mind, body and spirit and the hard slog of physical rehabilitation.
Recent parenting books are already supporting the idea that “rough and tumble play” is essential to proper brain development in kids.Angela J Hanscom’s Balanced and Barefoot argues that, “Today’s kids have adopted sedentary lifestyles filled with television, video games, and computer screens. But more and more, studies show that children need ‘rough and tumble’ outdoor play in order to develop their sensory, motor and executive functions”.“Disturbingly, a lack of movement has been shown to lead to a number of health and cognitive difficulties, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotion regulation and sensory processing issues, and aggressiveness at school recess break”.Porges argues that age-old traditions of changing mental states with specific breath exercises, body movements like yoga invite “ a radical shift in our therapeutic approaches to a number of psychopathological states, such as anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder,autism, and trauma-related psychopathology… there appears to be increasing support with increased funding by both the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health of such approaches as yoga, martial arts and acupuncture studies).”Taleb states that, “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder and stressors… Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” The larger point, according to Taleb, is that depriving systems of vital stressors is not necessarily a good thing and can be downright harmful.Martial arts can be seen as a kind of “playground” for developing these experiences.Where else can we learn these skills? Practices such as Martial Arts, Yoga, Meditation, Qi Gong, (the list goes on) are perhaps even more relevant today than they were 1500 years ago.This may not ring true from the perspective of physical survival but certainly from the perspective of our mental, emotional, spiritual and social development. “Mushin” is achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear or ego during combat or everyday life. Rather than relying on what a person thinks should be the next move, they learn to rely on what they feel intuitively. Many Masters believe that Mushin is the state where a person finally understands the uselessness of techniques and becomes truly free to move. Interruption of the flow is considered injurious to the wellbeing of the mind, or in the case of the swordsperson, it means death.Albert Einstein allegedly said, “I know not with what weapons WW3 will be fought, but WW4 will be fought with sticks and stones”. I often wonder, if we knock out electricity and Wi-Fi,how many of us will survive? I have fighting, fishing, hunting and skills for survival in the bush,and if Einstein’s alleged prediction turns out to be true, I’ll have an army of fighters ready forWW4! (Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.)
“Think of it this way: There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.”― Robert Greene, Mastery
“In today’s world we have to work at remaining relevant – the upcoming generation is acclimatised to point and click shopping and online gaming, to become effective with combat oriented martial arts practice it takes work in the form of blood, sweat, tears and tenacity – these elements will test a person, it’s a test fewer people want to face today”.
- Senior Grandmaster Anthony Kleeman
“Become who you are by learning who you are.” - Robert Greene, Mastery
“If we experience any failures or setbacks, we do not forget them because they offendour self-esteem. Instead we reflect on them deeply, trying to figure out what went wrongand discern whether there are any patterns to our mistakes.”― Robert Greene, Mastery