Perhaps there should be a website for finding the ideal martial arts training partner. One might call it “Catch”…that sounds like a romantic branding to be sure, but alas it’s a nod to Catch Wrestling! In all seriousness, finding a good training partner is one of the best things that you can do for your martial arts development.
First and foremost, as with any worthwhile relationship one needs to be able to trust and rely on his partner. Ideally, this person should be at least close in size and weight. He should also have a similar temperament and work ethic. Such a partner needn’t share your disciplinary focus exactly, but interdisciplinary harmony is a boon. Similar schedules are obviously essential. This can be a challenge as life outside the gym has its own gravitational demands.
When learning a new technique, we begin by undertaking a step by step mechanical choreography, i.e. Hold hand at this height as you extend it directly out in front of you, rotating your wrist as you do… We then begin to fluidly streamline the individual components of the technique. Add speed. Eventually we develop timing-the ability to implement the technique in response to an opponent or partner’s stimulus. That stimulus can vary greatly, and it is within these timing variations that mastery is achieved. A good partner can give you a reproducible baseline stimulus for practicing. He can then vary it depending upon your skill level. It has been my experience that it can be difficult for a training partner to offer consistent “looks” when necessary and alternatively varied “looks” as progress demands. Rightfully so. You are usually both in the midst of learning a new technique.
Take submission wrestling for example. From personal experience I know that as a technique is being applied to me, I immediately start to consider countermeasures. “What if I shift my weight back a bit? What if I post here?” I have been know to hijack a drilling exchange by moving into tactical consideration before my partner has had the opportunity to learn the mechanics well; before my opponent has been able to even internalize the movements. Bad partner! I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that it takes “X thousand” repetitions of a technique to really learn it and own it, master it. Whatever that number truly is, and I am sure that it varies by person and experience, 3 reps is surely not enough.
If you’ve trained in Jiu-Jitsu you know what I’m talking about. You were able to execute the sweep multiple times, and then it just wasn’t working for some reason. Come to find out, your opponent wasn’t allowing you to load him the way that you had been previously. It was a subtle adjustment he made, but enough to encourage the use of a different technique entirely (and you didn’t yet have a thorough enough understanding of the technique to realize how his adjustments were undermining its reproducible execution). Make no mistake, this process of measure and countermeasure is a necessary aspect of the learning process, and for many of us, these types of challenges are what really inspire. However, a good partner knows how to bracket certain questions or responses for another time so that his partner can have the experience that he needs at that particular time. A GREAT partner is available for the necessary, eventual, even inevitable return to those questions. If you’re thorough, you’ll end up somewhere off in the weeds, more well versed, and with even more to study still!
On a parallel point, control of one’s physical body is instrumental to being a good partner as well. Allow me to refer pack to a previous post on the subject of balance and “the box”. A partner who understands these basic, physical principles will be in better control of himself and consequently, you, when he is giving you the force of the movement that you require to execute a technique. Put another way, I won’t let a day one student attempt to throw me at full tilt.
Once you have a mechanical understanding of the technique, when it should be used, and what the trigger move is, a seasoned training partner can add in false positives and other techniques. I used the term false positive to refer to a stimulus from a partner or opponent which acts to trigger the technique with a false set-up. A feint is a good example of this. A counter-puncher must wait for a specific trigger to launch into a counter. When the trigger is manipulated by the opponent, it can be difficult for the counterpuncher to execute the technique with proper timing, distance, force and balance. The seasoned partner can offer false positives and even triggers for multiple techniques without the practice evolving into a full on sparring match. You can develop a bit at a time. Safely. And here safety is essential to learning. If you’re injured, you can’t train the way you’d like. One of your most precious resources, time, can be wasted by injury. A good partner helps minimize that loss. It’s a lose, lose situation. One partner’s loss is the other partner’s loss.
Meet as many of the criteria as possible yourself. Be a good partner, and you will attract the like minded. Before you know it you will have a team of like minded partners that offer differing strengths and weakness. These people will show up, not only for their fight camps (should that be a priority for you), but they will be there for your camp as well. They understand the value of “quid pro quo”. They understand that they have as much to learn during your camp as they do during theirs!