3 Things to Avoid Saying to Your Training Partner

It’s hard to believe that I have been training for over ten years now!  When I first started my martial arts journey, I was an awkward seventeen-year-old who thought Jiu Jitsu would be the perfect fit for someone like me - gangly and graceless and likely to trip on air.  I figured if my training started on the ground, my lack of coordination and surplus of clumsiness wouldn’t be noticeable.  

I was right and wrong.  My lack of grace was, and is, very much noticeable, but despite this, Jiu Jitsu was perfect for me.  And from it, my love for training expanded into other areas of martial arts.

 Brittany sparring with her friend and training partner, Elizabeth, at 17 years old.

Brittany sparring with her friend and training partner, Elizabeth, at 17 years old.

Now, with ten years of experience under my belt, I can say a lot has changed - both for me personally and for the dojo that I call my home. 

Personally, I have grown faster, stronger, and healthier.  I’ve received a wealth of information that has improved every aspect of my well-being, from my knowledge base and execution of techniques to mental strength and peace of mind. 

I’ve also acquired a number of valuable friendships and acquaintances over the years.  I’ve had the privilege of training with partners of every shape, size, age, gender, skill level, temperament, etc., and I deeply value the relationships that are built among training partners.  

You have the ability to learn invaluable tips and tricks from them, and the honor of returning the favor with helpful skills of your own.  Your training partner is there to help you, encourage you, and constantly challenge you.  Training with others forces us to be vulnerable (it’s how we learn and grow as martial artists!), and because of this, there is a level of mutual trust and respect that is necessary for any training partnership to be healthy and beneficial.

Many things can get in the way of a healthy training relationship - ego, pride, and hygiene are a few that come to mind - but the way we talk to and about each other is paramount when building the rapport needed to maximize our mat time.

I can speak from my own experiences, both positive and negative.  I have unfortunately put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d care to count, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of a few too many well-meaning “can you believe a girl did that?!” jokes.  From these experiences, I’d like to share a few basic comments or quips that I’d love to see leave the mat.

1. Compliments are appreciated - patronizing is not.  

Please don’t compliment your partner’s technique and then undermine it by telling them you were really/actually trying to escape or maintain the position.

While the sentiment can be appreciated, I know personally that I will always try my best in class and hope my partners will do the same.  Please follow the instructor’s directions where intensity and resistance are concerned within a specific drill.  If he or she tells you the goal is to maintain the mount, please give it your all and assume your partner expects that of you.  While there may be some exceptions, you typically won’t need to tell them.  The favor will be returned when you switch top and bottom.

2. Please do not comment about anyone’s fight/feistiness to them or anyone else.

I hate overhearing one training partner telling the other that they “have alot of fight” in them during a roll.  It’s a pet peeve of mine that might come second only to hearing someone warn the class to “watch out - she’s/he’s a feisty one!”  

Always assume that your partner’s skill has more to do with their focus, execution, and consistency in training than their feisty personality.  Your partner might have successfully landed that sweep only after weeks or even months of practice and failed attempts.  Don’t take away from their moment of success by belittling their hard work.

3. Let the instructor be the instructor. 

I know it can be hard, and it almost always comes from the best of intentions, but try to avoid coaching or teaching your training partner - especially during sparring/rolling.  When your working technique with someone, it’s natural to point out a tip you use to make something smoother or share something someone told you that helped you remember which side your blocks start on or which hand goes on top in a Palm Up - Palm Down choke, but don’t overdo it.  

Don’t spend the majority of your practice time breaking the technique down for your partner, and try not to ruin their enjoyment by pointing out too many mistakes they’re making in the technique they just learned five minutes earlier. 

Avoid slowing down the flow of a roll or the momentum of a sparring session by stopping to point out something to your partner.  Instead, try to remember the details to discuss after the training session is done so you can both get the most out of your randori.  

Something that goes hand in hand with this is focusing on your own training.  Don’t play down your partner’s recent improvements by saying things like, “looks like someone’s been getting some extra training” or “you must have learned that in a private lesson.”

Instead of making excuses for why someone’s forms might be looking sharper or why someone is suddenly having success completing all of their arm bar attempts, try taking advantage of the training opportunities that are available to you.  Try maximizing your repetitions in class as an alternative to worrying about how much mat time other people are receiving. 

Let the instructor worry about teaching and keeping track of everyone’s material while you simply enjoy the class.

At the end of the day, no matter our respective motivations, we all just want to have the best training experience possible.  In order to learn and improve, we have to help each other - as training partners, as peers, as human beings.  Communication, among other things, can help build mutually beneficial and strong relationships with our training partners and even our instructors. 

So let’s build each other up and encourage each other with our words as well as our actions!

Do you have any other comments or habits that you'd like your training partners to stop doing? Or maybe something you enjoy that you'd like to see more of? Leave me a comment below!