Young Anakin and the Jedi Council

You can gather a tremendous amount of knowledge from the Internet. When I first got interested in kung fu, the first thing I did was get online and research the tens of different styles taught in the West. I learned a lot by perusing numerous websites dedicated to Chinese martial arts. But what really made the difference and taught me the most were online forums. (If you want to know which one, it was Kung Fu Magazine’s Online Forum.)

Online forums are like public bulletin boards where people can write messages and participate in various discussions. It’s like emailing in public. The awesome thing about forums is that there are many experts sharing their knowledge and views for free, and you get to become part of the ongoing discussions. You can ask questions, read people’s responses, share your insights, or check invisibly what’s going on.

Your background knowledge or abilities don’t matter. You can invisibly join a community and read people’s posts comfortably without being pressured to present your own ideas upfront. Just learn from the members little by little, and start contributing whenever you feel like you have something to offer in return.

Learn from the experts

But as I said, forums often house many knowledgeable individuals who are willing to share their knowledge. These are mainly the people whose posts beginners should focus on reading, because they often provide the best insights and trustworthiest information to base one’s knowledge on. But it’s important to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff by differentiating the knowledgeable posters from those who deliberately attempt to mislead people. In most cases, you probably won’t have any problems with deceivers, so you can just comfortably concentrate on expanding your knowledge and reading what people are writing on the forums.

As you follow what the experts write, you slowly build up a repository of information, which becomes an incredibly valuable asset for you because you gradually condition your brain to adopt all the new concepts and ideas. After being an active member of a forum for a couple of months, you’ll notice how most of the basic topics discussed on the forums have become second nature to you, and you’ll be able to talk about them in detail and apply the principles in practice.

When I first joined the kung fu forum, I had no knowledge of the various styles of Chinese martial arts existing in the world, nor did I know anything about their effectiveness or how mixed martial artists usually had the upper hand in fights because of their no-nonsense training methods. But as I kept logging on to the forum week after week, I noticed that I had learned a lot from the experts on the website and I was already contributing to the community by delivering my own views and thoughts.

Learn from the arguments

Some people condemn online forums because of their anonymous nature and the fact that it encourages people to start blatant arguments and meaningless debates. This might be true in a lot of cases, but I don’t quite agree with the criticism.

Having the freedom to interact with people without being physically present might persuade people to argue, but it also allows them to be more frank and less conventional. When the environment is open, there’s a risk of inviting deceivers and troublemakers, but some troublemakers can also provide a lot of valuable counter-arguments and other plausible views from the opposite side of the fence. You can get a well-rounded idea of the subject if you allow input from a variety of sources, regardless of some of their hostile approach.

For example, I remember following a thread in which an anonymous poster nicknamed Ralek, who had supposedly learned grappling techniques from a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu CD-ROM, claimed that he had knocked out a Tai Chi master in a challenge match. The conversation stirred a lot of dispute, but it also introduced a lot of important views to the kung fu world. His purpose, obviously, was to criticize the practicality of traditional Chinese martial arts, and quite frankly, the overall conversation did convince me to take a second look at traditional martial arts versus the more scientific approaches to fighting.

Beware of trolls

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a troll as “an e-mail message or posting on the Internet intended to provoke an indignant response in the reader”.

There are many trolls on the Internet, so you should definitely pay attention to who is writing the post. Is the person an unregistered poster? Does he post under his real name? Does she post regularly? How do the “experts” respond to the person’s posts?

As you become more familiar with the community, you’ll eventually learn to instantly recognize who’s good and who’s bad, but you should pay special attention in the beginning when everything is new to you.

In the end, the wealth of knowledge stored in them makes online forums one of the most valuable tools that you can use to educate yourself. Most of them allow you to register an account for free, so I suggest you seek them out as soon as possible. Start learning from other like-minded people.

Please share your experiences in the comments. I would love to hear how you have benefited from online forums.