Something in the martial arts that is argued back and forth all the time is the effectiveness of distance learning versus traditional training in a dojo and can one learn the martial arts to any degree of proficiency through distance learning. In an age where communicating and learning via the Internet are staples of every day life and the ability to learn anything efficiently is open to everyone because of this, my answer is a resounding “YES!”.

Consider this…one of the recent arguments I have encountered is that to earn a Dan ranking takes years and years of blood, sweat and tears and that only after you have spilled blood on the dojo floor can you be considered credible to wear the Dan you are awarded by XYZ Organization, School, Federation, etc. and only through this method can you become a better practitioner. While I agree with the idea in general, the argument against distance learning is that there is no way you can advance rank as a Black Belt, or as a Colored Belt for that matter, unless you train in a school under age old traditional methods. There is no way you can possibly learn any system of self-defense through “home study” methods.

OK..well…let's say that a person has put 15-20 years into his/her training and they now wear the rank of 4th or 5th Dan. This person has trained and completed all of the requirements to advance his/her rank. I guess some could say that because of the rank and the years put into the training that he/she is deserving of praise and respect, being of great honor and integrity because of the advancements and the time spent training in the arts. This person obviously has learned what it means to be a better practitioner and is now credible in the eyes of his/her peers. Seems like a solid point.

Now, on the flip side of that coin, let's say that this same person on the outside looks and acts like the rank they wear and talks the talk of a true Black Belt but underneath has a drinking problem or a drug problem or, worse yet, both. They treat people with disrespect behind their backs and are full of ego. Every time something goes wrong in his/her life all they want to do is go out, get high and pick a fight. Just so you know, I am not speaking hypothetically. I trained under just such a person. Does this mean he/she deserves to wear the rank of an advanced Dan just because they have put their time in at a traditional school and passed the curriculum? Does this make him/her better than me or anyone else who wants to open up their learning to a credible, comprehensive distance learning program taught by advanced, committed, honorable individuals? I think not as we all know that the martial arts are about so much more than just the belt one wears.

The traditional thinking is if you choose to train like this that it is lacking in so many respects, ie: training quality, lack of training partners, too easy to slack off and not train, no one is there to insure you are actually performing the material, and on and on, that there is no way this can work and once you receive your rank, it is just a “piece of paper” from a “diploma mill” or in the case of a Dan ranking, a paper “Black Belt Mill”. Well, let me pose this question to you, what takes more effort, dedication, perseverance, integrity and personal commitment, walking into a local school and having someone tell you what to do or to take a course and break it down yourself, put together a training schedule based around your school or work schedule, provide yourself with a place to train and then effectively complete the training per belt rank? I realize this question is rhetorical but the point I am trying to make is that BOTH methods of study, in class and home study, are just as effective in learning any type of material and that as martial artists, to be so closed minded about knowledge via sources “outside the box”, especially in this day and age of advanced technology, is a true detriment to the advancement of the arts as a whole.

The traditionalists fail to recognize the doors this can and will, most assuredly, open up to students around the world just as it has with all areas of education. Right now…today…you can earn the highest level of certified, recognized, accredited university degrees online from the most reputable Colleges and Universities – WORLD WIDE! This is an absolute, indisputable fact that even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist cannot refute. In my mind, it isn't so much how you learn what you learn but how you apply that knowledge after you have learned it. I have always said that certifications and degrees are just pieces of paper but what ultimately makes them so valuable is the application of that knowledge and how it is presented to others down the line. We should always be moving forward with our knowledge, always be willing to embrace new ideas and concepts. If we stop learning, we stop growing.

As the sport is constantly evolving, so too must its practitioners evolve. No longer can we just accept the traditional training orthodoxy as the rule. Just the simple fact that hand-to-hand combatives have become so much more advanced in just the last 10 years would dictate that we as practitioners of the arts should be more open-minded and willing to advance our learning from as many sources outside of our own backyards as possible. Distance learning offers just such a solution by eliminating the geographical boundaries that currently exist in limiting students to train and learn in just one setting, in one style, and from one instructor. With the Internet, video conferencing, online tutorials, forums, blogs, etc. literally at our fingertips, the possibilities are endless. No longer will students have to be relegated to choices for learning that only include the local dojo. Imagine being able to train with and share information and ideas about advancing the arts with students from all around the world in real time!

Of course, to that extent, the traditionalist would argue that there would be a problem with time differences as well as differences in training disciplines and that there is no way this would work. Always an excuse. I have heard this argument for years but that is because they fail to see the potential that exists in people to come up with long term solutions to these problems, solutions that are offered by just such a group of dedicated individuals in the AKPKF…American Kick-Punch Karate Federation, headed by Sensei Danny Hill. This is an organization that leads by example and is all about keeping the integrity of the arts intact while attaching 21st Century thinking to an age old problem of bringing the training and discipline to students around the world who otherwise would not have access to the information and they do it for FREE!

Now, I understand that traditionalists want to keep the training in the dojo's…OK…but what about the aspiring student who wants to become involved in the martial arts but has nowhere to train, or who lives in a remote area where it is 50-100 miles to the nearest dojo? What about the people around the globe who live in villages where there is no training for thousands of miles around? How then does the traditionalist solve that geographical problem? They solve it by continuing to argue for classroom training as the only beneficial means of learning self-defense. In my opinion, what that argument really boils down to is money.

Think about it. They insist that receiving your certification via distance learning is not credible yet they take “Little Johnny's” tuition every month, usually an exorbitant amount, and pass the student through the system whether he/she has learned the material or not. Again, I am not speaking hypothetically here. I have seen this first hand even at the Black Belt level. This problem exists on a wide scale and is becoming worse every day. The traditionalists say that distance learning has become a blight on our beloved art form and that it is denigrating everything that is sacred about our beloved sport, even to the point of “bastardizing” what the arts stand for, while all along doing the same thing by charging outrageous monthly fees and providing training that is mediocre at best. To me, this action is deplorable and not even remotely deserving of respect and honor, yet this practice continues to grow day by day with new “McDojo's” springing up on just about every street corner. The traditionalist view has become about “selling the product” and not about “teaching the art”. Anything that does not “jibe” with their way of thinking is garbage and only their style and only the way it is taught by them, is the “be all to end all” and the only path towards martial arts excellence. In my opinion, there is nothing credible about this practice or this way of thinking and it is only hurting the arts, not enhancing them.

In closing, let me state that I have had great personal success training in both mediums. Each method has its place in education and each, in my opinion, is equally effective. I believe that both methods can co-exist peacefully. I personally have continued to expand my knowledge of self-defense through many different methods of learning such as books, tapes, cd's, dvd's, online tutorials, and traditional training on the mats with practitioners who are also open-minded enough to see the positive impact that distance learning can have on all of us if we would just embrace the need for this type of studying. I have my own dojo and am about to begin my training in Renzoku Jiu-Jitsu, a program that is taught by Soke John Cozatt who happens to live on the East Coast (I live on the West Coast) and yes, it is a distance learning program, one that I can advance to 5th Dan in and since that is the highest level of achievement in that system, that is my goal. In lieu of this program, in order for me to train in a “credible” traditional jiu-jitsu class setting, I would have to drive 100 miles round trip 3 nights a week at great expense to accomplish what I can do in my own dojo via distance learning. Whether or not I make it to 5th Dan will strictly be up to me but that really isn't the issue. The point is that the opportunity exists for all of us to utilize modern day technology to continue to move forward with our training and help advance this sport through the 21st Century. We have to continue to be open to new training methods and learning techniques so that the martial arts can continue to grow and survive. I for one will do all I can to be at the forefront of that movement.