How to Completely Learn a Martial Art

Steven Elmore
4 min readJun 23, 2021

Just come to class, work hard, and listen to the instructor. In other words, train. This is certainly a great recipe to learn something, even at a high level. However, to master something such as a martial art, much more learning is required.

The truth is, you can get a great deal of knowledge and skill by training under an instructor or even multiple instructors, but there are other things you need to learn that you can’t always get from an instructor.

A few months back, I wrote about the three types of learners: aural, visual, and kinesthetic. That was intended more for instructors to understand how students learn. This post will be different. That was the how behind learning; this is more of the what.

In this post, I will go over the four things needed to completely learn a martial art: training, practicing, studying, and teaching.

Most think that training is the only aspect of learning in martial arts. You train in martial arts, case closed. One could argue that this is the most important aspect of learning a martial art and I wouldn’t disagree with them. Especially very early on in one’s martial arts journey, consistent, focused training is paramount.

You have a lot to learn in martial arts and will never know it all. Regular time on the mat with an experienced, knowledgeable instructor is a part of the process that never goes away. When first starting, this aspect is dominant but will start to diminish over time.

Learn as much as you can while training in a class setting with a qualified instructor. Just remain patient and do not rush this part as you need a good foundation first and foremost.


The next logical area of learning to cover is practicing. This is when you have received training from someone, and you take it upon yourself to practice. When you practice, you are building muscle memory and body awareness. You are teaching your body what the correct way feels like.

With repeated practice, your body will just do the things you’ve taught it. This allows you to feel when you are doing something incorrectly. When we walk, we don’t think about it because we have done it so many times. If you then started cutting your strides in half, it would not feel right. Your body would be telling you it is incorrect.

This is an aspect of learning that is often neglected. When I refer to studying, I, unfortunately for some, am referring to the academic kind. There is so much information out there that one person will never know it all. It is important to continue to educate yourself using books, videos, and other media sources.

Whether you enjoy history, philosophy, scientific analysis, or technical applications, the amount of information on that topic is vast. When you study these things with an academic eye, you will make connections to what you are doing. Something that you always struggled with will start to make sense.

In addition, you will uncover things that require you to ask new questions you never thought of.

Whenever I read a book on martial arts, I almost always leave it with more questions than answers. This is a good thing as it drives me to find those answers elsewhere.

The final thing you need to do to completely learn a martial art is to teach it. You don’t have to be a professional studio owner or even teach a class regularly. It could be as simple as informally teaching someone something during a class taught by your instructor.

As martial artists progress in rank, they often have teaching duties that come with it. You often think you know something until you must teach it to someone else. When teaching someone, you will see things you never saw before or possibly even considered before. It will open your eyes to many things that weren’t even on your radar.

The more you teach, the more experience you have with different people who ask different questions and indirectly point out things you did not know, making you a better, more knowledgeable martial artist.

When I think about learning a martial art completely, I think of these for things. There may be more to some people. Regardless, I think I made it clear that one will never completely learn any martial art. Does that mean we should stop trying? Of course not. Growth comes during the journey, not at the destination. That’s what makes martial arts so special, it is a continuous, never ending journey of growth.

Originally published at on June 23, 2021.