117) The Importance of a Good Training Partner: May 2014

The lack of competition in traditional Aikido training is both a curse and blessing.  The degree to which your training becomes a curse or a blessing has a lot to do with your training partner.  The nage and uke have a tremendous amount of responsibility in fostering a training relationship that is not collusive, not combative, and always resting on the fine edge of success and failure for the nage.  If you are not secure enough in yourself, you will easily fall into a training pattern in which you can work with overly collusive partners, or people whom you can easily manhandle.  It is very, very hard to find really good training partners whom you can develop a safe pattern of pushing each other’s training so that both people improve.  I will talk about what I believe are the necessary characteristics that I find crucial in an excellent training partner.

Honesty/Integrity:  The starting point of all good training is that you are at the dojo so that you and your training partners can improve.  If you are the uke, you need to be able to tailor your attack to the level of your partner.  If your attack is so far beyond the ability your partner to handle, what positive gains do you think that your partner is capable of making?  If you attack is pathetic, what do you think your partner is capable of learning?    Your attack needs to be an honest attack that is honed to help your partner learn and get better.  The nage needs to be able to perform to the best of his/her ability.  What do you expect to gain if you try and compensate for your problems with speed, muscle strength, etc.?  What do you expect to gain if you thrash your uke so hard that the uke is almost injured, or is injured?  Your technique needs to reflect accurately where your mistakes are and where your successes are.  You need to be honest with yourself and address all areas accordingly.

Effective Communication Skills:  A conflict is a form of an interpersonal relationship.  Effective communication during a conflict is more important than effective communication when there is no conflict.

I once attending a seminar in another art that was being taught by a highly respected martial artist.  I was working with a female Aikidoka and she was in the role as nage.  She was essentially clueless in what she was trying to do.  She was clearly struggling and frustrated, with no chance in hell of making that particular technique work without me “tanking” for her (something that I do not do).  I spoke directly to her, providing her with my feedback as to what I was experiencing and made a suggestion as to what she might try to help make things work.  Her frustration boiled over and she told me to “shush” tapping me in the mouth with her hand.  Her impulsive lack of control was clearly inappropriate.  She taught classes at another dojo, leading me to quickly summarize that she was a poor example of a teacher.  I simply stayed quiet and she remained clueless and unable to perform the technique.  That was the last time that I worked with her for the weekend.  That was also the last time that I would ever work with her again.  My training time is too valuable to waste on people like that.

You need to be able to use verbal and non-verbal communication skills with your partner so that each of you knows exactly what is going on, what is working, what is not working, and more importantly how can each of you work better together to improve together.  If one person is frustrated and refuses any and all help, that person is better off stepping off the training area and get back into a space that enables that person to work and communicate effectively with partner.  This continuous feedback loop helps both the nage and uke develop an increased sensitivity to another person, while helping to develop more effective communication skills.  These are critical areas in developing any kind of real fighting abilities.

Positive Attitude:  Training should be a hard process in order to genuinely make real gains.  Nobody wants to continually train with an angry, frustrated, or depressed person.  The dojo is no substitute for real care that is needed to address those kinds of issues.  It is simply unfair to the other people in the dojo to act our your issues with others and make the entire training atmosphere a continually negative experience.  You should work very hard at leaving the bad parts of your day outside before entering the dojo training space.  Training should be an overall enjoyable experience.  You might work very hard, not achieve what you want to accomplish in a class, yet you should feel positive about that time spend working on areas that need improvement.  A smiling, empathic partner is worth their weight in platinum!  I love to train in a place with the jokes are endless and the camaraderie is a major factor that makes me want to always train there.

I want people to reflect seriously on this subject matter.  You will not realize how important that is until that experience is taken away from you, or you experience this type of training environment for the first time.  This month’s blog is dedicated to my dear friend Arkady Shenker.  He passed away this April, less than a week away from his 50th birthday.  He was one of my most treasured training partners and a very good friend to my wife and I.  He embodied the very best of what I talked about in this blog.  Whenever I train, his spirit trains with me.

Train hard, smart and safe!

Marc Abrams Sensei

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