Value of Martial Arts Friendships

I would like to discuss the “martial arts friendship”. We are all martial artists, and we all have friends, many even have martial arts friendships–but we do not always have a valuable one.

The martial arts friendship that I value are the ones where you and your friend benefit from the friendship as fighters. “As fighters” is the important factor here, as two buddies who name their kids after each other, attend each other’s weddings, train together, drink beer (or soda) together and watch football games do not necessarily benefit the martial artist in you.

I must say here, that I need to distinguish between a training partner and a martial arts friendship. A training partner is that, a martial artist with whom you practice your art regularly. You may or may not train rigorously. You may or may not be friends at the end of the session. Training partners often do not mix outside of the gym, and this is something that is important for my definition. In a friendship, you and your training partner are more intimately connected and politeness is not required. A training partner may be focused on simply developing his fighting skills and is not wholly concerned with yours, while in a martial arts friendship–your training partner is just as concerned about your skill as he is with his own. A training partner is not always a sparring partner. A training partner may not care to teach you much; remember, he is just training. I have had training partners from many different styles. Some of them were just for training, some were just for sparring. I had friends in other cities I traveled for the sole purpose of working out with these men, and they were usually not a martial arts friend,which in the Filipino martial arts we called a kumpadre. Not just a friend. Not just a training or sparring partner. Not a dojo brother.

Here are some of the characteristics of my definition of a kumpadre. This is based on what I have observed, lived and been taught. Your Guro’s definition may be different than mind:

  • They are more valuable when you and that friend do not agree on anything in the martial arts, rather than having like minds. When this happens, you two are constantly trying to outdo each other. You have an idea of what works best, he has his idea of what works best, and then you get together to test your theories. Regardless of who wins, you go back to your gyms and train some more–then get back together to prove your points again.
  • Since this person knows you outside of your martial arts relationship, he actually cares if you improve or not… and he doesn’t care if his negative opinion offends you. He is your friend, and like it or not–you’re stuck with him. He will always speak your mind. I once lost a fight that I swore I won. My kumpadre Terry Robinson explained to me later that yes, I got my ass whipped and he was emphatic about why I lost–and what I should have done to prevent it. We argued and he showed me in the inevitable match we had to prove his point. I was hot as a loser at the racetrack–and we are still friends to this day.
  • Even when they are in a competition with you, they will fight you like you were a nobody and laugh about it later. Regardless of who won. We all need friends like that.
  • This person knows you and your fighting style–your strengths, weaknesses and habits better than anyone else. What better person to go to the “drawing board” with? While you learn, they learn. Even better if they are the skeptical Eddies who make you fight tooth and nail to back up your opinion.
  • When you are weak, they will call you a “gatito” for quitting. And you won’t punch them in the mouth for it. 😉
  • With such a friend in the art, you will always have a reason to keep training.
  • They are especially valuable when they are your rivals. Even if one of you is better than the other, you are sizing yourself up to this person weekly. You don’t want to be outdone by him, but you also don’t want to see him get weak either. The better he gets, the better you get. I have long said that every fighter needs the friendship of another fighter with superior skills.
  • They don’t have to be from the same style. On the contrary, I believe that they should be from a different style or different gym. You will gain valuable experience by having a different point of view around, and since he is a friend he will be more likely to share than a guy from another gym who worries that he doesn’t want to share his teacher’s style.
  • Here is one fighter who won’t bad mouth you when you’re not around.
  • It doesn’t hurt to have his kids named after you and to grow up knowing you. Long years from now, when one of you is gone from the Earth, your children will have someone who can share stories about how great their father was as a martial artist and training/sparring partner. You never know how strong a friendship is until one of you dies. I have several.

So, in memory of my good friends Phil, Carl, Vince, Vernard, Bernard (who I actually teach his style to my favorite students and had the pleasure of teaching his son Bruce), and the others who will follow:  This article is dedicated to the true martial arts friendship. I am a warrior and the man I am today because of them. Thanks for visiting my blog.