Recently, we have been doing a series on injury in martial arts, from the emotional aspect to recovery. In this one we are going to discuss one way to help in preventing injuries.
That is learning to pick the right partner.
The reason for this is the right partner can make your training experience even better, whereas the wrong partner can make injuries can happen. In Krav Maga and other martial arts there is phenomenon referred to as the “spastic white belt”. These are individuals who are chaotic in their movements or they are much bigger than others and try to muscle through everything (even if they do not know it the technique). This odd species of new student is common in any gym, and, while it is ultimately the instructor’s job to manage them, you have to watch out for them and know how to protect yourself. You are, after all, an adult; thus you can make adult decisions.
This means, when it comes time to pick a partner, know who you would like to be with to optimize your training.
Of course, if you are new then the Instructor should be assigning you a more experienced student to work with, in order to help guide you in the process. Although sometimes it’s simply the luck of the draw, as the instructor has no control over who shows up to any one class.
Beyond that, when an instructor says “find a partner” that’s when you need to act swiftly to pair with a person (or persons) who you know you can train effectively with. Often what happens when the students are told to get a partner everyone kind of looks around and waits, but this is how you often end up being “picked last,” and getting stuck with someone you, and everyone else, didn’t want to be with.
If you are lucky the instructor will be on point and notice your discomfort, or they don’t like the pairing, due to size or skill, and will change it for you. However, once again, you are an adult and there is only one instructor, so partner picking really becomes about ownership and taking responsibility for this very important task.
What things should you consider:
- Have you trained with them before? – This sounds obvious but it isn’t always. If you have trained with someone before and you are comfortable with them, then try to partner with them quickly. Or if you have trained with someone before and you didn’t enjoy it then try to avoid them (as politely as possible). Of course, if there is a big issue or a valid concern, make sure to talk to your instructor. In general, you want to partner with people you are comfortable with, so that you are relaxed and focused while learning, and therefore can train properly.
- Have you seen them training before? – If you have not trained with a person, then have you seen them train with others? If not, then ask yourself “were you practicing proper situational awareness?” If you were, then you should have some idea if they are a good option for you based on their actions, and the reactions of their past partners.
- Is their size and skill appropriate to the drill? – Unless the instructor has specifically asked you to train with someone much larger than you, then, especially as a beginner, it might be better to partner with someone who isn’t too big or too small. For some activities, like holding pads, size and skill won’t matter as much (unless they are a heavy weight, in which case it might not matter who holds the pads, it still hurts). Other techniques, like bear hugs or grabs, will be difficult at first if the person is to big and strong compared to you. When you are starting out you need to get the technical aspects down first before you can “go ham” with full aggression.
- Do they have a “reputation” at the school? – Have you heard people complain about this person’s power control? Have you been warned to watch out for them in certain context, eg. sparring? Are they known for going to hard or not following drills correctly? Forewarned is forearmed! Some people may be great to drill with, but in sparring they can’t control their power, some just don’t get the basics of holding pads. In any case, bring it to the attention of the instructor if the situation doesn’t improve or is dangerous.
Of course, at the end of the day, some people just need a bit of work and help to be good partners. Most people don’t want to do things wrong, and they certainly don’t want to earn the title “spastic white belt” and become pariahs in their gym. It could be that a few minutes before or after class is all it takes to clue someone in about how to hold pads, why a drill flows a certain way, or how to figure out pulling punches/kicks. Helping someone improve, or informing them of something they didn’t realize they were doing incorrectly will benefit them, you, and the rest of the students. While this is largely up to the instructor, again, if you are an adult, working on your communication skills with your training partners is important. It is, after all, a very important aspect of stage 1 and 2 self-defence.
Either way, mastering the art of picking a partner and/or building your partners up is more important than you think. After all, without good training partners you will not develop at the rate you want. Or worse, injury might be in your future if you pick the wrong partner. So, think hard, communicate effectively, learn to spot those who work for you as a partner, and get to them quickly for training.
Written by: Jonathan Fader