I've been planning to enroll in some sort of combat training, specifically boxing, however due to financial constraints I haven't had a chance (my yearly gym subscription already consumed by budget).

However, I want to learn self-defense skills hence my desire for combat training or martial arts. Is it possible to self-learn any kind, and if yes, which combat or martial art would that be? Although, I doubt if you can self-learn to a point where you can actually use it in real world scenario, since I assume sparring plays a very crucial role....

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    Have you watched "The Karate Kid"? Aug 26, 2011 at 2:29
  • The question is broad enough that the answer is almost certainly "yes". 'Can I learn any hand-to-hand combat skills to any degree by myself?' Yes, I'm sure if you worked by yourself to improve your hand-to-hand combat that it would at least be possible for you to learn or accomplish something. But I doubt you'd be the equal of someone who trained with an instructor. If your question was more specific, eg "is it possible to attain green-belt level karate proficiency by self-study", it might be easier to give a yes or no answer (probably "no"). Aug 26, 2011 at 13:50
  • I re-watched "The Karate Kid" and "Rocky" just this year. Inspiring movies. :D Aug 31, 2011 at 5:41
  • Like @JoshuaCarmody said, yes, totally. It's possible not only to self learn, but even to master, but only IF you have enough practice. Internet/books/videos give you very little to none. You could gather a friend or two and practice a few jabs, kicks on each other, or a more dramatic way, start a figth on the streets every week, either are possible ways, but neither advisable. Unless that kind of person is unavailable you should practice with someone who already has a high level of skill and practice in teaching, an instructor. Nov 6, 2012 at 14:31
  • We occasionally discuss this on the Martial Arts Stack Exchange as with martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/3129/…
    – Sean Duggan
    Aug 16, 2017 at 19:43

5 Answers 5


Why it won't work

Martial arts are highly skill-oriented and require significant feedback from an instructor, as well as copious amounts of sparring (either with striking, such as boxing and Muay Thai, or with wrestling, such as judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or wrestling). "Learning" a martial art without those two key components is almost always a fruitless endeavor.

There are scenarios where people already skilled in one combat sport are able to successfully learn techniques from another, similar art. A commonly used example is mixed martial arts fighter Evan Tanner, who taught himself Brazilian jiu-jitsu submissions from the tapes produced by Rorion Gracie. Tanner succeeded in large part because he had a background in wrestling and he was able to practice the moves with resisting partners at home.

Trying to learn techniques at home, without an instructor, without sparring partners, and with training material of unknown quality, is a tough path even for people with some amount of training under their belts. It's unlikely that you'll be very productive starting as an untrained person.

What to do instead

It would be better to spend your time becoming strong, fast and fit. Lifting, improving mobility, running and doing metabolic conditioning like hill sprints or pushing a Prowler are all very effective ways to improve your physicality while you raise the cash necessary to join a boxing gym.

You can also look into some sort of work-study program at the local training centers. Some gyms will let you train for reduced prices or even free if you spend a couple hours cleaning up the practice space after class.

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    I learnt Taekwon-Do for four years and I would agree with this comment. You need an instructor to give you feedback on the subtleties of the hand positions, etc. Otherwise you will feel more capable than you actually are which is dangerous.
    – Sarge
    Aug 26, 2011 at 5:15
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    I was afraid to hear this, but I do agree. I was clinging on some hope that maybe some type of combat skilss (whatever it is) can be self-taught.... Oh well, will raise some funds for future enrollment Aug 26, 2011 at 7:01

I've been in the martial arts (Isshinyu Karate) for 25+ years and I have to agree, depending on what if any martial arts training you have, the best and most effective way is learning with a skilled instructor. HOWEVER - there are many things you can do while saving up to prepare yourself:

  • get a heavy bag - nothing teaches you how to punch hard like a heavy bag, 70lbs min. - watch some videos - here's a great video by Don Familton - do a search on YouTube for Don Familton - the guy really knows his stuff.
  • basic conditioning - there's nothing like focusing on conditioning, either pure body weight or the basic weight routines (deadlift, bench press and squat) - anything that gives you an advantage is a plus.
  • run/jog - if you have sneakers you can run, sprint, interval training, hill running.
  • jump rope - or learn how.
  • read - either via the web or buy a book, here's a great one: Savage Science Of Streetfighting

Bottom line: there's always something you can do. You can always think about what you can do if you had the time or money OR you can do what you can with what you have. Some of the toughest fighters out there (Tyson) learned on their own before 'officially' being trained.
Here's a great site from someone who's incredibly strong and has made most of his own equipment himself.

  • I'd never heard that Mike Tyson had a period of self-teaching. I thought he came out of Cus D'Amato's. Do you have a source or reference for that? Was it just lifting that he did on his own? Aug 29, 2011 at 13:45
  • @Dave - from Wikipedia: He was repeatedly caught committing petty crimes and fighting those who ridiculed his high-pitched voice and lisp. By the age of 13, he had been arrested 38 times.[9] He ended up at the Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown, New York. It was at the school that Tyson's emerging boxing ability was discovered by Bobby Stewart, a juvenile detention center counselor and former boxer. Stewart considered Tyson to be an outstanding fighter and trained him for a few months before introducing him to Cus D'Amato. Aug 29, 2011 at 13:50
  • @Dave - I'm talking about fighting skills, not necessarily boxing...Tyson like a lot of boxers have an 'interesting' childhood - self trained in street fighting Aug 29, 2011 at 13:52

I've been taking dance lessons for 3 years and there are a number of key things that I'm still learning through a teacher. All those things involve learning how to use your body, specifically:

  • proper weight transfer. making sure your weight is on the proper foot to perform whatever maneuver
  • proper stance and posture
  • being able to use your core

And also there are all these little things that you probably won't notice unless you have been taught to look for them. The proper way to strike someone so you don't hurt yourself. Being able to recover from a bad move.

This is my experience as a dancer and from this I've ben able to figure out how fighting works, but still, being able to fight and use complex moves without thinking takes a lot of practice and discipline.

  • The part about learning things through a teacher and needing someone to help you see "little things" is good, but do you really think you've "figured out how fighting works" through dance? Aug 26, 2011 at 3:27
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    @Dave: I didn't say I could fight, but I do understand some of the mechanics involved. For example, hitting someone with your weight on your back leg wouldn't be as effective as moving your weight on your front leg as you strike adding the full weight of your body behind the hit. And at the same making sure that your shoulder rotates towards your opponent so that you get that extra quickness, reach and again more power. All things I learnt through dancing.
    – Salsero69
    Aug 26, 2011 at 16:43

There is a possibility to do so, but you will end up learning something else. If you have the basics, you can train those technique and master them.

I practised taekwondo for several years, and a little bit of boxing. I used unconventional training (traditional Muay style; I live near Thailand). Have strong conviction brother.


No, you will not learn authentic martial arts by yourself. But even going to classes does not guarantee that you will be able to protect yourself in times of emergency.

BUT YES, you can teach yourself basic self defense which may protect you in case need arises. I personally liked the system given in this book - Method of Self-Defence - The Best of Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Savate, Yawara, Aikido and Ate-Waza : Monika Budo Stuff : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive. The techniques are :

Easy to learn, not requiring years of training. Quick defense and attack oriented. Mostly use your gross motor skills.
If you want to refer to other sources, assess the techniques taught based on the above three variables. The techniques which pass the above three tests can be kept in your arsenal.

Incase, you dont have a training partner, practice with an imaginary opponent (doubtful if it will work for grappling techniques) . You may make a hitting pad by tying a cloth around a stick. Then ask someone to simulate a kick or punch with that stick (this tip is there in the above mentioned book). This way you will not injure your partner and can some feel/ pratice of blocking.

  • Ah, Bruce Tegner... but this really looks like a copy-paste answer, particularly with the "Internet Archive" text.
    – Sean Duggan
    Apr 15, 2016 at 12:42

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