Wednesday, November 19, 2014

10 Ridiculous Claims About Home Study Courses - Part 1

This was so long, I broke it up into two posts!  Part two tomorrow.

This is in response to this piece of marketing, here, on a site that sells - you guessed it - home study courses in a variety of martial arts.  So it's obviously going to be biased in favor of home study.  This "Black Belt at Home" online dojo is run by Michael Hodge and his dad, Jon Hodge.

Before we begin, I'll state my bias right up front - I do not believe that an untrained person can learn a martial art of any kind from scratch via video or online.  Well, with the exception of performance martial arts that do not require any sort of resistance from anyone else, which is what their "Ultimate Bo" and "Ultimate Chuks" systems seem to be based on online video snippets I've seen.
You knew I'd have to post something like this at the
mention of nunchucks.  It's a law.

Do I think you can learn some techniques to try with training partners?  Yes.  Can you enhance your existing understanding?  Sure.  But you can't learn by video ONLY, starting with no experience at all, and you certainly can't learn much that would be useful against active, moving opponents.

Now that I've stated my bias, and you know theirs, let's begin.  Each section under "The Claim" is quoted directly from their web site without alteration.

1) YOU CAN'T ACTUALLY LEARN WITHOUT AN INSTRUCTOR IN FRONT OF YOU!!

THE CLAIM:
This is the number one argument to home study training. Without an instructor, how will you catch your mistakes, how will you mitigate bad habits? First of all, you do have an instructor in the video in front of you. I put a lot of time in filming videos which actually teach you the details of every technique, and then demonstrate from multiple angles. You can pause, rewind, slo-mo, whatever you want to do with the video. Secondly, you will receive detailed feedback on all techniques, movements, stances, breathing through your video exam.
MY TAKE:

This is the biggest falsehood that home study dojos tell.  Even experienced martial artists misinterpret and misunderstand what is happening in video, even after slowing it down, rewinding it, and watching it repeatedly.

You cannot ask a video questions or for clarification on a point.   You cannot ask a video to show how it would work on you or someone else.

You can only do this with an instructor.

Even if you are using it to enhance your existing training, you have to work with other people - preferably other people with martial arts skills -  to be sure you are doing it right and to work out hitches in understanding.

It's even better to do it with an instructor, to work out the nuances.  Lord knows Mr. Chick and I have screwed it up a lot, and we're relatively experienced - we still do, but we have an instructor to work it out with and show us, unlike Mr. Hodges' online students.

Second, live training allows an instructor to see the little details and correct bad habits before they begin, versus a video instructor who might catch it or they might not, and if they do, eventually, you have to re-train to fix the problem when it could have been prevented from becoming habit by a live instructor.  Every person who has learned something from video - I certainly have - can attest to this problem.

It is harder to fix a bad habit early than to solve one that has become second nature.

As I stated above, the caveat is if you are learning a "martial art" that is not intended to be used against resisting opponent, ever. In that case, this claim holds up.  But you could also learn dance steps for free on YouTube versus buying a relatively worthless black belt from this guy.

Does not count as an "instructor".
VERDICT:

This claim only applies if you are never planning to use the "martial arts" to do anything other than compete in the specialty division of martial arts tournaments, preferably to music or with lots of loud yelling and flashing lights and glitter.

2) YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE A PARTNER IN ORDER TO TRAIN CORRECTLY

THE CLAIM:
Let me X this one out as well. Although having a partner is beneficial (both physically and for the motivational support) it is not a complete necessity. How do some people manage to learn a new language on their own? How to some people manage to “teach them self?” These individuals are referred to as “autodidacts.” If you have the right motivation + tools necessary, it is possible. Of course, our Bo and Nunchakus programs do not require a partner as you are doing mainly techniques and forms. In our Karate program, an extra level of practice will be required to learn the one step sparring segments alone. So, if you can find a partner, this will be very helpful! (but not a necessity)
MY TAKE:

Here's where the unsaid is more important than what is being said.

If you are going to punch and kick the air, spin around fake weapons, and move around in kata-like motions, he's right.   You'll miss the deeper understanding of weapons in particular, as working with partners will quickly show you how weapons are actually used, versus danced with, but hey, you might win first place at the Uber Super Duper National Karate Championships in the "Specialties" division, beating out the other sword catchers and aluminum holographic tape-handled kama spinners.

But if you plan to use what you learn to defend yourself or against any other breathing human being who will not allow you to do what you want, this claim is hogwash.

Yes, being a fighter is not the same as being a martial artist.  But a martial artist should have a minimal ability to protect him or herself against a violent attack to some degree.  There is no way to train that by yourself for 99.9% of the population (I'm going to grant that there might be a prodigy or two out there - but are they buying cheap online training course?  Really?)

Home Study Sparring!
Human beings move and react in ways you cannot possibly guess until you try it against them in a variety of different ways.  I don't care how good you are at self-teaching, this is one thing you can't anticipate.

Speaking of self teaching (the "autodidacts" statement), the martial arts are not like other disciplines, where it is absolutely possible to self-teach.  One might ask, "Who invented [x] martial art in the first place?"  I assure you it wasn't by someone training by themselves in a cave, isolated from training partners and resisting enemies.

People who are "autodidacts" are estimated to be somewhere between 2%-6% of the population. So the vast majority of people who might buy this program can't possibly "self teach" anyway.

So basically, if you fail (such as using your home study skills against an unresisting opponent and get your butt handed to you on a plate), Mr. Hodge is implying that it's your fault because you aren't motivated enough and didn't work hard enough.  It's your fault for not being a very good autodidact!

VERDICT:

The MOST ridiculous claim being made of all 10.  It's not just "helpful" to have training partners, it's required.  Please do not pull out "what if I'm in the Alaskan Bush or in an Antarctic research station and want to train" argument - it still stands.  In no way is solo home study via video as good as in-person, live training, and I'm willing to bet, if you're reading this, you have options available to you within a reasonable distance, in a  martial art you'd probably enjoy if you tried it.

3) BELTS ARE JUST “HANDED TO YOU” AND THIS IS AN “ONLINE BELT FACTORY”

THE CLAIM:
This misconception makes me sick. I have been teaching local students at my martial arts academy for over 8 years; and have worked with home study students for 5 years. I will tell you with full confidence, that I push my home study students HARDER, expect MORE from them, and hold them to HIGHER standards. Why? Well, I obviously don’t get to train with them day to day like with my local students, so I expect them to bust their behind every day on their own. If they are not doing so, it shows on their rank exam, in which I may have to fail them (albeit with constructive criticism). This is real training for those who really want to earn rank. Don’t join our program if you are looking for a handout.
MY TAKE:

This is marketing, plain and simple.

This paragraph boils down to "Trust me!" and "I'm awesome!"

Mr. Hodge is, as of this writing, 23 years old, going by his LinkedIn profile and the date he says he founded his company at age 16, in 2007. Going by his own public profiles, Mr. Hodge does not currently have an academy - he sold his Premier Martial Arts franchise in 2012, looks like, and nowhere does he state he teaches students in person today at a local school (his father might, however - it's not entirely clear to me using my relatively simple Google-Fu).

Mr. Hodge might be a savant, and he may have been a great live teacher. I honestly don't know and I'm not willing to guess - he is really good at twirling, I'll give him that.

So what?

The greatest martial artist of all time would have the same exact problem trying to teach people via distance learning.  How many years you have training, and how many different arts you've trained in won't make solo home study work any better.

Especially you.

VERDICT:

Unknown to be true or not. To prove this statement as true or false, you'd need to be able to compare Mr. Hodge's live students (from back in the day) vs. his home study students and see if there is a difference in performance. I would also love to see how his home study student stack up to live students in sparring from any school that does contact sparring, and I would like to know how many of his home study students have entered, much less placed or won, in any tournament, even in the "Specialties" division.

4) A BLACK BELT EARNED FROM A HOME STUDY COURSE IS NOT THE SAME AS A "REGULAR" BLACK BELT

THE CLAIM:
Have you heard the news that prestigious universities all over the world offer online classes and degree programs? Standford, Harvard, MIT, UCLA, and thousands of other institutions have fully-accredited online classes. Many of these institutions offer their COMPLETE degree program online. I am not talking about University of Phoenix or ITT Tech; but state and private universities certifying students with the same degree as physically-attended students. So I think if Harvard see valor in accrediting online classes the same as physical classes; then the martial arts community should too. Again, my program in particular is not easy, but is just a different way of learning. (more time convenient, location convenient)
MY TAKE:

All of his examples come from NON-PHYSICAL courses of study.  There is no such thing as, say, a Bachelor's degree in Football or Soccer or Fencing or Wrestling or Boxing or Gymnastics, all of which have more in common with the martial arts than, say, business administration or English or any other degree accredited universities offer in online study (and I will note that online courses generally require online "class time" with an instructor and other students).

All of those activities and sports I mentioned above require live coaching and physical practice with other people to excel.  Even weightlifting - as solitary as it can get - still requires it.  You can't get that online.

You can also learn to drive via classroom and video instruction, without ever actually driving a car until you take the driving test.  How likely is it that you'd pass that test? 


Yeah, well, he passed the written test - that's good enough, right?

VERDICT:

This argument doesn't fly.  Physical course work - like we do in the martial arts - and intellectual course work are not the same thing in any way whatsoever.


5) HOME STUDY STUDENTS ARE NOT AS SKILLED/PROFICIENT AS LOCALLY TRAINED STUDENTS

THE CLAIM:
All students are different. I have my all-star students (which I call ‘A’ students) anywhere I teach. I have ‘A’ students in my local classes as well as in my home study course. Just like I also have ‘B’ and ‘C’ students: locally and online. Some students are just more dedicated, motivated, and willing to do whatever it takes to be the best. There are deep-seated, personal attributes, which will rise to the surface in any type of training arena. So, this is simply up to YOU – it is your choice how proficient you will become.
MY TAKE:

Yes, there are great students, mediocre students, and terrible students in every martial arts school and class across the land, and some of their success has to do with the attributes he mentions.  But that doesn't prove his claim.

When you train live and visit other schools, especially in organizations or you go to tournaments, you can see that there are some schools who turn out high quality students consistently, and some who don't.  It's not a matter of blaming each student or the dedication of individual students, it's the quality and consistency of the instruction of the school.

In my opinion, this claim is his "out" to when you take your shiny new black belt from his home study course and enter the local tournament and get your clock cleaned.  He can say, "Well, obviously, it's your own fault, because you aren't as dedicated, motivated, and willing to work."

It can't possibly be because training by yourself and only hitting bag and the air doesn't teach you much at all, could it?  It couldn't possibly be because of sub-standard teaching via his course, could it?

No, surely not, couldn't possibly ever be the reason.

Should come free with every order!
(Image found here)

VERDICT:

Shenanigans, shenanigans, shenanigans.  If we want to prove it, take the BEST students of live training in a similar art of black belt rank (1st Dan is fine), and the BEST students of his home study course of the same rank, and see how they stack up.  It's that simple to prove or disprove.



I tackle points #6-10, and offer my conclusions, in "10 Ridiculous Claims About Home Study Courses - Part 2".