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.

Looking Back

It’s been an interesting past few years for the Group.  We’re growing as a club, branching out with our Instructors and all is generally good with the world.  We’re doing more research, planning more outreach, even writing bits and pieces (hence this blog!).

We’ll be posting more in the coming months and years with random thoughts on classes and training, technical articles on the detail in sources, maybe a few translations, general guidelines on training, and anything else that takes our fancy.  For the moment, though, this seems like a good point to look back at everything that’s slipped by in the past few years with only a few photos and comments on Facebook to show for it.  It’s felt busy enough that we reckon everything deserves a more permanent home.

Beginners longsword workshops at QCon 2013
Beginners longsword workshops at QCon 2013

In hindsight, 2013 is more or less where  the outreach part of the group started gathering a bit of momentum : we ran a series of booked-out beginners longsword workshops at Q-Con, putting the Mandela Hall in the Student’s Union to a use we’re pretty certain that it had never seen before.

Longsword demonstrations on Derry City Walls for European Heritage Open Days 2013
Longsword demonstrations on Derry City Walls for European Heritage Open Days 2013

Later that year, we had a repeat performance in much more scenic venue : demonstrations and taster classes on Derry City Walls, Playhouse Theatre, and at Dunluce Castle for European Heritage Open Days.  Unfortunately the winds along the north coast closed down Dunluce Castle for any taster classes, but we braved the elements for a while (because it’s a castle, and we had swords, and were there…).

Braving the gale force winds at Dunluce Castle!
Braving the gale force winds at Dunluce Castle!

That October saw some of us travelling to Dublin for a meeting of instructors and reps from the scattered HEMA community in Ireland, for what would become the inaugural HEMA Ireland meeting.  We all pondered long and hard over such important questions as ‘So, what will we actually call this?’, ‘I like the idea of coloured gambesons, what colour should they be?’, and ‘Is that your tea or mine?’.  Along the way HEMA Ireland also picked up a chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and health and safety officer.

Hallowe’en of 2013 had us out in the elements demonstrating more longsword (with a little bit of messer this time) at Carnfunnock Country Park.

The New Year rolled around, with the Group still growing, and in February some of the group ventured forth to HEMAC Glasgow, which turned out to be an exceptionally good event.  Particularly since the news that HEMA Ireland had officially been launched came in partway through the proceedings, possibly whilst everyone was in the process of a post-training drink.

Spring of 2014 saw a visit from Keith Farrell of the Academy of Historical Arts which resulted in a day of excellent longsword training focussing on the five key words of Liechtenauer’s longsword.  We were also joined at the event by various brave souls from other groups around Ireland that made the hideously early trek to get to Belfast in time for the training.

Spring 2014 Liechtenauer longsword workshop with Keith Farrel
Spring 2014 Liechtenauer longsword workshop with Keith Farrell


The Autumn brought two more events : more beginners workshops and an on-stage demonstration at the Game of Thrones themed convention TitanCon;

Beginners longsword workshops at TitanCon 2014
Beginners longsword workshops at TitanCon 2014

and the next weekend was then spent with a full six hours demonstrating, sparring, and entertaining the crowds at Culture Night in Belfast.  (Culture Night also marks the first time we had a professional photographer around to take some publicity photographs for the event!) We were quite hoarse by the end of the night from shouted explanations of what was going on, but the crowd enjoyed it every bit as much as we did, and as the night wore on and we started fencing by floodlight, the low light and need to rely on the feel of the blade in the bind more than sight resulted in some beautifully technical bladework from all concerned.

Culture Night 2014
Culture Night 2014

November saw the inaugural Féile na Gaiscígh event by HEMA Ireland, with workshops by instructors from clubs all over the island, and steel and nylon tournaments to boot.  Matt’s workshop on the German longsword led people down the path of working from the bind and reactions to pressure, whilst Ross gently introduced people to the fun of grappling and counters from Leckuchner’s messer.

All of which brings us quite neatly up to 2015…  So far we’ve had Francis pass his HEMA Ireland Instructor’s assessment and formally introduce unarmed ringen and dagger work into the class, which has become a regular part of class content.  We’ve also had the pleasure of demonstrating for the Borderlines XIX conference at Queen’s University here in Belfast.

Francis and Ross talking through the finer points(!) of dagger during the demonstration at Queens University Belfast.
Francis and Ross talking through the finer points(!) of dagger during the demonstration at Queens University Belfast.

It’s not often we get to demonstrate to a group of Medievalists, or bring a real sense of the academic challenges in HEMA interpretation to the fore, so it was enormous fun for us to be able to showcase problems with translations, physical interpretations, fuzzy descriptions from the manuscripts, and in a nice range of weapons from longsword, through messer,  to dagger, and with an incidental bit of montante thrown in during questions at the end.

This pretty much brings us up to date… Féile na Gaiscígh 2015 is looming, and we have a workshop to prepare and kit to assemble.  Other plans are looming on the horizon, and this next year or two promises to be just as eventful for the Group as those that have passed!