Picking a Training Partner

Wai! Sawadee Krhup! Handa. Galang. Mano Po. Attention! Ousssss!
We pay respects, bow in, warm-up, and stretch. “Gloves, shin guards, partner and come back out,” Kru says. You freeze. Who should I partner with? I have a my go to person, but should I mix it up? Who should I venture out to? Fortunately, our tribe is amazing, so finding a partner is never difficult. Only you truly know what the goal of your martial arts training is. I’m of the mind that our training should be intentional and focused. With intentional training in mind, here is my guide for finding a suitable training partner. 

When it comes to a training partner, you should consider multiple. Just like shoes, there are specific pair for each type of activity. My experience has taught me that it is best to have at least three partners. You should have someone within range of your current skill level, another partner who is your senior, and a final one who is your junior. Let’s breakdown why each partner is important.

A great partner to start with is the one within your rank range. This person should be at a similar skill level as you. There should only be minor idiosyncrasies between both of you, things such as height, stance, or stamina. This is a testing on testing level of partnership. Both of you are in the same growing path, learning similar techniques, and experimenting with similar concepts. This training session is great for learning the differences between other martial artists and trying out your arsenal of techniques. You both will learn how you like to implement the concepts and skills you learned. Use this session to explore your martial arts catalogue and find the techniques you love.

You second choice should be someone who is your senior.  This person should have a higher skill level than you. I think of it as where I want my martial arts to be. “I want to be ________, like this person”. This partner session is a hole-finding session. The dynamic is that of teacher and student where you are the student. It serves as a gauge of where your overall martial arts skill is. A partner like this will help to expose gaps and holes in your training in a safe environment. This level of partnership, however, requires humility and accountability. You have to be content with learning what your flaws are. If you are not, you will likely start to feel aggravated with the ever-evolving skill gap and might overstep that line of respect. So be receptive to criticism and suggestions; if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t tell you.

Last is the junior rank partner. We can all reflect on our white belt status. We remember how we used to move, how our techniques were, and how long classes felt. There was always a partner who trained with us and helped us break through those hurdles. We are Tribe. If you have spent a minute with us you’ve felt the tribe spirit. This partner would have a lower skill level than you. The intent of this partner session is, again, that of a teacher and a student, but this time you are the teacher. It is a hole-filling session. Just like how your seniors helped to identify your holes you will do this for your partner. The training session is designed to educate, not humiliate. It is a fantastic way to learn how to read and identify holes in another person’s style, however, it also give you a chance to impart wisdom to others in the Tribe. Teaching is the highest from of learning. Patience and creativity are required for this partnership. You have to present new challenges that expose the holes they need to fill.

So, those are the three training partner types to look for. Each training session you should take time to evaluate what your goal for the session is and which training partner best addresses it. Just like the character select screen in Street Fighter, who do YOU want to be today? One super important note for this guide is: Don’t feel like you have to stick to one person for each category. Rotate your partners regularly. It will help diversify you recognition skill set. Lastly, you are always welcome to stack your partners heavier in one category over another to custom tailor your training. For example, if I want to compete, I would stack my partners heavier on the Senior Ranks so I can learn where my holes are and address them. If I want to become an instructor, I would stack my partners such that I have the most opportunities to practice teaching. Remember, we are all Tribe, united in one spirit through different goals, with the intent of helping each other grow. See you on the mats!