I have been training in martial arts such as Taekwondo and Boxing for several months. I know a friend who just watches youtube videos to learn to fight. Even though I did my techniques correctly, I got beaten. How does youtube videos help a person fight anyway? I thought you actually needed practice/sparring. Also, he has said himself that he had never sparred. How is this possible?

3 Answers 3


The question asked is how can someone who hasn't trained in any martial art do better than someone who has been training somewhere.

This actually occurs all the time in martial arts. It happened to me, too. I'll relay a personal story here.

When I was just starting out in martial arts, I was learning Taekwondo. I had been there for a few months, earning my yellow belt. This was back when I was 13 years old. Prior to then, I had a 3 month long Aikido self-defense class that I trained in. So I had some knowledge, and I was a very dedicated and serious student. But it wasn't enough for what was to happen to me.

I got beaten in a fight by a kid who didn't study any martial arts at all. The fight happened because I stood up for a kid that was being bullied, by the way. I thought that was the right thing to do. And because the bully was younger than I was, everyone hated me and taunted me for fighting him. He was also a popular kid, and I wasn't. I was bigger and older than he was. So everyone was against me, even kids much older and bigger than me coming up to me and telling me if I do any harm to the bully kid, they're going to come after me. All of that psyched me out even before we began the fight. And after the fight, I had no friends. They all abandoned me. It was a horrible situation that turned out real badly for me and affected me for the next several years. Just horrible.

So what did I do wrong? When I got into that fight, I realized nothing had prepared me for this moment. I was a fish out of water. Sure, we did sparring in class. I knew the basics of kicking, punching, blocking, and evading. And I felt I was pretty good, better than my yellow belt would suggest. None of that mattered. I got into a karate stance and waited, just like my training. He started circling around me, and I let him. Next thing I knew, he sucker punched me in the nose from outside of my visual range. I fell to the ground and found myself on my back staring up at the sky. I gave up at that point, with blood dripping down from my nose and all over my shirt. I was pretty humiliated and didn't see the point of fighting anymore. To tell you the truth, I didn't want to fight in the first place. It had gotten way out of control.

It was a harsh reality check. Later I realized that I probably would have done better had I not trained at all in Taekwondo. Hilarious, I know. But here's the thing. I had only been training a few months. It wasn't enough to prepare me for actually fighting. But it was enough to override my innate fighting instincts. And that was the problem.

So what is fighting, and how do you train to fight?

For anything to be called "fighting", it must involve aliveness, pressure, and fear. Aliveness is when your opponent is able to think and change what he's doing. He's not a robot, programmed to do something to you and then stop. He's going to choose what to do to you without you knowing it. And when you try to counter it, he adapts and does something different. His goal is to win against you, not to just let you have some success.

Most martial arts train the opposite way. They have a partner who throws a punch at you, and they stop. Then you do your thing, which can consist of 5 different techniques done one right after the other. And while you're doing that, your partner is staying still, letting you do it. That is the first level of learning, and a "fighting" martial art would quickly move beyond that. But most traditional martial arts stop there. That's all they do.

Pressure and resistance is another factor. That means your opponent isn't letting you go easily. You're going to feel like this is a struggle. It's going to feel dangerous. And that's where the fear comes in. If you don't fear anything, you're not going be ready in a real fight when it happens. In a real fight, your opponent is going to be relentless. He's going to be on top of you, pushing and punching, kicking, grabbing, etc. He won't slow down, go easier on you, or stop just because you looked like you were afraid or uncomfortable. He won't stop just because you're not fighting back. That's pressure. And the fear comes in when you realize you could get hurt unless you fight back.

So you train with those elements in mind. You need an opponent who's going to keep the pressure on you, and you're going to have work hard, because it's a struggle. Not only that, you could get hurt.

Most martial arts don't train that way. In Taekwondo, there's sparring. Sparring is good. But you always have boundaries in sparring in Taekwondo. And yeah, you could get a little hurt, but it's mostly point sparring at least at first. Point sparring means you and your opponent are going very light, tapping each other only. You won't go super fast, because your opponent isn't going super fast either, and you don't want him to. So you both have a kind of mutual, implied agreement not to really go all-out with each other. There's no real fear there of being hurt. Occasionally you get your wind knocked out, or maybe you get kicked in the nose or something. But it's rare. And when it happens, all the action is stopped, and you're safe again.

Boxing is a little better. You can get hurt a bit more there, because punching is done closer to each other, and the face is a target from day one. They won't just stop the action once you get punched in the face and indicate you're hurt. They'll encourage you to keep fighting.

In Taekwondo, the distance between partners is greater, and punches to the face are not allowed from day one. You are allowed to punch to the face later on in Taekwondo, though, after about black belt level. And most Taekwondo schools will have a rule that you can't cause blood or knock anyone out with a punch to the face.

But boxing is still pretty light at first. They're not going to train kids below about age 16 to actually hurt each other in sparring. It's going to be very friendly and "feel good". It will emphasize basics, rather than the fight. Although, that is entirely up to you and your coach and the type of boxing place you go to. You have to want to risk getting hurt in order to get better at fighting. And you need to have that understanding between you and your coach.

Now, getting hurt sucks. Nobody wants that. If you get seriously hurt, you're not coming back tomorrow or maybe even months. So getting seriously hurt doesn't help you. You want to be able to come back day after day, so that you can get better. It's the only way. So boxing, MMA, wrestling, BJJ, Judo, and other "fighting" schools all have rules. The rules exist to allow partners to go harder without seriously hurting each other. You may still get hurt, but because of the rules, it won't keep you from coming back tomorrow. And the goal of training is to help each other get better, not to just win at all costs. There's a time and place for going all-out, and it rarely happens in class. You might see it more in competition. Even still, class will feel much more like fighting than maybe you've ever felt before.

The rules of the martial art matter a lot, too. In real life, there are no rules. Boxing teaches something really useful, but it has weaknesses. Boxing rules don't permit grabbing, so they have an upright stance which makes them susceptible to being grabbed and taken to the ground. When a boxer is tackled to the ground, they don't have much they can do. They don't recognize the situation. They haven't trained for it. So they're not going to be good at it.

The same is true with all martial arts. In Taekwondo, for example, you can't grab anyone at all, so if you get grabbed, you won't know what to do. In wrestling, you can't punch anyone, so you don't have anything to deal with that when it happens to you.

There's an old quote that applies here: "We don't rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training."

It's the way you train that matters. And there are many martial arts which don't train how to fight. They train in theory, which is another way of saying expectations - or wishful thinking.

MMA is one of the only martial arts which allows pretty much everything (with the exception of weapons). It has the least set of rules. And the rules exist only to prevent serious injury.

That being said, training anything, even MMA, doesn't guarantee anything about being able to fight for real. It all depends on you, your mindset, maturity level, and goals. When you go into class, you can look at it like it's just a fun thing to do. You're there to exercise and to learn, but you don't seriously feel like anything is a fight there. When you do get into a fight-like situation there when your coach decides you need to feel what it feels like, you might quickly back down and show little interest in hitting back. In short, it's you who doesn't have the fight in him. That has to change first. Then you can make progress. Until then, you can do well in MMA and anything else. You can get an 8th degree black belt in karate. In other words, you'll be an expert in martial arts theory and technique. Nothing wrong with that. But you still won't be a fighter. Most martial artists don't understand that.

So combine what I just told you with time. Your innate fighting instincts go away pretty quickly after starting to learn martial arts. That makes you very vulnerable. You're tossing out your fighting instincts and replacing them with stuff you've just begun to learn. It could be years before you're able to fight better than you did before you learned anything. The quicker you switch your frame of mind to a fighting frame, the quicker you gain proficiency at fighting.

One other thing I'll add here. When you get into a fight for real, you need to be able to switch it on, in your mind. What that means is realizing instantly that you need to fight back and fight hard, like your life depends on it. Until you are an experienced fighter, let your instincts drive you. Don't think. Don't be worried about using correct technique. Don't limit yourself to just what you've been trained to do. Don't wait for him to come to you. Do whatever your instincts tell you to do. Rage. Or at least keep moving, don't stay still. Otherwise, you're going to lose. And you might lose more than just your pride.

The guy you're up against may be compassionate and may let you off easily if you show that you don't want to fight. But in many cases, they won't stop hitting you just because you're not hitting back. They might not even stop after you've been knocked out unconscious. Kids and adults today are full of trauma and rage that has nothing to do with you, but you're going to be their target. You could end up seriously hurt, maimed, paralyzed, blind, deaf, or even dead. And fighting is not fair at all. Usually one guy is bigger than the other, and usually it's not you.

So, you have to remember above all else that if you find yourself in a fight getting pummeled, you need to switch it on. That means you decide right then and there that this is life or death, and there's no way out but to fight. You need to get focused, fight back, and win. Or at least reach a point where you can run. If it helps, imagine this guy attacking you is a zombie. He's going to try to kill you, and he won't let up. He's just going to keep coming. Once you make that connection in your mind, your fighting instincts should kick in. Because, if you think there's a chance he'll take pity on you and stop fighting if you back down, then maybe you won't fight back at all. You have to realize there's no way out. He won't back down at all just because you're giving up. So you have to fight back and hit him hard.

You may be outclassed. You may think you have no chance of winning. But fight back anyway. Don't let the guy get away easily, with no damage. He has to learn that there are consequences to fighting you, even if he wins. You need to hurt him. Then maybe he'll think twice before getting into a fight with you again.

I'll leave you with a video that I like explaining the difference between a fighter and a martial artist. He's coming at it from a Chinese martial arts background, but it applies universally:


Hope that helps.

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    Long story short: You probably never trained for fighting but specifically for your sport. One does not necessarily transfer well to the other. Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 11:49
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    @PhilipKlöcking And the other big take-away: Once you start training in anything, your fighting instincts get thrown away and replaced by your now incompetent, novice level skills. So that's why someone who doesn't train in anything can often do better. They still have their raw fighting instincts. And what you replace those with matters, too, like you said. You have to practice fighting (in a relatively safe way) to get good at fighting. Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 15:08

Steve Weigand's answer is correct, but I would like to add that "a few months" isn't really enough to learn your martial art. Once you have a black belt, after perhaps three years of training (more or less) you have "mastered the basics" and have many tools at your disposal. A black belt still has much to learn.

It is not enough to learn how to do a technique. You may think you're doing it correctly, but your technique will be refined with lots and lots of practice. I didn't do a correct front stance, a beginner's stance, until I was about half-way to black belt, when it finally clicked.

Finally, the most useful part of martial arts is the mental training, which is also the hardest to learn. This will be instrumental in turning your fight mode on and off when needed.

  • Wait! You can get a black belt in three years? I'm 10+ years in and still not there yet.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 11:13
  • You CAN, but don't be discouraged! The belt itself, and the rank, doesn't mean anything. Those are to tell others approximately what your skill level is. I would rather be underpromoted than overpromoted. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 11:50
  • Besides, I took almost 20 years to get my black belt, because I stopped and started. My current master got hers in slightly less than two years. YMMV. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 16:18
  • @HuwEvans Yes, you can get it same day with Amazon delivery. A belt of any color is merely a means for dividing up a class or tournament. It has nothing to do with your ability, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity. That's because they are subject to the school's standards. A 1st degree certification is altogether a different matter, and a good school will defer to a higher institution to bestow certificates. Certs and black belts are related, but are not the same thing.
    – Andrew Jay
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 16:49
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    @AndrewJay nothing so serious. It was actually a D&D joke about ability scores. Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 1:34

We can simplify your question. Just imagine that guy didn't watch any videos at all and beat you. How is this possible? Easy - because he is for example more aggressive, stronger, psychologically more conditioned, faster.

Training, especially training for several months doesn't give you superiority above another person by itself, cause it's only a part of a deal.

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