Partner up!

Posted: October 14, 2012 in Attitude, Class, Older

I had to get up run in the morning for 2 hours, go to the gym and also get good opponents as sparring partners because I’m a big believer in that how you train is how you will fight; at least when it came to me that’s how it worked.
Alexis Arguello

Photo courtesy of “Mixed Martial Arts in DC News Blog”

Few things can mess up your training than ending up with the wrong partner. A partner is not someone who just holds pads, succumbs to (or administers) the technique of the moment, or someone opposite you who’s waiting their turn. They are an integral part of your training and their importance cannot be overstated.

I’ve had bad partners, good partners, and phenomenal partners. If a partner’s no good you run the risk of being barraged with meaningless/inaccurate critiques, getting slightly (or seriously!) injured, not learning the techniques being focused on that day to the fullest, getting frustrated, or constantly having to readjust yourself (in a bad way) to accommodate your partner’s shortcomings. All of these make for a horrible training session in my book. True, there’s something you can salvage from even these sessions but, having been through a fair share of bad ones, I’d just as soon not have to be in that position if it can at all be avoided. Hey, I’m here to learn and only have 2 or 3 sessions per week to get it right so why not make each minute really count?

A good partner, on the other hand, ups your game. I’ve been pushed beyond what I thought I was capable of, learned lessons better than I originally heard them described, and been elevated to higher levels of excellence with the right partner. They make training fun, a great learning experience, and mentally and physically exhausting. We come to the end of class and I want to keep going!

When it’s time to get a partner in our school we hear those same words: “PARTNER UP!” It’s then that people scramble to pair with a fellow student for the next segment of class. Some people, myself included, will sometimes ask a student before class starts if they’d care to partner up that day, while others will wing it. Some people go with the same partners they always use, a dangerous thing; I’ll get to that in a second. Occasionally someone will be the last guy picked, without a partner, standing up and looking around for a warm body to pair up with. I hate being in that position but thankfully it doesn’t happen too often. Once the dust settles, like it or not, you’re stuck with your partner and you have to make the best of it.

So, in my humble opinion, being a good partner involves the following:

  • Always trying your hardest at all times. This is hard for some people. When some partners are not ‘up’ (i.e. not working the technique on the partner) they think it’s “not their turn” and get distracted. Maybe they don’t put their fullest into it. This is just obnoxious no matter how you slice it.
  • When it’s time for pad holding you are training just as the striker is so don’t check out on your partner. It helps work your defense and, if done right, is extremely tiring on the arms and core. You’re cheating your partner and yourself if you wuss out on pad holding. At the risk of sounding like I’m name dropping I’ve had the awesome privilege of training with Mark DellaGrotte a few times several months ago. In a few of our classes he emphasized the true essence of pad holding. He said he is known for and takes great pride in pad holding. Once I was even called up to help him illustrate. He held the Thai pads for me and had me throw some elbows. I nearly crapped my shorts. Just prior to this moment my blows landed on my partner’s Thai pads with some conviction but not no pop. When these same elbow strikes hit Kru Mark’s pads — WHOP!!!!! It was an enormous difference. He put so much into his pad holding and is a master. [I remember my arms completely killing the next day, by the way.] Since that time I’ve always tried to go for that. Here’s how I feel proper pad holding feels. Hold up the pads at the proper height, fairly close together — not touching but not waaaay far apart either. Now, imagine someone applying pressure on one pad, pressing in hard trying to push it back. You resist to keep the pad from moving much by pushing back. Next, imagine that the pressure is not constant but rather a second or so of pressure then release — like, say, a punch or an elbow, right? That’s what your pad holding should be like. When the blow comes in you should be pushing it back. Not jamming the person but providing a healthy counter-pressure to simulate hitting an opponent. Without this counter pressure you will have your pads flying back out of control and risk (almost guarantee) your partner and yourself getting injured.
    So, where was I? Oh yeah — how to be a good partner.
  • If you feel compelled to correct your partner or point out something in need of their attention, do so in a respectful way, never in an arrogant or condescending fashion — regardless of your rank or the rank of your partner! If you are a higher belt correcting White Belt, same difference. Don’t be a tool about it. Feedback is essential to getting better but just being an ass about it is only going to alienate your partner.
  • This is Krav Maga. Keep things very aggressive and violent but don’t let this override the need to train safely. Rough up your partner big time but don’t injure them. Injuries keep people from training and word spreads about how bad people train. In fact, you can often tell the psychotics and sociopaths in class because they are often the ones referred to above that are usually picked last, left to stand alone bellowing, “ANYONE NEED A PARTNER!?!”
  • Mix it up. People who use the same partner time and time again are seen as very “cliquey” and act above everyone else. Not only that but I think this is more dangerous than ending up with a lame duck partner. You end up getting to know your partner and this can dampen your game. You need to reduce predictability in your training. Lastly, it gives you a chance to know your team more, broadening your friendships. Remember, for the ones like you who are in this for the long haul, you’ll be seeing an awful lot of them for a long time. Might as well know who they are, right?

So, those are some thoughts on partners and how to be a good one. A lot of common sense really but it is worth keeping this in mind and being thoughtful about it from time to time. Otherwise someone will ruin someone else’s training.

Maybe it’ll be you.

  1. I agree 100%. While holding the pads you can also visualize your defense against the incoming strike, practice your fighting stance and exhale and flexing your core.
    A note on being a partner for ground work, make it difficult without being a jerk other wise it will promote sloppy technique.

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