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My girlfriend has expressed interest in learning one of the martial arts I practice with me, but when she has come to a class she has been very self-concious about being new and inexperienced (I've done martial arts of some variety for a long time, she's never done them before).

She has said she would prefer to practice with me, rather than in a dojo, and get to be fairly capable that way and then start attending classes. I have taught beginners' classes in Taekwondo before, so I could reasonably teach her that, but I am skeptical about how valuable/effective it would be to learn 1) without a peer group at a similar level 2) from someone you know in a personal context such that recreating the rigor of a dojo would be difficult and feel forced.

I'm interested in the experiences of anyone who has taught or learned a martial art in a similar fashion--how well did it work? Did the student improve at a rate comparable to beginners in a dojo, and were they able to transition into some kind of formal training more easily than someone who had not done this?

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3 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

In my experience this is not a good way to learn, no matter how capable a teacher you are. I'm not saying that it won't work, just that the chance it being successful is very low.

Any martial art takes a lot of time, patience and discipline to learn. Outside of the dojo these things can all be in short supply. Training at the dojo forces you to make the time available and training there helps with the patience and discipline side of things.

I also think your relationship status is going to influence the training. As an example, my children have been learning various martial art techniques since they were old enough to wrestle and play fight (roughly 18 months old IIRC). However they have had very little formal training from me - not because I can't do it, but because they don't want to accept it from me. I am Daddy, not Sensei, and they simply don't want formalized lessons from me. I am fine with this and am quite happy to let other teachers teach them for now and I'll pick up the pieces later.

With your girlfriend you will strike the same issue. Sure you can teach her a few cool moves, but you also need to demand a certain amount of blood sweat and tears from her1 in order to train properly.

I can understand your girlfriend's concerns, but you really need to get her to the dojo. Everybody is afraid or nervous the first time they start learning a martial art, so she is not alone. She will benefit far more from the structured dojo environment and being surrounded by others at the same level as herself. She will also progress faster if she has other people to measure herself against, and having multiple opinions available from senior students (or multiple instructors) can be quite beneficial.

Once she is in the dojo she will soon get over her mental hurdles and not care how she looks or what other people think :) At that point she will be quite keen to do extra training which you can then help her with.

1 A teacher in a dojo environment is going to have far more success demanding bunches of press ups and loads of line work from her than you can in an informal environment at home.

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If you ask people who the greatest guitar player in the world was, you would get varied results, but someone would inevitably say that it was Jimi Hendrix. Even if you disagree about Jimmy Hendrix being the best, you have to admit that he was very good. Jimi Hendrix taught himself how to play guitar.

I think training at home is fine but I have to agree that your relationship may present a problem. That aside, there are some right ways and wrong ways to go about it. First off you have to decide what the two of you want out of the Martial Arts. Is it for self defense, to learn the art, sport, or for the experience of the dojo. If it is either of the last two then training at home is not for you. If it is to learn the art or self defense, then training at home may be an option.

The key things to remember for self training are:

  1. Curriculum - Know what you want to achieve and design your program around it.
  2. Schedule - Set time aside for training and stick to it.
  3. Accountability - Have someone that is going to encourage you to stick to it.
  4. Seminars are your friend

As far as accountability goes, I would not try to self train with less than three people. So in your situation you need to find at least one other student. To be clear, self training is not the optimal way to learn martial arts. Youtube and DVDs are a great source, but a good teacher is worth their weight in gold. Home training should really be a supplement, not a replacement for formal training.

Look here for a couple of articles that cover "Deciding to Self Train" and "How to Self Train"

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Slugster's answer is a good one to read (I up voted it) but I am going to play devil's advocate.

If you relationship is strong and there are no underlying issues, then it can work well. She can practice the things she learns in the dojo with you so she can improve her form. Remember to criticise the actions not the person doing them. the technique is not quiet right is better than you're shit! and leads to less arguments. After a little while, people in the dojo will start to notice progress. But it is important that she gets past her "I do not want to look foolish"... We all do. Ignorance is only a crime if one delights in it. Seeking to reduce it by any means is a good thing (TM).

One of my sensei said something that stayed with me for a long time: "I don't expect you to get it right, I expect you to try!".

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I agree with both slugster and Sardathrion. You might be able to use the home training as extra practice of already learned techniques, but only if she'll accept your criticism. Don't learn her anything new, that's for the dojo. –  THelper Mar 2 '12 at 7:42
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+1 from me too. My Sensei always says: If you think you can, you're right. If you think you can't you're also right. Unfortunately newer students are full of the can't and it takes them a while to realize they can. –  slugster Mar 2 '12 at 8:48
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+1 for a good clarification--I do think that practicing only outside of the dojo is on balance a bad idea, as slugster said, but I think supplementing class with outside practice will probably be very helpful. –  RSid Mar 2 '12 at 21:17
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