How to level up by being a good partner…

I’ve recently started a new martial art and I’m really enjoying being the ‘new guy, again. BJJ (Brazilian jiujutsu) is unlike any martial art I’ve done before because it doesn’t involve striking. It can make for some very frustrating situations where I end up thinking, “yeah, nah. I’d just punch him in the junk, I reckon.”

As this is something I want to “git gud” at quickly, I find that I’m doing what I’ve always done when I start a new martial art: walking up to the instructor during the sparring portion of the class and asking, “are you on the menu?” I don’t do this because I reckon I can take them. Good Lord, no! I do it because I want to see how it’s supposed to be done at the highest level and I learn more from an arse kicking than I do just thrashing my opponent. The first time I fought my HEMA mentor, Marco. I was disarmed and left almost weeping from the pain in my right hand which had only come out of a cast a week or so before. It was great because I knew that this school was legit and Marco was the teacher for me.

Now don’t get me wrong, you should fight new people too to keep you honest, because they are going to throw some weird shit at you and it’s good to learn to defend it. You might also find that the purple belts and above want to spar with each other and don’t have time for a lowly white belt like you and so your only choice is to fight other white belts.

There are some people who could be called “white belt hunters” and they are just looking to dominate for a couple of hours before heading home. Fair enough, I guess. We all need to feel like a titan from time to time, but I think that the ego is overriding the desire to improve there and that’s what leads me to write this article.

Being a teacher, I get tremendous joy out of seeing people succeed when trying out techniques. When I’m sparring with whom I’m far larger and stronger, I could just spend the whole time bearing my weight down on them and not giving them an inch, sure. A new person in HEMA with come experience in kendo could spend their whole time wailing on an opponent with a longsword, but what they get out of it services only the ego of that individual.

The trap people fall into is that they think about winning and winning only and so sparring becomes a very binary experience. If you know you can land a strike or hit a technique on your partner, whether you are new to a martial art or if you’ve been doing it for a while, then try seeing what happens if you expose yourself to potential loss, fall into the traps they lay and see if you can escape. If you can, tell them how.

If you can help them to tighten these things up, then they will improve. The more they improve, the better the opponents they become, the more challenge you will receive and the more you will level up in turn. This cannot happen if they don’t know what they are doing wrong and they are simply being exploited. Be encouraging and offer advice on a particular technique.

Obviously, there is a time and a place for this. Don’t be that person who offers unsolicited advice and maybe hold off on giving advice to people over the internet. (yes, the irony that I’m giving you advice over the internet here is not lost on me. But, hey, you came to me!) There is also such a thing as TOO much information. Help your partner by giving them one thing to tighten up, more than that and they will just be overwhelmed.

Better partners make us better fighters.

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