How you can be a good training partner

Every so often I will see one of my clients sitting off on the side with their arm wrapped in an ice-pack, brace or support bandages. Other times it may be a black eye, sprained ankle, tweaked knee or damaged finger joint.

At times like these, I question what happened to them and why they sustained the injury?

Usually the culprit is ‘Ego’. The competitive streak that lies within us all. I have often heard the phrase, “leave your ego at the door” and over the years it has made more and more sense.

Without the ‘ego’ getting in the way I find that my training is more fun, my training partners also enjoy the learning process and everyone goes home with a big smile instead of their arms being bandaged or hobbling off.

Here are some anecdotes on this topic:

“The big white belt was completely exhausted by the end of the three minutes of rolling. I held him in mounted position for almost the whole time, stifling his every attempt at escape. Gee, won’t the black belts be impressed.”

“I tapped the dude out seven times in three minutes. Man, I’m awesome. Wait until I tell everyone”.

“The guy did not score a single point on me. Wow, am I getting good! I wonder who was watching. Where is the teacher when you need them?”

Unfortunately, there is one in every academy, dojo, kwoon, or training hall. A big ego has gotten in the way again. One result: many of their training partners will quit before they have had a chance to develop their skills, out of frustration and a feeling of failure. A crying shame, and not only that, they will tell everyone they know about the “cruddy school where they took martial arts”. Another result: no one will want to spar with “that guy” anymore, and he will not progress.

Saulo Ribeiro, one of the world’s top Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experts, puts it best in his book, Jiu-Jitsu University; “I cannot have a top student take the Mount and expect a white or blue belt to escape. This is because the school’s blue, purple, and brown belts all know the same techniques. With everyone sharing the same knowledge, the upper belts can stifle the progression of new and white belts! How can a white belt progress? By feeling how a good student can put him in danger and then working the escape. That’s the only way for him to train escapes as a white belt. The upper belt benefits by fine-tuning his timing and sharpening his submissions.” (Source:

There is often confusion among the students between “practicing drills and training” and “competition”.
Some approach every instructor-led class as a competition. Their unspoken thoughts are to tap out their training partner as many times as possible. Maybe they believe that through making all their training partners tap, they some how absorb more heroic strength from the universe and they feel one step closer to becoming invincible. Wrong!
The training partner is there to practice the technique with you by providing varying degrees of resistance, from very little to maximum resistance but it is still a drill and not a full blown competition. Your training partner is there to help you improve your understanding and application of the technique under cooperative and limited movement so by going 110% or changing the technique to “get the tap” is not the objective and this type of unnecessary action often results in injuries as the partner is not fully prepared to switch gears into full competition mode as they are still in training-mode.
Even during Open Mat sessions, it is still cooperative training. It is not WW III and never should be. Techniques practiced should be deliberate and controlled. Unfortunately, much goes without saying and results in miscommunication. A “training” session can easily break down into a “sparring” session then further into a personal fight over pride fueled by ego. Is it necessary? Is it productive? Is it mutually beneficial? These are the questions I ask myself whenever I roll or spar. As the team director, I may push you out of your limits, test your defenses, counters, and escapes but it is never done maliciously or to “prove a point” except to help you improve. I always end the session with an explanation of technique and mindset that will help you improve on the next session. Reflect on that to see whether it is true and consistent. Do the same for your training partner.
Here are some guidelines to ponder about and see whether you are “that guy” on the mats Grappler’s Guide: How to be a Good Training Partner
An important read for everyone.
Best training to you!