First of all, I know it's best to find a school, but it's impossible to find a traditional kung fu school where I live. (There are a several Wing Chun schools, but I'm not interested in Wing Chun).

Until I can afford a training vacation/trip, I'm going to have to resort to other resources for learning the basics (I really want to). And commuting to train is out of question due to time/schedule restraints.

Understandably, as a beginner, it's really hard for me to differentiate quality resources from bad resources, fake ones, money-grabs etc...

I have a few years of experience in MMA, so I'm not actually looking to learn how to fight.

Long Version:

I'm studying Chinese and Chinese philosophy (you could say the whole Chinese culture) and I think that learning Gong Fu would actually benefit me greatly, apart from that I think it's an extremely good mind/body relaxation/coordination exercise.

From an answer below I draw upon the conclusion that internal and soft styles are actually impossible to learn/practice on your own, due to their nature.

Is there a good resource for learning a hard style of kung fu (preferably a shaolin one, just for cool points), by yourself (or with a partner)?

I also understand that there's the possibility of picking some bad habits due to my inability to spot my mistakes.

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    I am voting to close, because this is asking for a list of things which SO/SE is terrible at: what could be the best answer? This is a popularity contest with a huge sample bias. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Nov 20 '15 at 9:26
  • Having said that, if you narrow down your requirements, then this could potentially be a good question. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Nov 20 '15 at 9:26
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    Answers to this are going to be subjective, so voted to close. – Mike P Nov 20 '15 at 11:47
  • Possible duplicate of Solo martial art learning – mattm Nov 20 '15 at 12:46
  • Traditional kung fu is rarely "globally acknowledged". The certification process is basically that a teacher declares at some point that a student can now teach. There is often no standard curriculum and no governing bodies like you will see in tae kwon do, judo, or karate. Even if the particular style is related to more famous ones, the teacher and the teacher's teacher will determine your experience. – mattm Nov 20 '15 at 13:05

It depends on which form of kung-fu you're talking about. There are many, and each have their own set of skills they attempt to teach. If it's an internal form of kung-fu like Taiji, Hsing-I, or Bagua, no you can't do it without an instructor (yes, you can imitate the motions, but internal martial arts are about what you're doing that we can't see, so it's hard to get from a video alone).

External forms of kung-fu that have "soft" skills that require sensing and feeling, no you can't do it without an instructor. I'm talking about Wing Chun, Northern or Southern Praying Mantis, Snake style, etc.

About the only form of kung-fu you can sort of learn on your own is going to be an external "hard" form, like Northern Long-fist.

There are plenty of videos teaching traditional kung-fu solo forms. You can watch them and teach yourself to repeat the movements as you see them. Maybe you could video yourself and correct yourself. With diligence and attention to detail, it's possible you can perform the form semi-competently.

Most people can't do this very well and only embarrass themselves when they show what they've done to people who have learned it in person from a qualified instructor.

Actually, it's worse than that. When you ultimately do find an instructor, he might find that you've picked up a lot of bad habits, and he will have to spend a lot more time with you undoing some of your training. This is why correction as you go is important.

I'm sure there are other things besides forms that you can learn from video as well, like "stance drills", "pole stepping", standing meditation, horse stance holding, punching bag drills, etc.

It's very important that you video yourself so you can see if your posture is correct. An instructor could take one look at you and tell you what you're doing wrong. Your untrained eye will struggle to find those details.

Getting back to internal/external and hard/soft... The reason why you want to avoid styles that are internal and/or soft is that those styles require a lot more hands-on feeling that you can only get from a good instructor. You won't be able to pick it up from reading about it or from watching videos. If you try to get it on your own without an instructor, you'll probably end up convincing yourself you understand it, but you're probably going to be wrong.

Also, as you advance in external/hard styles of kung-fu, you'll find that they're not entirely external or hard. Instructors of those styles eventually teach you more soft skills and maybe even stuff that would be considered internal. You can't get that from videos, so you're going to reach your limit on what you can hope to achieve from learning by videos alone.

The other thing to consider is that this is mostly solo training. Some of the more important things you'll get from learning a martial art you'll only be able to get while working with a partner. The obvious thing is sparring. From day one in most kung-fu schools, you're going to be practicing punches and blocks with a partner in class. Later on, they teach joint locking techniques, sweeps, and throws. They also extract self-defense techniques from the forms and then teach them with partners. Beyond that, they might also teach push-hands and other forms of soft-skill techniques.

All of those require a partner. And in my opinion, that's where it starts to get interesting. Punching to the air is not very interesting to me. You can make it look cool and impress people with your form, and that's fine, but it's not fighting or learning how to fight. It's just repeating movement like a human DVR. When you learn skills that you can actually use in a fight, if you're like me, that's all you'll want to learn. You'll be like, "Teach me that thing you did where you locked his hand with your arm pit and then did something where he ended up flying backwards on his ass."

But that's my opinion. What you get out of it is up to you.

One other suggestion. You mentioned you don't have any schools that teach what you want nearby. Maybe not, but you might still post something to craigslist or Facebook, Meetup.com, etc. requesting same-minded people to join you. And look around for anyone even a little trained in what you want who would be willing to meet with you and introduce you to the style he/she learned. It's worth a shot.

As for specific videos to learn from, that's highly subjective. My advice is to see what's available on Youtube for free. Chances are someone has posted some high quality material to actually teach kung-fu. Aside from that, you can look at shaolin monks who have their own video series. I can vouch for Shi De Yang, for example. Wing Lam Enterprises has a truckload of instructional video (mostly Hung-Gar, I believe). Take your pick. There are thousands of video series to try. Some will be better at teaching you, because they'll be better quality video (in focus, not blurry, etc.) and will show the technique at normal speed, then slow, then talk about all of the aspects of it, etc. And if you're lucky, they'll even go over the self-defense applications of the form.

Again, which one you select is going to have to be up to you and your preferences. If you ask others which ones they like, you'll get a different response for each person you ask.

By the way, I've answered similar questions in the past, but my answers have typically assumed they were able to pay to travel and train at a school for a week or so at a time. You specifically said you don't have the money to do that. So you're stuck where you are. But I just wanted to post links to my other answers. Maybe you or someone else would benefit:

Training martial arts in china

Learning grappling without an instructor

What is the best way to learn Wing Chun?

Hope that helps.

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    Thank you for your extensive answer! What I forgot to mention is that I have a few years of MMA experience. So I actually know how to fight (I hope so, lol). I'm actually currently learning Chinese philosophy and think that learning Kung Fu would actually benefit my learning process (because these are so tightly connected). Also I find it to be a great mind-body relaxation / coordination exercise. – matteeyah Nov 20 '15 at 21:58
  • Oh you are a rare breed aren't you? Most MMA guys make fun of kung-fu. But yeah, if you're not out to learn how to fight / self-defense, then kung-fu really is amazing to get the body working and coordinated. For relaxation? Depends. Maybe after many many reps of a form, yes. Until then, your mind will be screaming thoughts at you like, "Look up, not down! Your stance wobbled there! Your back isn't straight! Your toes aren't pointing forward!" Etc. My advice: Look into contemporary wu-shu. It's a blast! And you can learn from video. It's very challenging, though! – Steve Weigand Nov 21 '15 at 3:12

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