I recently received a visit from an old friend I hadn’t seen in almost ten years. He was a training partner/sparring partner, and very good fighter. We use to get together once a week for sparring, and sometimes the sessions became a trading session–where we taught each other the systems we come from–and sometimes we simply worked independantly on the heavy bag or held the pads for each other.
In the last ten years, he and I both went from looking young for our age to him graying and me losing my hair. We laugh because neither of us is from Sacramento and we were fighting teachers (most teachers in Sacramento do not fight) and now, in our 40s, we both are shadows of who we once were and want to return to the ring. Jermaine, who is a descendant of John Keehan (yes, that Keehan), is preparing for a cage match while I am on a running regimen to fight in point fighting matches. We committed to working out once a week and sparring at least once a week.
I thought back to our sessions ten years ago and remembered the competition between us. We were both over 30 but still looked in our 20s. We were both still competing. We both had our own “groupies” who thought of us as the top dog in town. And when we first met, were constantly trying to outdo each other. The competition between us when we were younger was almost hostile, although we became friends because of it. When he fights in March, I will be in his corner, but before then I will do my best to kick his ass every opportunity I get.
Ah, the true martial arts training partner!
Let me give you the Filipino idea of a training partner.
In the Philippine fighting arts you will find many masters who referred to each other as a “training partner”, but it is not a partner in the way many of you think. Filipino teacher-fighters are very selfish with their systems and knowledge. When they train, they actually prefer to train alone, and the offer to “train together” is a coded way of saying “I want to see if I can whip you, and I also want to see what you do when you train.” LOL–yes, I am laughing as I type, because I am guilty of that even now. Jay spent a good portion of the last decade in Yemen, where he taught a private group of family members–mostly for fitness, but he had plenty of time to develop and modify his art. What he didn’t have was a guy like me, who would do my best to make him leave the dojo with three shoes–two on his feet, one in his ass–to see if his self-development has been in vain. It is very likely that your Masters and Grandmasters were like this as young men… They came up with an idea, they trained like a madman to see that idea manifest itself into physical skill, then they get with their “training partner” to see if they could beat him with it. The training partner, on the other hand, was there to try and decode it in the course of the match as well as beat it with his own technique.
And there you have the ongoing cycle of the martial arts friendship: Two guys getting together, not so much to share as they endeavor to use each other’s skill to fine tune their own skill. Sometimes, they would actually share knowledge. Most of the time, they do not. But do not be discouraged by the refusal to share, as training partners are working individually to develop their own systems and really are helping the other develop his own style by being a rival. For the fighter must find the hardest stone to sharpen his blade, and someone softer will not afford him that opportunity to temper his skills. The better the skill of the partner, the harder you must work to beat him, and the better your own skill will be. On the other hand, a training partner who is too easy on you, too friendly, or too complimenting to is not going to do much to force you to work harder. This is very different from a workout partner who is simply trying to get you to push out a few extra reps; we are talking about a guy who is actively trying to outdo you, prove you wrong, and beat you. Few martial artists will actually do this and remain your friend. He isn’t trying to hurt you, but he isn’t going to make it easy for you either. He has a genuine interest in defeating you, and every victory you got while sparring with him is bitterly earned. He is a rare find; most martial artists are either too selfish, too shy, or too afraid to maintain a relationship like this.
As a martial artist, you would want to find and keep these types of training partners. These aren’t men you are trying to learn from, they are men you are trying to learn on. And this type of learning is difficult to come by.
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