There you are. . .
At your first seminar with a big, important Sensei. . .
Once you enter the dojo, you start to size up the Karate folk around you—wondering what rank they are, how long they’ve trained and with whom.
Then. . .
The Sensei says “Partner up!”
You look around at your options and you think. . .
“That partner looks too hard. . .”
“That partner might also be too hard. . .”
“That partner looks too soft. . .”
“Ah. . . That partner looks juuuuust riiiight!”
But somebody stole them!
Suddenly, you’re paired with the 6’7” 400lb reincarnation of King Kong! Which might be fine for some things, but not necessarily the best-case scenario for learning throws or ground work, especially when you’re significantly smaller.
Sure, you don’t always have a choice on who you partner with, but if you did have the choice, who would be the ideal partner to get the most out of your training?
1. They’re better than you are and challenge you in the right way.
If possible, you want to work with someone who is better than you are and can pick up on your mistakes. They won’t allow you to get away with being lazy or doing things incorrectly. If you do something wrong, they call you on it. They know how to build you up from passive resistance to aggressive resistance.
2. They’re a similar size.
When first learning a new exercise or principle, it’s ideal to be able to focus on execution alone without any further barriers which can arise with someone who is a lot bigger or smaller than you are. For example, if you’re working with someone taller than you, it can sometimes be hard to find the right leverage when their limbs are so much longer.
3. They are trying to learn (Not Compete!)
They’re not trying to prove themselves, but to IMPROVE themselves and appreciate the learning process. They work WITH you through the learning process, rather than use you as means to impress the head Sensei or make themselves look good and feel better about themselves.
4. They have good hygiene
I realize this one is a little strange. But, we all know it’s true! The last person anyone wants to work with is the guy who hasn’t washed his gi in a week, has bad breath or hasn’t clipped their finger and toenails.
5. They have fun!
If you’re not having a good time, what’s the point? The best partners don’t just know how to work hard, but have fun and laugh at their mistakes.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t work with different sizes, ages and levels; there’s plenty of value in doing so and should be included in the training process, which I touch on in Lady Looks In a Mirror – Part 1.
However, in the initial learning stage of any technique or concept, especially if you have a full day of training ahead of you, it’s best to have a partner who can push you to improve in a way that is both fun and safe.
So, choose wisely!