I am a beginner to kung fu. However, I am an academic student as well. Apart from the economic reasons in training under a master, I also am not able to find time to go to a far off place to train myself . Is a master always required to gain mastery over this martial art?

Which are the best books, reading from which, I can practise at home itself?

Thank you very much for your advice.


6 Answers 6


Mastery, you want a qualified instructor. But, that's not to say there isn't anything you can learn on your own. Let's consider these factors:


You can do a lot of conditioning exercises on your own. A lot of the strength, balance and flexibility training can be done solo, and in many cases are not very different than calisthetics outside of kung-fu. Honestly, a lot of traditional kung fu training has you doing a lot of this for the first few years anyway, so you'll be on track here.

For anything involving weights, spinal twists, low stances, or holding stance for a long period of time, make sure whatever references you have are going in-depth into form. You don't want to find out you've ground away the cartilage in your knee from bad form.

Internal arts that work on coordinating core muscles or specific subtle muscle groups ("practice getting movement out of your intercostal muscles...") are things that are not well suited to practicing without an instructor.

Forms and Drills

You can learn a lot of forms and drills with striking bags and training partners. This you have to be a bit careful with and make sure the instruction materials are clear and precise about what you're supposed to be doing here to generate power.

There's a lot of folks who learn these and can't throw a strike, or have no idea how a movement is supposed to work.

Again, some forms are simple and straightforward on this, and very subtle ones will not be good for self-study. The subtle movements don't show up well on video and many schools of traditional Kung Fu simply do not tell you what they're doing that actually generates the real power unless you're an advanced student.


Classes cost money! And they may not be near you.

Seriously consider if you can go to a workshop or seminar to get some basic skills. You can let the instructor know your situation and have them focus on giving you a few things that you can drill on your own very well, and next time you can train with them, they can correct things. You may find other students in the same situation as you, and you can form training groups between the times you get instruction.

There's a place you reach in proficiency where you don't need an instructor for most of the training you have - you'll know what it's supposed to feel like, and have goals for what your movement should be like. Obviously, having a teacher is better, but you can at least maintain and excel in some areas on your own, between the time you can get training. That said, you get here only after you've gotten some good training and core aspects in you.


Is a master always required to gain mastery over this martial art?

Yes. If you try really hard you could get some basic ability yourself (from books, videos etc.), but to gain anything approaching mastery you need good instruction (and other skilled people to practice with). The simpler the style is technically the more you can teach yourself, so something like boxing would be a better bet for self-practice than say wing chun or bagua, but still very difficult, and ultimately you'll need an instructor. Instruction isn't necessarily expensive though - sometimes you'll find groups of experienced people who get together in a park or local sports centre once or twice a week, with no extra cost beyond whatever the sports centre charges for entrance, though obviously the chances of that are better in a good-sized city. You might be able to exchange lessons in something else (e.g. help another student practice their English), it can be hard to assess their knowledge if you've no background yourself, but that applies to some extent when picking your first school too.


I would say Yes to the 'master' question.

As for self training, I would say proceed with caution. There are many videos on youtube that you could learn from, however without a proper master, you might develop bad forms or bad habits that would be very hard to fix later on.

I myself encountered this when I self-trained advanced karate forms, only to be corrected(painfully) by a master when I started training formally. It took me very long to finally get rid of those bad habit.

My advice for you would be to search a little harder more for a master, or at least someone who have trained under one(a senior student). Having a partner to train with help considerately.

If you can't find any, you could start doing some body conditioning such as body weight exercises like push ups, squats, pull ups and etc, which would prepare you for when you find your master.


The problem is that without a skilled instructor and regular classes, what you'll learn won't be worth much.

People sometimes talk about "direct transmission"—here the idea that you need that close interaction with a master as their disciple to truly grasp the essence of the art. This relationship often extends for many decades, or even a lifetime, with the disciple typically receiving special instruction. (In China, these are sometimes referred to as "indoor students".)

Teacher typically also tailor their teachings to an individual student's needs, aptitudes, and even body-type (everyone is different.) The founder of Bagua is said taught each of his disciples different things, resulting in numerous schools.

  • Books and videos can't really convey the practice of the arts b/c it is non-linguistic.

If one already has expertise, one can discern things from watching videos, but only because they eyes had been trained by years of instruction and correct practice.

More importantly:

  • High quality practice requires constant correction.

One is more likely to be doing things incorrectly than correctly, especially at the beginning. (For internal arts this can be decades as opposed to years with external styles.) You can tell which students a teacher believes are promising by who the critique the most—they tend not to waste time on those will less potential. I've had student where it took me 10 years or harping on them to correct their shoulder alignment and get them to sink them properly.

My teacher produced many books, and didn't discourage reading, but made the point it's not something one can learn from a book.

  • Better to find a solid teacher of any martial art than to learn a specific art from books and videos.

There is a saying that "It's not the art but the artist."


Allow me to put it this way. Every master had a master, but what about the first master? I would say it's completely possible to master kung fu on your own, but i wouldn't recommend it. if you're serious about learning martial arts without a master, i would recommend trying to create your own style after learning the basics! though i warn you it will be MASSIVE amounts of work and will probably take many years to perfect, depending on how much time you devote to it you could most definitely do it.

  • Is there anyone who would take seriously a martial art invented by an academic student with no martial arts training or experience? This is very very bad advice; if you follow it, the best you can hope for is to be mocked as foolish.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 10:30

I would say that you can learn something about Kungfu without a formal "Master". One of my former teachers, a Baguazhang master from Beijing, when he was young used to sneak around a building where great Kungfu masters trained. He would peak through the window then go home and practice what he saw. He did this for years until they discovered him and eventually took him in.

But that was maybe 70 years ago, now we have the internet. Martial arts have always been prone to fake teachers and there are many on the internet, so you have to be careful. In real life good teachers will always give you some opportunities to test their skills so that you can form your own opinion as to whether or not they are authentic. It is impossible to do that via internet as far as I can tell - to much fake demonstration and accreditation there. But still, you can usually ask questions via email for any instructors you do find so that helps a bit.

Don't worry too much about picking up bad habits to begin with (but use your head and try not to do anything that seems ridiculous). I can tell you that the life of any dedicated martial artist is one of constant investigation, evaluation, refinement, and modification of what you have learned anyway.

I have been training martial arts for more than 40 years, and have been teaching for nearly 30 years and I have never seen anyone (with a teacher or not) that doesn't have tons of bad habits to correct.

So having said this, you will eventually have to find a master that you can feel comfortable and confident with and the sooner the better. Kungfu is not like any other martial art as far as I know. There is a correct progression in Kungfu that you have to follow but there is not a single standardized path to follow to get through that progression - you need a master to create that path for you individually. He will create that path as a result of your interactions with him personally. Each student is understood as unique. This is the tradition.

And finally, as a quick summary - yes you should be fine picking things up without a master to a point. Just be careful not to hurt yourself (use common sense). But to actually understand (and learn) the type of Kungfu you choose to a degree that you can say you know it in depth or that you can represent it in any way, then you will need to form a relationship with a master who will be willing to teach you.

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