Training partners are vital to your progress at the Japanese Martial Arts Center. They can give you feedback on how well you're doing a form, can help you practice a joint lock or throw, and can challenge you in sparring or randori. In fact, whether you train for physical fitness, self-defense, or character development, it's hard to imagine real success in martial arts without the help of dedicated training partners. For that reason, it's helpful to think about how to make sure your dojo mates are healthy, happy, and enthusiastic about working with you.
Healthy Training Partners: an injured person can't train well. For that reason, the first rule in taking care of training partners is to practice in such a way as to minimize injury. At JMAC, we have a rule that, when someone taps out, you must release your joint lock or pin immediately. To do otherwise would greatly increase the chance of injury. It is also important not to practice techniques with a person who is not capable of taking the appropriate fall, and not to practice at a speed or performance level that he or she cannot handle. Black belts must turn down their speed and power when sparring with white belts, for example. For a sempai (higher-ranked student) It is more important to make sure that a kohai (lower-ranked student) is practicing safely than it is to try to dominate the kohai.
Happy Training Partners: a happy training partner is one who can practice his or her own skills safely, in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and mutual respect. Remember, the dojo is a place of learning, not a place of perfection. Our job when working with others is to help them learn. This can mean adjusting our level of strength down if our partner is struggling to perform a technique, for example, or adjusting our level of speed up if our partner is preparing for a competition. The key is to be sensitive to our partner's needs and to try to accommodate them.
Why should be sacrifice our time at the dojo trying to fulfill the needs of others? Because they are in the same position as are we, and their turn is next. If you always insist on practicing in the way that is best for you, you will soon find your training partners taciturn and uncooperative. Remember, everybody has sacrificed their time and money to come to the dojo, and they keep coming, hopefully, because the experience is both rewarding and fun. If you take away either of these aspects - by being selfish or hyper-critical - your dojo mates may start looking for other places to train. Your sensei, who is writing the rent check every month, may not continue to have warm feelings toward you if you alienate many of his students.
If you have special needs, be sure to communicate these to your instructors and the students with whom you practice. Just as you might find at the University of Michigan or at Google, we try to accommodate those with special needs. For example, we try to accommodate jujutsu students who have physical reasons for being unable to take break falls. We practice to the point of off-balancing with such students, or allow them to bail out of a joint lock before a break fall becomes necessary. At the same time, such students are made aware that they will not advance as fast or as far as students who can fall, because they are missing an essential element in the physical understanding of jujutsu. These students are also reminded that they are basically getting a gift from the other students whenever they practice together, because they are allowed to throw, but are not being thrown. They avoid the wear and tear on their bodies that the other students submit to joyfully...and as long as the no-fall student is helpful and gracious the other students don't seem to mind.
Enthusiastic Training Partners: martial arts training is hard, but it is a lot of fun. All those people who come to the same classes as you are part of something that might as well be an extended family. In every training session, remember that your training partners are there to learn, and help them in every way possible. Respect your seniors, and be generous and kind to your juniors. Think of gentle ways to make corrections, and don't give too much unasked-for advice. In many ways, a life in the martial arts is a life of service. Instructors serve the needs of their students, senior students serve the needs of their instructors and their juniors, and junior students serve the needs of their instructors and their seniors. At the same time, it has always seemed that the more we work to help others, the more benefits we ourselves receive. If you are perceived as a hard-working, generous, and kind martial artist, you will never lack for enthusiastic training partners.
JMAC would like to thank the many Ann Arbor businesses that support this blog, both self-defense or martial arts-related and others, including: Network Services Group, Art of Japanese Swordsmanship, Shudokan Martial Arts Association, Budo Mind and Body, Art of Judo, Iaido Dot Com, Lorandos and Associates, Oxford Companies, Bluestone Realty Advisors, Portfolio Ann Arbor, Invest Ann Arbor, the Law Office of Nicklaus Suino and the ITAMA Dojo.