The following are just 10 simple tips for making yourself a better partner in the dojo. These are all relatively simple and obvious, but it's good to have them out there in the open. I'm sure we've all been matched up with someone over the years that could benefit from accidentally stumbling onto this list...
Remember, you get what you put in. The better partner you are, the more your partner will want to return the favor and everyone gets better that much faster.
10. Don't Stink
If you're waiting for some kind of metaphor here you're out of luck. The first thing you owe everyone at the dojo (and yourself) is to practice good hygiene. There's nothing worse than being paired up with someone who smells bad, looks like they haven't washed or forgot how their laundry machine works. You're there for them just as much as they are for you so clean up! Clean gear and regular showers please. It's not just for comfort but for your health also.
Joking around sometimes is alright and so is being really focused, but don't go to the extreme on either side. Goofing around to the point of losing focus will get someone hurt. On the same note, being too much of a robot can lead to escalation in the drills with the same end result. Remember, it's fighting. No matter how good you are it's still the art of inflicting damage on someone...easy to get hurt. Find a comfortable pace that generates hard work and stay vocal. Communicate with your partner at all times and try to make the experience friendly. If not friendly, at the very least try to not be an asshole.
8. Ask Questions
If you're with someone you don't know too well keep in mind that they might be new to the school or style. If that is the case, remember that what might be an easy drill to you could be confusing to them. Ask questions to the instructor if there is any room for doubt. There's nothing wrong with that at all and even if it's not for you someone in the class (maybe even your partner) might have been wondering that and was too nervous to ask. Don't do it just to be nice, ask because if it's not clear someone will get hurt. Also it's good to be nice.
7. Speak Up
This was mentioned earlier, but to be more specific make sure you're giving your partner feedback on their performance. You can easily "cheat" or set a pace to a drill that hides their mistakes or makes them feel like they're doing it right when they're not. Talk to your partners and you can expect the same in return. This allows us all to grow that much faster and avoids developing bad habits. I had been dropping my right hand when jabbing and finally my boxing coach pointed that out to me. The alternative was to get knocked out, so thanks for speaking up!
6. Be Consistent
This is easier said than done of course, because people have lives outside the dojo and there's just so much time we can put in. That being said, no matter how frequent you are try to be consistent. If you can only go twice a week, try to make it the same two days every week. You'd be surprised how many friendships can develop through training and if you and your partners can count on each other, that leads to you guys pushing each other also.
5. Switch it up
Naturally there will be people you are more comfortable with in training, but make sure you train with someone you haven't before once in a while. As much as it's good to have your partners that are familiar enough to push hard, it's important to work with a body type you haven't before. Everyone moves and reacts differently and if you can make your techniques work with just about anyone that means you're training well. Remember, you're not training to fight that one buddy, you're training to fight anyone. Take notes on yourself when training with a new partner and take it back to your partners to work on.
4. Positive Reinforcement
So we talk a lot about communicating with our partners but there are specific ways of doing that well. We've already covered a few, but there's more. Whenever possible, chose positive reinforcement over negative feed back. Sounds simple but this is crucial. This has been proven to give greater and faster results and I can say from personal experience that this is the only way to go. Practice this when addressing yourself as well. Instead of telling someone what not to do, give them something better to do instead. So replace things like "don't bite your lip" with "breathe". The mind is goal oriented (especially in a crisis or fight) so by eliminating something you create a mental void. Instead, give them a new goal.
3. Keep it Professional
Whether you're just training partners or close friends outside the dojo, save the personal updates for before and after a session. This is just another way of emphasizing the importance of focus in training. Talking about your personal life during training is a manifestation of a lack of concentration. If it happens that's fine, but politely snap out of it. This is normal when you're comfortable with your crew or tired or have a lot on your mind, but ultimately it is still a slip in focus and someone could get hurt. It's good to develop friendships in training but there's a time and place to discuss the game last night. Focus up.
2. Show Up Ready to Bring it
Make sure you bring your A-Game everytime. This is almost impossible of course but it's a good goal to have, both for you and your partner. Try to avoid showing up tired, sick or hungover. Think of something that you do when getting ready or warming up before a session and make that your "point of no return". At this moment, however you're feeling gets pushed aside and you focus on the training. Everything that is bothering you or affecting your mood can wait until the session is over. If it can't, then you shouldn't be there. Go handle your business and come back later, your partners will understand. If it's something physical like a hangover or being sick, stay home and work out. Don't get the entire dojo sick as well just to prove a point to yourself. For me, everything is cast aside when I seal the belt on my gi. Whatever was bothering me is compartmentalized and I go back to being who I really am. You owe it to yourself and everyone who trains with you to be at your best.
1. Turn up the Heat
Avoid getting into a routine with your partners. If there is anything to be said about the world of fighting is that it is unpredictable, as most chaotic elements are. If you're in a routine it's because you've found what you're better at and probably only working on that in order to avoid stepping out of your comfort zone. There should never be a comfort zone in your training. If you train with someone who has become complacent, tell them. They'll appreciate it when they see that they're becoming better faster. It's up to you to push them all the time, they will do it for you too and then the whole crew is getting better all the time. Without a little bit of pressure testing you'll never create an inventory of tools that you are sure will work. Always go hard on your partners and ask for the same in return. Go to their capacity and make them earn it. Give them as much pressure as they need to have to work for it, but make sure you end every session in a way that ingrains success.
Fight or Die