Currently I am solo training. My last karate lesson was my grading in December. While classes begin again next week, I won't be attending for at least another 2-3 months, as my youngest daughter was born only 4 weeks ago. Until she is sleeping, and my wife and I have worked out a stable routine, I'm on my own.
Training alone has certain advantages and disadvantages, and it is the disadvantages that more immediately spring to mind. I, like most people, am a creature of routine, and having set times to train and a purposed location to do so in make it easier for me to do so. When I'm training at the dojo, my sensei has prepared the program for the evening and is in charge of timing, intensity and content. I need do nothing except concentrate on my training. I'm around others, so there are the external pressures of the peer group and not wishing to let down/appear weaker in front of friends and colleagues. There is also the positive motivation of working with others, and the absolutely essential reason for having a partner: someone to practice on! And I get feedback from more experienced heads. I get none of these training solo.
Not having a structure is a distinct disadvantage. My sensei has a sound grasp of the pedagogy of karate instruction, and lessons have a reason for being, and interrelationships in content/purpose within lessons, between lessons and between semesters. Basically, my solo training has none of this unless I come up with these myself.
Not being at the dojo means I am not exposed to the 'new' or to further explorations of what is already known. I'm a shodan (brand new at that) in this style of karate, and have had no exposure to 4 of the system's kata. Our school also has a number of shorin kata in the system as well as some kobudo, that only commence post-black belt. My exposure to the rest of the curriculum is stagnating.
So what are some of the advantages? The first one that comes to mind is ownership. When I train by myself, I feel and am in charge. I am responsible for how hard, how well and how much I do. For me, it means the level of seriousness I take to my training is just that little bit more (not that I am not serious in the dojo; but alone, I have no-one else driving me or taking care of the lesson so I have to be more aware and switched-on).
Flexibility in time is another advantage. I am finding that I cannot currently fit in a 2-hour session in around my other commitments, but I am able to fit 2 hours in to the day; 10 minutes here, 1/2 an hour there. I am finding that for technical issues, this can be advantageous, as problems I had earlier in the day have been resolved by my subconscious in the interim, and are easier to work through in a later session.
The preciousness of time was an unforseen advantage . Because I often only get snatches of time, I am more determined to use them to the best of my ability, rather than just go through the motions.
Being able to tailor my training to my perceived weaknesses (and strengths) is another advantage of going it alone. For instance, my weakest kata is currently Saifa, but at the dojo, it seienchin is the current focus. So, at the moment, I'm concentrating on Saifa - breaking it down, practicing it more frequently than the other kata, looking at the whys of my points of failure in it.
In my solo training, I am better able to explore and understand what I have already learned and been exposed to. I have the time to examine and practise more closely the different techniques, principles and concepts that form the mudansha curriculum. I means I can go from having seen, to knowing, to being able to do, to being able to explain. This is very useful for me, as I still have a number of bad habits to unlearn and replace with better ones! This is very hard to do in a formal class, but by myself I can concentrate and work slowly on doing so.
The final advantage for me is one that could very easily become a disadvantage. I like being able to have a different focus or routine each time I train, and I can do that and do it easily training solo. But it is all too easy to just do the things I like, instead of the things I need to do. Stretching and warm-ups spring to mind.
Having said all that, I miss the dojo!