Did you ever read one of those ‘make your own ending’ books? I used to love them as a kid. I also love video games where the story unfolds and changes based on the decisions you make. Think of your training journey, and consider the following two ‘endings’:
The instructor just finished demonstrating a particular drill, and asks you to find a partner. Everyone in class is quickly paired up while you are still looking around trying to find someone who is on their own, and quickly notice gazes being averted when you try to make eye contact. You eventually manage to corner someone and now have a partner!
The instructor just finished demonstrating a particular drill, and asks you to find a partner. Before you get a chance to look around, 3 people approach you. They are all smiling and when you pair up with the nearest one, the other two smile and say ‘how about next round?’
Which one do you find happens to you more often?
Being a good training partner can be a great challenge. Knowing what to do, and what you need in order to do it. Knowing when and how to push, how much resistance to give, or how hard to go. Knowing when and how to give feedback, and to who. Knowing when to be serious and when to joke around.
These are some of the most challenging aspects of training with others, but can be also some of the most rewarding. Additionally they also reveal a lot about who we are and the things we need to work on.
Before I go on allow me to give a little disclaimer; What I am about to discuss is certainly nothing new... but that doesn't mean it's not important!
There are five questions I like to ask myself when training with others. We'll look at the first two in this post (more to follow):
1. Follow the Roadmap - Do you stick to the drills?
This is something I feel particularly strongly about, both as a teacher and as a student. Your instructor has (or at least should have) a bigger picture for each class. There is a particular skill or lesson to be learned, and the instructor guides you through a variety of drills and exercises in order to achieve a particular learning outcome, one which you may not necessarily see yet. As such, it’s incredibly important to have faith in, and respect for, your instructor and what they are trying to teach you, and in your team to help you learn it.
As a training partner, especially if you are paired up with some more experienced then you, veering away from the drills can be extremely frustrating. It can hurt your partner’s confidence, as well as cause them injury. Imagine your instructor is getting you to learn how to defend against straight strikes yet every time you try and work the defence, your partner hits you with a hook. If you don’t have enough experience to analyse what they are doing, all you will experience is frustration at being hit and not understanding why what you are doing is not working. As a beginner, it can also be daunting to say to your senior to get back to the drill. The same thing applies when training with someone less experienced than you, and they continue go on tangents or make things up. Having to continuously steer your partner back on track can be tiresome and annoying for you both.
Being a good partner means rehearsing what you are supposed to be rehearsing so that both you and your partner can learn the finer details of a specific technique or principle.
2. Know Your Tools - Do you have the equipment you need, and do you know how to use it?
If you have a job, chances are you use tools to achieve a specific goal. If you are a builder, then you don’t go to work without a hammer. If you are a chef, you need to have your knives. If you are an office worker, you need to have your computer. If you are a martial artist, you need to have your gear. There are two parts to this:
- Have what you need - You need to have all of the gear that will allow you to do the drills and participate in the class in a way that is safe for you and your partner, and that will also allow both of you to maximise your learning. For example, if you don’t have a particular piece of sparring equipment and as a result your partners can’t make contact with you or vice versa, or you both have to slow everything down too much, then you are both likely to get frustrated. This is also when injuries occur.
- Know how to use it - A good pad-holder can make someone on their first day look like a world champion, and a bad holder can make a world champion look like they are on their first day.
Holding pads and having good 'give and take' in training is an art onto itself. If you watch any great striking coach, be it Boxing, Muay Thai, etc., you'll see some great pad holding.
Many people switch off, to a certain degree at least, when it’s their turn to hold pads or be 'the dummy'. Their mind starts wondering and they think about when it will be their turn to hit again, or are more focused on the follow up then what their partner is doing, etc. If you have been training for a while but still don’t hold pads or ‘receive’ well, chances are people will not want to train with you very often; they’ll get frustrated with your lack of attention, the fact they can’t put power behind their strikes, the targeting is off, etc. Knowing how to hold pads for your partner is not only important for your safety, but is actually a great learning tool for you. This is a chance for you identify how your partner moves; do they telegraph their movements and intentions? If so, how? Is there a particular pattern to how they move? Can you use it later on in sparring? Also, this is a great time for you to practice your own movements. Move with intent, keep your hands up and think of every repetition of every drill as a sparring session. That way you are getting repetitions in even when holding pads, and you will become customed to holding pads correctly while continuously analysing what is happening in front of you. This means you must make a conscious effort to learn how to use your training equipment properly and ask for help if you are not sure.
These two points talk about what we do and what we need in order to do it, which is a good place to start when training with others. In the next piece we'll talk more about how to do what we need to do.
I hope this helps you with your training, and keep up the good work. Train hard, train smart and help each other to learn. That's what it's all about!
Stay safe, stay tuned.