Be a Team Player

In this post, Francis takes us through a few on points on the importance of being a good training partner.

One of the best things about belonging to a martial club is simply getting to work with other martial artists. Not only do we share a hobby, an interest, a passion for something, but we rely on each other to further our own skills. We’re all learning so we all need people around us who’ll help us along. It’s very difficult to get better by yourself.

When I trained in Ju Jitsu, i had the same training partner for the better part of 10 years. We went from white to black belt together and though we rarely met outside of class, for two hours every Monday night, we were a team. On the face of things, we had quite different personalities but we both shared the same desire to improve our skills and we recognised the need to push each other. I could’ve gone to the same club for 15 years with a different partner and the results would’ve been vastly inferior.

Here are a few reasons why we need to be a good training partner:


Hans Talhoffer, 1459 (Ms.Thott.290.2º, 123r) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
(Being known as ‘The Crippler’ might sound cool, but you’ll soon run out of willing training partners)
Hans Talhoffer, 1459 (Ms.Thott.290.2º, 123r) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Being a good training partner is one of the most important things you’ll learn in martial arts. Some people think if you focus on being useful to your partner, then your own training might suffer. That’s only true if they’re not doing the same for you. There are parts of class that are have solo significance – fitness and exercise for example. But drills and sparring only work when both people give of their best.

Maximise the time you have to train together each week. Work hard for the other person so they work hard for you.


When you’re learning or perfecting a technique, you need to know that what you’re doing is effective. It doesn’t have to just look right, it has to work right. A good partner can not only provide instant feedback as to whether a technique worked or not, but they provide the initial stimulus as well. If I strike in to my opponent, the quality of my strike helps determine his response.

Talhoffer kamp0158_copy
(Remember not to get distracted during drills!)
Hans Talhoffer, 1459 (Ms.Thott.290.2º, 76v) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
We should always be controlled and safe, but we need to provide a threat to our training partner that needs a technically proficient response. Over the course of a class, people get tired and their technique suffers. Remember you’re only there for a few hours a week so train hard and help your partner get the maximum benefit out of the class.

Healthy competition

I got along very well with my old training partner, but I wanted to be better than him. It wasn’t personal, I just wanted to have the best technique in the class. There’s nothing that fires up your inner drive more than seeing people of your own level making great progress.

Leckuchner Munich Cgm_582_092r
(Don’t get cocky though – nobody likes a show off)
Johannes Leckuchner, Kunst des Messerfechtens, 1482 (Cgm 582 92r) [Bayerische Staatsbibliothek], CC-BY-NC-SA
But this isn’t something to be directed towards your training partner. We have to be realistic and we have to be relative. Your training partner might just be naturally bigger, stronger or faster. Their overall attributes might make them better at some techniques. Be competitive, but compete with yourself. Work to be better than you were last week and make that your goal every time you come to train.

Shared Success

I haven’t seen my old training partner in years but without him, I wouldn’t be half the martial artist I am today. I wouldn’t have had the reason or resolve to keep going to class each and every week. A club has to be more than just a classroom – it has to be fun too. Some of the people you meet through HEMA will become friends for years to come, but that doesn’t happen unless you’re helpful to train with. Your skill and attitude towards training is at least in part due to the skill and attitude of the people you train with.

Points to remember: 

Act like a whetstone for your partner. Your intention isn’t to damage them, or make them look bad. It’s to provide the conditions they need to improve.

Going forward, make it your mission to be the best training partner in the club.