Is there any martial arts, where one can learn and evolve without proving herself/himself on various exams?

Also, it would be nice, if you could learn all the techniques.

What I mean, is that you don't have to take an exam (see above), and that specific martial art is not a sport.

I think that when something is a sport, you obviously can't learn all the things, as someone who is better at something and is competitive, she/he won't teach you the best techniques as you could use that against her/him at some competition.

Can someone point me to something like I'm searching for?

  • 4
    -1. The question is not badly formulated but its fundamental assumptions are all wrong: Without testing yourself, you have no idea whether what you have learned works. Dec 15, 2014 at 7:51
  • 5
    If you have someone that teaches you and "holds back" because they think you might beat them someday, that person should not be an instructor. The primary goal for ANY instructor, and a great compliment to the instructor is when the student can outperform them.
    – JohnP
    Dec 15, 2014 at 17:09
  • 3
    And usually, so called "secret" techniques are things that someone with a good eye for application can figure out on their own. Dec 15, 2014 at 18:56
  • 1
    Let me give you an example of a bad teacher, though. I knew of a wing-chun teacher who only taught single hand chi-sao. When students asked about two hand chi-sao drills, they were told they had to wait until they were advanced enough. Normally, Wing Chun students very quickly move on to two hand chi-sao drills. But this teacher was milking his students for money, dragging out their instruction for years. According to some of his ex-students, he only taught the last remaining chi-sao drills to his top 3 students, who probably paid him a lot for the privilege. Dec 15, 2014 at 23:31
  • 4
    @SteveWeigand: What you describe is a text book McDojo. It sadness me to hear about those... Dec 17, 2014 at 9:34

5 Answers 5


There's a few things to navigate and untangle in your question, but the short answer is YES, there are martial arts out there that do this.

Mostly it comes down to instructor rather than specific style, although obviously certain styles tend to be grouped around testing, you can find instructors who do not participate in that manner.

Holding Back Information

Competition styles tend not to hold back information that much. People exit out of competing age and then go on to train other people. These teachers have a vested interest in seeing their students win and earn titles and trophies as a testament to their own teaching skill. So you tend not to have a lot of holding back there. So it's actually the opposite of what you're suggesting in your question.

The only restriction is that some styles are primarily sport over combative, in which case you may miss out on some combative elements solely due to the focus of competitive training. Whether you consider tournaments to be an "exam" or not, that's definitely one arena where you don't have a lot of that kind of problem of withheld secret information.

Traditional martial arts built on the instructor-disciple foundation tend to suffer the most from withheld information. There's a variety of possible reasons - favoritism towards blood relatives/descendents, religious requirements, not being given permission to teach by someone higher in authority than the teacher, fear of being "out done" by the studnets, etc. This has hurt a lot of martial arts over time, and many people in these lineages are often at odds with the problems of fragmented and partial information.


Now this is a different issue.

If, by exams, you mean, "repeat these factoids about this art", "perform these 3 movement sets", etc. there's many martial arts that do not do this type of exam. These exams and levels of measurement are relatively recent in the last few generations and serve as a method of standardization, which has both strengths and weaknesses for promoting an art.

If, by exams, you mean, "Does anyone judge or require to see how well I'm progressing?" that's a key part of pretty much learning ANYTHING. Your instructor should be watching what you are doing and giving you feedback so you can fix errors and improve strengths. Your fellow students should be giving you advice and helping you grow as well. You should be engaging in self observation during your training and seeing what you can work on and giving yourself credit for where you improve (sometimes, it feels invisible).

Sparring, high intensity drills, or other key parts of your training can serve as informal "exams". Many schools may have no exam or test unless you decide to become an instructor, in which case, that's the only test you need to worry about.

"What Style Should I Take?"

As I said, it depends on the instructor and school you find. Let them know what you're looking for (self defense, fitness, etc.) and the fact that you are not interested in doing testing, or having to unlock "secrets". Just as much as you're looking for a good fit, many teachers and schools are doing the same and it's a great way to sort things out from there.


I think that when something is a sport, you obviously can't learn all the things, as someone who is better at something and is competitive, she/he won't teach you the best techniques as you could use that against her/him at some competition.

Your assumption is wrong. Plenty of coaches teach all the techniques of their style, either because they're trying to help their students, or just because they hubristically believe no one can catch up to them fast enough.

For example, Brazilian jiujitsu is a martial art with a sport component. It has been argued that some families in the art would hold back techniques from students outside the family. It's widely known that it used to be considered a betrayal of trust to train outside one's gym in old-school Brazilian BJJ culture. That is changing with modern BJJ culture, for instance, in the case of Marcelo Garcia. He released instructional videos detailing his game, and yet he still won world championships using those techniques. Now he's retired from competition, but still teaches--even if you're a conspiracy nut who thinks he was holding something back, why would he keep secrets now?

I don't know what you're looking for, but you're using the wrong criteria to look for it.

  • Another concrete, though non-martial arts, example of a sportsman teaching their techniques freely is Mariano Rivera, the former Yankees closer. He would show anyone how to throw his signature pitch, but the problem is they still couldn't reproduce it. northjersey.com/story-archives/…
    – mattm
    Jun 23, 2015 at 16:23

There are no "secrets" in martial arts.

Do you really think that when you reach black belt, some weird man will come at you, hidden in shadows, and teach you a more powerful secret technique that will allow you to beat the best of the world? We aren't in a bad 60s kung-fu movie ...

There are techniques that aren't shown to a white belt because they are DANGEROUS to use in sparring; a white belt doesn't have the required control and it could result in serious injuries (including choke, arm/leg locks, but also dangerous throws). If I take someone who hasn't yet learnt the basics on how to fall, and I let him spar with someone who then throws him, he'll fall, hit his head, give himself a concussion or other dangerous injuries. Is this the kind of dojo you are looking for?

All coaches will look at a way to evaluate the control of their students, even if it's not through traditional exams. Most of the time exams are mere formalities, the coach already knows who is showing enough control and progress to get to the next step. The test normally serves to show if you can progress FASTER than the coach first thought. Trust is a huge factor in martial arts; if a coach allow his students to badly injure each other because he misjudges their abilities, he's doing a very bad job and will lose his students.

Everything in life has a learning curve. Everything. Techniques are held back to EASE the learning curve, and make it more enjoyable, because you can actually perform what you are shown. For the same reason we don't give books of 1200 pages to children. Techniques are shown in different orders, because some are easier to learn, and some are dangerous, even to yourself. If I start by showing you techniques that require very powerful back muscles, you'll hurt yourself if you haven't prepared yourself adequately and if somehow you have really strong back muscle, you still won't be able to do the move correctly; you'll do it wrong to compensate, and you will never learn to do it correctly.

  • 2
    Actually, some martial arts do hold back certain new skills as well as refinements to existing techniques. It's not just a matter of not showing dangerous stuff until they're ready. It's often done to keep a business monopoly within the family. Only family members will be taught it and won't be allowed to show it to others. Granted, the stuff isn't going to give them super powers, but it might give them enough that they can generally beat their best students. Stuff like timing a punch combo so that you're half a beat faster. You can learn it elsewhere, though, if you look. Dec 16, 2014 at 18:53
  • I've studied in a japanese dojo, and there is no "family" concept over there. Younger Students will leave school for the national training center in all Olympic sports. And of COURSE they hold back refinements to new techniques. Why would the coach try to teach you a variation if you cant even do the basic combo correctly ... and no, doing 1 "secret combo punch" isnt going to makes you win. There are a couple of "trick throws" in judo, they arent teached and practiced at all ... because they ARE TRICKS. You dont win high level competitions with tricks. Dec 17, 2014 at 12:25
  • And i've done one of those "trick throws" in my career, trying to surprise my opponent. it was in the final of the Pan-Am cup. Which was the highest level of competition someone at my age could do. And I was disqualified for trying that trick throw, because it was judged too dangerous for my opponent. So I've lost my gold medal in the most important competition of my career (at that point) because I tried a "secret" move. Dec 17, 2014 at 12:33
  • 2
    and if you think titles and high level competitions can be won because you've learn a a "secret" half-a-beat faster combo punch, i'll teach you one myself. right here on this forum. Take your favorite combo of punch. Use it. ALOT. eady day you train. for months. even if it doesnt work. than, the day you face your partners in a competition ... SCREW IT UP. fake the 2nd punch. or do it faster. so fast that you dont even try to hit him. You'll hit the guy doing this. Thats the "Surprise" and pavlov conditionning effect. and he'll say after: "OMG you were holding a back a secret move ! " Dec 17, 2014 at 12:40

So you're looking for a martial art that 1) has no exams, 2) is taught completely without holding anything back from the student, and 3) is not a sport.

There are actually many martial arts teachers that teach this way, sure. My recommendation is to look around and meet with all the different instructors in your area. Ask them if they have tests, if they teach the complete art (including the "secret" stuff, if any). Chances are, you'll get a direct answer to these questions.

In my experience, most "styles" actually do test their students in various ways and even assign rank. It didn't used to be that way, traditionally, but the idea has caught on. Within each style, however, there are usually some instructors that don't have formalized exams and teach it differently. This is what makes any sort of recommendation hard, because you're looking for a specific teacher rather than a particular style.

There are a lot of kung-fu schools that teach this way. While many of them have moved to a belt color system with formalized gradings, probably over half are still taught the old way: The teacher begins with showing you stances and forms, and then when he/she sees that you're ready for more, you'll learn more. This goes on until you've learned pretty much everything they have to offer. There are sometimes formalized tests you need to take if you want to become an instructor, but it's usually just the head teacher who looks at you and says, "Okay, you're ready to teach now." Within this kind of learning process, there are a lot of little tests, though. The teacher will test you in various ways before letting you learn more. But these aren't big, formal tests. Taiji is often taught this way, for example.

There are some traditional Japanese ryu that are taught with a minimal number of formal testings also. It often depends on class sizes. The bigger the school, the more likely they are to go with a formalized grading system. The smaller schools allow the instructors to be more one-on-one with the student, and so they already know how good the students are and have no need for regular tests.

As for secret knowledge that is only passed to a chosen few, get used to it. This is common in traditional Japanese and Chinese martial arts. Often these secret skills are taught only to the one student hand chosen to take over teaching the art next. The folklore you hear about this says that the secret skills often give the practitioner a huge advantage over the other students, and it's done in order to keep the teacher from going out of business. Is it true? There's probably some truth to it, but it's probably greatly exaggerated. And in today's world where videos of martial arts are easy to come by, what is one person's "secret" technique is just someone else's basics. There aren't many real secrets today, and their value is questionable.

It's a pity you also have discarded sports-based martial arts. There are many that don't have formalized tests and merely rank you according to the levels of the competitors you defeated in competition. For example, in contemporary Wushu, you're ranked beginner, intermediate, or advanced based on how long you've been training, not on the color of your sash. That just determines which division you'll be competing in.

So in conclusion my recommendation is to just go to the teachers in your area and ask them those questions. Maybe you'll find someone who teaches the way you would prefer. If not, consider being more flexible with what you want and compromise.

Hope that helps.


Boxing, Jeet Kune Do, Krav Maga (I think) or Greco-Roman wrestling come to mind.

  • Boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling do have a sport element as far as I know. Dec 17, 2014 at 9:08
  • Of course, but the OP seems to be looking for a discipline where the teacher wouldn't be holding back for fear of being beaten by one of his students, which seems to be his main concern. You rarely if ever have that problem in boxing or wrestling because the coach is either retired or has been nothing but a coach his entire life. Dec 17, 2014 at 9:26
  • 1
    Okay, slightly different reading of the question but yours is valid. ^_~ Dec 17, 2014 at 9:32
  • 2
    Hardly an expansive, explanatory answer. Should be a comment unless you can flesh it out some.
    – JohnP
    Dec 17, 2014 at 16:00
  • 1
    Given the question, my answer needs no further elaboration. Dec 18, 2014 at 9:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.