Partner work is an essential component of the martial arts, and you’ll always here your instructors say “be a good partner” but what does that mean? How do you become a good partner? Of course, there are many answers to that question. But in this post, we’ll focus on what I like to call your “training temperament”. There are three basic categories: hard, soft, and blendable. Generally, but not always, a student will progress from one type of partner to the next in that order. Each type marks an important step in your martial arts journey. So which category do you fit into? Should you make an effort to change?
A hard-training student is exactly what it sounds like; their training style is very much like a tiger. These are the students who eagerly await conditioning day, and give all their effort in sparring matches. Hard trainers tend to make very intense training partners, the kind where the energy is high and everyone gets a lot of quality work in. Training hard is excellent for getting your workout in and developing a little toughness. If this is your training style, be careful not to overdo it. The occasional bump or bruise is fine, but if you plan to train hard, be extra vigilant not to injure yourself or your partner. Also keep in mind that you’ll want a lot of different types of people to train with and a white belt soft style may very well develop into a hard bluebelt so take care not to overwhelm them until they’ve made it that far. In other words, consider taking it down a notch when you train with others that you sense are not naturally inclined to push as hard as you.
Soft-training students prefer lighter (or no) contact and a slower pace. In general, newer students tend to be soft-training while they get used to the physical aspect of the martial arts. These are the ones who keep a slow, methodical pace and keep all contact on the gentle side. These students tend to make very relaxed partners, providing a “break” while still getting practice in. Training soft is a good idea if you’re recovering from an injury or just not feeling your best. If this is your training style, remember to push yourself a little. An easygoing class is unlikely to boost your stamina or conditioning. One of the best natural motivators is partnering with a harder style student. They may seem overbearing but keep in mind that we’re all here to work together and help drive eachother forward in our goals.
Blendable students are the students who fall somewhere in the middle. They can enjoy (at least occasionally) training a bit harder, but they also know how to take it easy with some light partner work. The most defining characteristic of a blendable student is their ability to adjust to fit the partner they’re currently working with. This is the ultimate goal you should have for yourself in partner work. Does that mean you should put your needs as a martial artist on hold and only focus on your partner? No. Try to make sure that you work with a variety of partners to get a mix of hard, soft, and blendable students in order to round out your training. Being a blendable partner says a lot about where you’re at as a martial artist. In order to work with a hard-training student, you’ll want to push yourself to higher levels in stamina and toughness. And of course, once you’ve developed that hard training style, it takes control and discipline to train safely when necessary.
Now that you know a little more about the three categories, you have some questions to ask yourself. First, which category do you fit into? And would your training partners agree? Second, do you feel like your training style reflects where you are in your martial arts journey? If not, ask your sensei how to make the necessary adjustments to get you where you want to be.