Riz's Martial Arts Training

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5 Keys to Being a Good Training Partner

Your progress in the martial arts is generally a result of three things: Training, Instruction, and Natural Attributes. This post is relevant to the ‘Training’ aspect, which in my opinion is the most important of the three. 

Despite what you see in the movies, martial arts are not a solo gig. Solo training certainly plays an important role but sooner or later, you need to work with a partner. The calibre of your partner directly affects your progress and vice versa – it’s actually a pretty big responsibility (as such, this is going to be a bit of a long post!)! It’s also a two-way street; your partner is there to help you, just as you are there to help your partner. And while skill level does play a factor, it is not the most important trait of a good partner. Here’s a rundown of what I believe to be the 5 key aspects of being a good training partner (in no particular order):

Maintain Proper Hygiene

No one likes a stinky training partner (not even if you reek of expensive cologne). The only acceptable smells in a dojo/gym are that of Tiger Balm and the sweat that occurs during the training session (…and that peppermint foot sanitizer stuff too). Be sure to wash your gi/clothes between training sessions (always a good idea to keep more than one gi if you’re training regularly) and make sure you’ve washed your body and checked your breath before you start class. Make sure to clip your nails and remove any piercings/items of jewellery. And finally, the reason I was inspired to write this article…don’t do anything ridiculously unsanitary (such as biting your partner… you know who you are)!


If you remember only one point from this post, make it this one. Communicating with your partner is essential. Ask whether you’re providing enough resistance or using enough force. Similarly, if someone is going too hard on you or you have an injury – let them know! Communication is about more than just safety (though safety should be your number one concern), partnered training is an opportunity to learn from someone other than your instructor – make the most of it. Ask questions and offer advice (but don’t nag).

Developing a rapport with your partners is generally a good way to go. If you are comfortable with someone then you are more likely to enjoy training with them. Sometimes ‘friendly rivalries’ may develop – these can push you to work harder than you have previously, but don’t fall into the trap of training to beat one person. Use these rivalries as motivation to grow as a martial artist.


Don’t be a downer – no one wants to train with someone who looks like they’re not interested in what they’re doing. It is natural that certain aspects of training will be more appealing to you than others but it is important to participate with good spirit in every aspect (yes, even drilling techniques without any resistance is important).

Make sure to train regularly; attend every session you can and be punctual. Not only will this breed familiarity but it also builds discipline, which will help you train more efficiently – that is, if you are disciplined whilst training, your partner will feel compelled to match your level of commitment.

Etiquette & Equipment

Preserve dojo/gym etiquette. Etiquette is not just about imitating Japanese (or wherever else) traditions. At its most basic level, dojo etiquette can be considered part of class structure, for the sake of letting go of your ego and, to keep the class in order.

The man who rows the boat doesn’t have time to rock it. 

~ Anonymous

On a deeper level, dojo etiquette is an outward expression of your awareness in the martial arts. By observing proper etiquette, you are demonstrating understanding of your relationships with other students/teachers and also with the martial nature of your training.

All martial arts carry with them a degree of risk. It is important to maintain the required safety standards of your class. However, make sure you are using the same or similar equipment to the rest of your class:

About six months back, I was at a local throwdown where I was pitted against a local TKD practitioner who was known for his terrible body conditioning. From the beginning of the fight, I used a lot of low leg kicks…but they barely fazed him. In fact, they hurt me! Checking my legs at the end of the fight, my shins had gone a funny shade of blue. I was terribly demoralised that this guy known for being an easy win had absolutely destroyed my legs…until I saw him remove a pair of footballers’ shin pads from under his tracksuit bottoms.

Now while you may be able to get away with that sort of thing in poorly regulated competitions like the one I had entered, it’s not something that’s done whilst training. I.e. if you have knee problems, wear knee supports – but don’t wear them because it makes your Closed Guard harder to pass; If your class trains using Pride mitts, which offer 2 inches of padding, don’t use MMA gloves that offer less. Be safe…but be fair.

When Drilling / Sparring / Rolling

Always use the appropriate amount of force. If you are just drilling with resistance, the appropriate amount of force/resistance is however much it takes to make your partner really work the technique, but not so much that your partner gasses himself/herself out on each rep (this of course doesn’t apply if you are Live Sparring / Rolling). Remember: Drills are to improve technique, not strength.

Do not put power into the form. Let power arise naturally from the form.

 ~ Old Tai Chi Proverb

When Live Sparring / Rolling, you should generally be going at 70-90% - going ‘all-out’ at 100% often leads to bad judgement and injuries as a result. Always maintain some degree of control as to what you (and if you can, your partner) are doing.

If you are sparring against someone weaker than you, your aim should be to elevate their game by using them as an opportunity to work on fundamentals. If you are sparring with someone much better than you, use it as a learning opportunity – they are providing a demonstration of how to put to practice what you’re learning.    

A final point - Selfishness and bullies are easy to spot. Karma’s a b****; if you’re picking on the smaller / less experienced members of your club, sooner or later your seniors will give you a taste of it. If that’s not enough, think of it like this – if you break all available training partners, you’ll not be able to train. If you help them reach your level, you’ll get plenty of practice as well as find stronger challenges within your club.

Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you (…provided you’re not a masochist). 


Post a Comment 2 comments:

Blackbeltmama said...

"Biting your partner, you know who you are." Very funny.

I so agree with the first one. There is nothing worse. . . nothing. I won't go into detail, but only say that I only trained with this person once and thank the good Lord for that.

March 3, 2009 at 5:42 AM

Riz said...

Credit where it's due - I don't think I'll ever forget that guy! If nothing else, he left an impression!

March 3, 2009 at 9:18 PM

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