Audio by Jonathan Fader

As I have mentioned earlier in my series on being a good training partner, it is important that people feel comfortable while training, but also that they are challenged. If you have trained with Jon (UTKM Co-founder/Lead Instructor) for any period of time, you have probably heard him say “you can’t cheat physics.” This is true, and it becomes especially important to remember for the bigger, more athletic, members of the class, though can be just as important for the new, inexperienced students, so I will tackle this topic with these two groups in mind.

If you are a bigger person, let’s say 82kg (180lb) and above, you should be aware that, even without putting in a lot of effort your, body can generate a lot of power. I mean, have you ever had someone much bigger than you bump into you by accident? Even if they really didn’t mean it, you feel it. So it is important that if you are in this size range you remain hyper-aware of your body dynamics (force of movement, speed of movement, range of motion, etc.) while striking, obviously, but also during grappling techniques, placing people in holds or control, and any time your body mass comes into contact with another person. The concerns are amplified exponentially as the size difference between training partners increases; ie. a larger than average person with a smaller than average person. So how do we work around this issue?

  1. Think Critically – Be aware that it can be a problem, and why! If you’re training with a 80lb‘er, simply saying “It’s not my fault! I barley touched them!” as they go flying across the room, doesn’t cut it. YES, IT IS YOUR FAULT!! (And, NO, the problem isn’t that they “just aren’t tough enough.”) Don’t take it personally (we’re not calling you fat), you simply failed to consider that physics matters. So, stop and consider who you’re training with and realize that this may be an issue, then adjust accordingly.
  2. Communicate – “Hey, let me know if I’m going too hard” or “how hard do you want to go?” are great ways to open the conversation. As you train with people more regularly you will get a feel for what each person can handle, as well as what they are comfortable with. Again, with communication comes the understanding that you will likely have to be the one to do the adjusting; if there is a size difference the bigger person has to accommodate the smaller. It’s not personal in either direction, it’s just physics.
    • Communicate More! – Information flows both ways; smaller people must speak up if their partner is going harder than they are comfortable with. This applies even if there isn’t a size difference, as a disparity in your skill level or the presence of an injury will also necessitate more caution and really diligent power control. If there is any concern that your partner should be aware of, TELL THEM!
    • Communicate Always! Keep that communication going throughout the session, as you will almost always, with out realizing it, slowly ramp up your power. Checking in is a good thing for both parties; it maintains safety and gives your partners the chance to tell you if they are ready for a bit more “heat.”
  3. Ease Into It – Respect the fact that, be it skill, strength, or toughness, your standards are not everyone else’s. Go extra light and then notch it up ’til every one is comfortable. What does going “light” or “extra light” mean? Well, for example, if you’re striking, limit the amount of power you put behind your strikes. This doesn’t have to mean sacrificing speed or form, just dial back the power like you would if you were shaking a small child’s hand vs shaking The Rock‘s; how you go about it doesn’t change, just the power. Similarly, when engaging in grabs and holds let your partner struggle. Start with the just the minimum amount of power to really make them work through the technique. As they improve, your pressure and “realism” should increase. You will figure out pretty quickly what your partner is capable of (and learning to feel for an opponent’s reactions is an important skill for you!) This can also apply to pad holding: We do many drills where you, as the pad holder, are required to activate or engage the your partner by bumping, tapping, or pushing them with the pad, so be gentle ’til you establish the right amount of “bump” required.

All of the above apply to grappling as well. Try not to rely on your size as a weapon! Muscling your way to victory may feel good, but always applying strength to overpower an opponent prevents you from improving your actual skill with the techniques. Some day you will encounter someone stronger than you…

Then there is the other part of the equation.

If you are new to martial arts, even if you’re small or training with a bigger, more experienced person, coming out guns blazing, before you have learnt correct technique, can pose it’s own problems. Whether this behaviour leads to injury to yourself, by putting stress on your joints in positions that they are not able to handle, or results in sacrificing learning of the proper technique because you are moving too fast or just muscling your way through a problem, your training suffers. I have said this new people more times than I can count; “Slow down.” Take it easy until you understand the movement, then slowly up the speed, power, and intensity, as your skill increases. This also reduces the (very likely) chance that you will injure your partner by throwing an uncoordinated attack that goes nowhere near where the drill intended it to.

So what can you do to mitigate inexperience? Well, same as above:

  1. Think Critically – Accept the fact that you are new, and be aware that being overly enthusiastic can be a problem. All of us started out looking like crap throwing our first few punches. No one is judging you (and if they are, find a different school, because these people aren’t into learning or teaching!) You are just new, keep that in mind and adjust your expectations for how classes are going to look for you for a little while. Self-defence, fighting, and violence in general, are a foreign concept for most people, give yourself the time to learn.
  2. Communicate – “Hey, I’m new, bear with me while I get the hang of this” or “ I’ve never done this technique, let me know if I’m doing something wrong”. People aren’t going to run away from you because your new, nor will they judge or make fun of you, so tell them. You will get a lot more out of the session if you are up front with your training partner and keep communication going, ask questions, look at what they do and ask them why they do it like that or how it works.
  3. Relax – Take into consideration everything above; adjust your expectations and allow the process to work. Breathe, slow down, and focus on the technique, there will be a time and place for adding in aggression, power, and intensity, but let that time come naturally don’t force it.

All of this is very important to keep everyone in the gym safe, comfortable, and progressing through the learning process. But don’t fall into the trap of making things too easy and not challenging your partner. I will cover the nuances of this in more detail in my next post; Providing a Realistic Attack.

Written by Evan J (UTKM Yellow Belt)

 

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