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Martial Arts Partner Training for Strikers

Martial Arts Partner Training

As a striking coach, I try to make sure my fighters have the best and most efficient training possible. As such, I’ve designed a martial arts training routine to emphasize skills that are immediately practical.

If you have access to a training partner, you shouldn’t be taking turns holding pads for each other and power-kicking them. That should be saved for bag sessions, work with an experienced pad holder or a muay Thai class in which you are required to do so.

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Instead, you should focus on reliable martial arts partner training drills with skills that translate practically to fighting. This partner-training routine is for anyone who practices a form of full-contact kick fighting, be it kickboxing, muay Thai, MMA, sanda, sambo or any other style I might have missed.

Required Gear

Each person will need training clothes, a jump rope, hand wraps, boxing gloves and shin guards. Aside from that, no special equipment is needed.

The drills will reference a ring or cage, but it is not required.


Skipping rope: 90 seconds on, 90 seconds off. Repeat three times.

One partner skips while the other keeps time. Then immediately swap. Do not share the rope.

Building Block Drills

After the warm-up, it’s time to get familiar with your arsenal. These drills will see you throw a certain technique to your partner and the partner respond in kind. They are simple drills that should be done with medium contact. There should be impact but not enough to cause serious pain.

For each technique, you will throw it and your partner will respond with an appropriate defense — it might be a block or head movement. Then the partner will throw the technique back at you, and you will have to defend. Perform each drill for one minute. You can throw the technique to the head, body or legs regardless if it’s a punch or kick; just discuss beforehand what techniques are appropriate. Not everyone wants to risk high kicks.

Drill 1: Jab, straight

Drill 2: Jab, straight, rear kick

Drill 3: Jab followed by any kick

Drill 4: Jab, straight, followed by any two kicks

Drill 5: Jab, straight, any two kicks, lead hook, rear straight


Drill 6: jab, straight, lead hook, any kick

Drill 7: jab, straight, two lead hooks, any kick

Drill 8: jab, lead hook, straight, rear kick

Drill 9: jab, lead hook, straight, any two kicks

Drill 10: jab, lead hook, straight, any two kicks, straight

These drills will develop your coordination for boxing combinations and get you to make proper use of your lead hand while building your ability to throw hooks off the jab. They also will build your fluidity between kicks and punches.

The drills in which you can perform any two kicks will build your confidence and help you find your favorite techniques.

Creativity Drills

The answer to the age-old question Can creativity be taught? is yes. This series of drills has a simple goal: to help you find your own style and your favored techniques and teach you how to pair them together.

The series allows you to teach yourself something that no teacher can: the approach to martial arts that works for you. You and your partner will attack and defend using 50-percent power the same way you did in the previous series. Do each drill for one minute.

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Drill 1: any three punches

Drill 2: any four punches

Drill 3: any two kicks

Drill 4: any three kicks

Drill 5: any combination of punches and kicks

Drilled Sparring Portion

You and your partner will practice the basics together — from stance and footwork to striking and defending. This should be done over the course of five three-minute rounds. The point is to create an environment in which you are almost light-sparring but with a level of control and structure that might not be possible with true sparring.

Round 1: Stance and Footwork

You and your partner will face each other as though sparring. Your partner will start on the defensive movements. He is able to move back, left and right or pivot to escape you, but he cannot move forward. Your job is to attempt to trap him in the ring, cage or mat you’re training on. If your partner moves to his left, you must move to your right, cutting off the ring. If he moves to the right, you move to your left.

If he moves backward, you should move forward to take his place, and after he takes his first step backward, he should pivot out to his left or right, which will leave you facing the empty space he just left. Then you turn to face him and continue.

There is no order to which you have to do these movements, but you should do them for the first 90 seconds of the round, then swap.

This simple drill will teach you good defensive footwork and good ring-cutting ability because you are allowed to use only footwork. You must rely on nothing but positioning to keep yourself safe and to keep your opponent where you want him to be.

If you get your opponent to the ropes or cage, you should tie him up with a clinch, reset to the middle

of the ring and start again.

Round 2: Jabs and Front Kicks

Regardless of whether you use front kicks or teeps, this round will focus on using all the techniques you used before while implementing linear strikes. You won’t throw rear straights in this drill because the goal is not to encourage combination striking before proper distance management has been found.

You are allowed to do everything from the previous round. The only difference is you will now take turns throwing a jab, double jab, triple jab, or lead or rear front kick/teep. Your partner will have to defend against the techniques, but you should not tell him what you are going to do.

You only use 50-percent power, enough where a failed block would have sufficient impact to teach your partner a lesson but not enough to give him a black eye or a bloody nose. Your partner’s responsibility is to defend against the technique and then respond with a technique of his own from the list laid out above. You will then have to defend against what your partner throws.

Remember that as you do this, you should not fall into the habit of standing still and trading techniques. You need to be moving — exactly like you did during the footwork round. You can defend yourself by blocking, catching, using head movement or pivoting away but don’t step back to avoid the attack because this can become a crutch that will cause you trouble later down the line.

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Round 3: Boxing and Front Kicks

This round is simple. You do exactly as you did before, but you are now able to throw any type of punch. Be sure to keep contact to the head light, but you can dig the body a little harder.

You can throw any combination of up to four punches but no more than that because it is easy for a less-experienced partner to get overwhelmed if you have a never-ending string of punches that cannot all be blocked. Once your combination is done, your partner responds. Remember to maintain footwork and distance.

Round 4: Kickboxing

Now you can throw round kicks, side kicks or any other kick you know. The reason you have to wait until the fourth round is the first three rounds were all about finding your range. Now you’re free to experiment with all the kicks in your arsenal.

Round 5: Free-Form Drilling

You can start bringing in more specific techniques — for example, if you do muay Thai, this is when you can start throwing knee strikes and elbows (with safety precautions). If you do MMA or san da, you can start working in takedowns.

Now that you have found your range and are learning to use all your strikes while controlling distance, you can use tricker, sport-specific techniques.

Cool Down

After your final round, it’s time to cool down. Use this time to improve your flexibility. Start in a sumo squat or horse stance, then do the Cossack squat on your way down into a low stretch for about 30 seconds.

From there, you and your partner should face each other, link hands and slowly lower as far as you can safely go into the splits while using each other for support. If one of you is able to get farther down than the other, carefully let go. Hold your lowest safe stretch for 30 seconds.

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From there, one person should lie down and the other can assist with leg flexibility by pushing the partner’s straight leg up to his head. Be sure to communicate to make sure no injuries occur.

This routine features a total 30 minutes of drilling and should take about 45 minutes to complete. Now it’s time to work on strength and conditioning — or anything else you might want to try.

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