We are all unique. But with that being said, are all human. As such, although there are always exceptions to the rules, there are certain universal truths that we should adhere to when working with others.
The following three points relate more to the how, why, when and who of training with other people. Here are 3 more questions I like to ask myself about being a training partner:
1. Know Your Role - Do you coach too much or not enough, how and who with?
While it’s important to give your partner feedback when training, you need to think about the 5W’s and 1H, as Hock Hoccheim would put it – Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
Giving feedback can be the single most powerful tool for both developing someone and absolutely destroying their confidence or love for training. It is also a really good indicator of whether people want to partner with you or not.
Feedback must be specific, timely, relevant and constructive. In the context of a training partner doing a drill, it also needs to be relatively brief so that it doesn’t stop the drill completely and turns into a lecture. There is a difference between giving feedback on the fly (‘keep your hands up’, etc.), and stopping someone for a few minutes to try and explain what you think the instructor meant, especially if you don’t have much experience yourself. The same thing goes for stopping your partner after every single repetition to correct something. These are some of the most annoying things that can happen when you are just starting out, especially if your partner is the infamous white belt professor. A good measure of knowing whether you are ready to give feedback in terms of your own skill is when your instructor asks you to help your partner.
Here are a couple of examples :
- “Your punches are weak” – Brief and specific, but also negative and not constructive in any way. It also shows a lack of understanding, as it doesn’t identify why something is not working. Can be turned into “try rotating your hips more when you punch. Wow, I can feel the difference!”
- “You need to grab the wrist, no the other wrist, like this, no, not like that, with the thumb out, no I mean out to the other side, ok now step with your left foot to the outside and…” – too specific, long-winded and confusing. If you are ever tempted to give feedback like this, don’t - go get your instructor instead.
- Your partner flags the instructor and says "can you help my partner? their kicks are not very good" - While you did the right thing by getting the instructor, you also embarrassed your training partner and chances are they now think about when they can get find someone else to train with. Maybe instead try something like "I'm not sure if we are doing this drill right. How about we get the instructor to have a look? It will help me a lot". That way you are not pointing fingers but rather asking your partner to help you understand better. If the instructor then corrects their performance, great. If not, then leave it.
Remember – specific, relevant, timely, brief and constructive.
The flip side is that we also need to understand our own ego in the context of receiving feedback, which can be just as challenging. If you are unwilling to receive feedback, then chances are you will not be having a great time in training. Not only that, but you are likely not to improve at a good rate.
2. Both Sides of the Mirror – We come to training in order to get better at the art or sport that we love. And so do all of our training partners! When we work with someone, we need to think about his or her development, not just on our own.
If our focus is internal – what we are doing, thinking, feeling, etc. – we may not be sufficiently aware of our partner’s performance. We are also missing a great opportunity to learn from their performance.
If our focus is external – what they are doing, thinking, feeling, etc. – we may not be aware of our own performance.
It’s a hard balance to find, and one which shifts depending on who you are working with.
You need to be aware of your partner’s performance as well as your own, and adjust as necessary. Here some of the most common examples:
- The way you both act around the drills – If your partner is dead serious and is trying to get 500 repetitions in while you are joking around and chatting, you are going to get annoyed with each other.
- The intensity you train with – For example, your partner throws really light strikes, but you throw bombs back every time it’s your turn. You’re not getting the energy you need, while you partner is receiving too much. Chances are you’ll get annoyed and your partner will get a concussion or a cranked joint.
Be aware of how you partner is training, communicate and accommodate. If you both do that, then you will have a great training experience.
3. Too Close for Comfort – Here are some examples, from personal experience, to convey a simple point:
- It’s 40 degree, and the dojo is packed. You are grappling. Your partner cycled to the dojo in the heat, didn’t bring a towel, is not using deodorant and hasn’t washed his uniform.
- Your partner hasn’t cut their toenails in ages. They kick you, and even though you block successfully you get a cut form their toenail. It gets infected and you can’t train for a week.
- Your partner has dicks drawn on his gloves, drops the c-bomb in every sentence and, at last count, has used the word ‘fuck’ 47 times in the last 15 minutes.
These are very common examples, but they illustrate a good point.
Yes, we will get sweaty, and probably a bit stinky, when we train. But this can be minimised by keeping basic hygiene rules. Make sure you wash your uniform after every session, bring and use deodorant, have a sweat towel to wipe yourself off during breaks just generally make sure you are not totally gross to train with.
Also try to communicate and behave in a way that is appropriate to the environment you train in and the people you train with.
To sum up, here are five questions to ask yourself when training with a partner:
- Do I stick to the drills?
- Do I have the equipment I need for class, and do I know how to use it?
- How do I give feedback (and also why, when, what and to who)?
- Is my focus internal or external and to what extent?
- Am I pleasant to be around?
These 5 questions are so important, that at CAIA our Code of Conduct addresses all of these and is in fact a condition of membership.
The first 2 questions above are relatively simple to answer – it’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If the answer is no, then change what you are doing. The last 3 are a little more difficult to answer, because they require deep and honest reflection on how we interact with others. They force us to confront our own shortcomings and adjust our behaviour. These are important lessons that, while extremely important inside the dojo, also relate to any interaction you have others. How you give feedback to your co-workers, your boss, your spouse, your kids or your gardener. How you communicate with people in different walks of life. How you assess, assert and adjust your role at work, at home or in a social setting.
Being a good training partner doesn’t only help you be a better martial artist; It helps you become a more aware human being.
Stay safe, stay tuned