Everyone’s familiar with the ‘gym buddy’ concept. We both want to get into better shape, so why don’t we work out together? And the thing is, there’s a reason it’s such a popular concept. It works. And it’s not really about what the gym buddy does while you’re working out. Sure, having a spot while you lift heavy weights is helpful, but is it possible to get through an entire gym session on your own? Absolutely. The real contribution a gym buddy makes comes from just being there. Put simply, it helps with your motivation.

Think about it. You wake up one day, and you don’t feel like going to the gym. If you’re used to going by yourself, you hit ‘snooze’ on your alarm clock and go back to bed. But if you have someone waiting for you, things are different. You’re not just canceling your workout now; you’re canceling theirs, too. And that’s a lot harder. So now you’re at the gym, and you’re still not excited to work out, but your buddy’s pumped. They’re doing their workout with so much energy that it actually starts to rub off on you, and before you know it, you’re pushing yourself more than you would have if it had just been you by yourself. That’s the magic behind a gym buddy, and that’s what makes it such a popular idea. But as nice as that support system can be, it’s 100% possible to do your own thing at the gym and get in shape all by yourself. It happens all the time. And here’s where martial arts and the gym are completely different: you cannot get through your martial arts training without involving other people. Think about it; even if you could manufacture that gym buddy atmosphere all by yourself, martial arts comes to a grinding halt if you don’t have help when practicing your techniques.

The entire point of self-defense is that there’s another person in the mix, so it doesn’t make sense to take that person out of the equation while you’re practicing. That hook punch defense gets a lot harder to practice when you don’t have anyone to throw it at you. A lot of our defensive techniques only make sense after you’ve practiced it on an actual person and get a chance to see how the body responds to it. And of course, when your training partners are that necessary, it only amplifies that culture of support that’s made gym buddy culture thrive. The longer you train, the deeper the bonds with fellow students become. That’s why you hear the term ‘karate family’ so often; no matter what’s going on in your personal life, you can always count on the dojo to be there for you. Take the kids’ class, for example, where some of those kids have put in five or more years of training with us. For these kids, that translates to half their lives that they’ve spent coming to the dojo multiple times a week to put in the work, sweat and tears. And most importantly, they’ve been doing it with more or less the same people all this time. That’s how positive peer pressure starts to develop. John doesn’t feel like coming to class one night, but he does anyway, just because he knows his friends will be there. Sarah doesn’t want to practice, until she sees others in her class moving up the ranks faster than her and realizes how important it is. The bonds that form inside the group classes are powerful things; they keep everyone connected and coming to class, and they keep the energy level high. Because that’s half the point of the workout partner, right? All it takes is one person to raise the energy level for the entire class. How does that work? Well, let’s say Luke’s having a lazy day. He doesn’t feel like working out, so he’s putting in the least amount of effort possible. But then comes Alex, who’s just on fire today, pushing through all the warm ups and drills with energy and enthusiasm. Alex’s attitude becomes infectious. Before he knows it, Luke is pushing himself harder to be more on Alex’s level. Rachel sees how well they’re doing, and even though she was doing pretty well up until then, the spirit of competition kicks in, and now she pushes herself even more than she was before. By the end of class, just because Alex came to class ready to work hard, the entire class has had a better experience. That’s positive peer pressure in action.

The easiest way to get friends at the dojo is to bring them with you. Invite a friend or acquaintance to come to class with you. Having an already familiar face around the dojo will help both of you stick with your training, and you’ll have someone to practice with at home. Climbing the ranks with someone not only enhances your martial arts training, but also strengthens your relationship with your friend or family member. That’s why our recommendation is to bring a guest early in your training, that way you can discover the ins and outs of martial arts together. Obviously bringing a friend in to train with you just as great an idea when you’re a green belt as it is when you’re an orange belt, but the dynamics shift a little when you get into the higher ranks. Friends and coworkers are more hesitant to participate when they can see that there’s a gap between your skill level and theirs, especially if you’re used to being on equal footing outside of the dojo. The more benefits of martial arts you start to see in your life, the more you’ll want to share it with friends, family, and really anyone in your life.

We get asked all the time, “If it’s a ‘personal training session,’ why are there multiple people? The short answer is that we weren’t kidding about really, really needing a partner to do martial arts in any meaningful way. That’s why we make sure that each private lesson slot has 1-4 students scheduled per instructor. Now, most people think that the ideal is having just one student scheduled. Actually, the goal is to have four. Why? Well, let’s look at things from a scheduling point of view. If we have one person signed up for that time slot, we know right up front that that person isn’t going to get to do any partner work. Which means that their skill level is never going to go past a certain point. So we schedule two people in that time slot, which means they both have a partner to practice on. But what happens when one of those two needs to reschedule their lesson, or move their lesson time altogether? The other person is back to square one. So, what if we assign three people to that time slot? Chances are, at least two of the three will show up on any given day, which means that any student in that slot will have one or two partners to practice on. Which makes three people the ideal number, right? Not so much, because the real magic doesn’t start until there are four people in a private lesson. Firstly, that guarantees that there’s always more than one person in the lesson. But more than that, let’s assume that all four show up consistently. That means that there are always two sets of partners, which means no one is left standing around. While one set of partners is learning something new, the other set is practicing their material. Then they switch. This gets students in the rhythm of learn, practice, learn, practice.

A lot of martial arts is based on individual achievement. You earn your rank through your own skill, not someone else’s. You ultimately decide whether you’re going to put in the time and effort of practicing at home and pushing yourself in class. But no one can do their martial arts journey alone. When you practice alone,whether it’s forms or strikes in the air, a smart martial artist draws on their partner work experience. As the saying goes, “Steel sharpens on steel and man sharpens on man.” If you truly want to improve your skill in the martial arts, you need to learn how to use every tool at your disposal— including those around you.