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Martial Arts Training: Partner Up!


One of the main goals of martial arts training is of course learning an effective means of self-defense. Different systems take different approaches toward this end. For today’s discussion, I’m not going to get into the methodology of kicks versus punches versus grappling versus eye gouges, etc.

Rather, I will be focusing on how we practice self-defense techniques in American Kenpo, how similar approaches across different styles can prove beneficial, and one of the most important parts of getting the most out of your training.

For those unfamiliar, we have over 150 “techniques” in American Kenpo. Each of these is a pre-determined response to a variety of attacks. It’s important to understand that these are simply ideas of motion and not expected to be carried out perfectly in order in a real-life altercation. T

his is not unlike a boxing combination. A boxer will repeatedly practice a jab, cross, hook, uppercut combination. However, in the ring, if he starts the combo and the opponent moves in a way that stifles the combo, he adapts. This is the same for the Kenpoist as he formulates on the fly. If a secondary attack comes or the adversary is out of the expected position, the response to the attach morphs. Practicing techniques or combinations is not unique to Kenpoists or Boxers.

In TKD and Hapkido we have a series of punch, kick, and grab responses much like those done in Kenpo, only with stylistic considerations more fitting of their fighting philosophy. The same goes for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. At the begging of BJJ class, we drill “techniques” like armbars, chokes, or mount escapes and then put them into practice against non-complying partners in a live roll. The point is that we pretty much all practice some version of techniques, and there is a vital component that cannot be ignored.

That all important ingredient to effective training is a good partner! Now, I understand that there may be times when you are forced to study alone. There are even times where it can be ideal to supplement your class time with some solo work at home. In Kenpo we frequently work our techniques “in the air.”

This is similar to a boxer shadowboxing. We visualize the attack and respond with our technique against an imaginary assailant. This is an excellent way to get reps and ingrain the motion into our bodies, but it lacks in real-feel contact. It also doesn’t supply the unexpected responses and movements that a live partner will demonstrate. So, though training solo is helpful, it is only a part of the whole. And to get the whole experience, we need quality partners with which to share the mats.

I would even take this a step further and ask those of you that practice katas regularly, do you frequently envision the attacks you’re working against in your form? That’s the ideal way to perform katas. However, it often is bypassed as the body just moves to where it is “supposed to go.” That said, if you’re not already doing it, you can apply the same “technique approach” to your katas. Have partners step in with the attacks you’re defending against in your forms while working your way through each step.

Then return the favor and attack them appropriately as they practice their forms. When stepping in as a partner on this approach to katas or when simply practicing techniques, it’s vital to be a goodpartner. A good partner understands the different phases of learning and offers appropriate resistance and challenge dependent upon the phase in which they are in. For instance, if the technique is brand new to the practitioner, a partner is not helping by going 100 percent with their attack. Instead, they should go easy and slow, allowing their buddy to learn what they’re supposed to do and gradually increase speed and power.

This goes for standup as well as ground fighting techniques. On the flip side, if the attacking partner never works up to “realistic” attack power and speed, they are doing their friend a disservice. They will never understand what it takes to block a real attack if they aren’t challenged in class. This is where, as a partner, you must gauge those you’re working with and adjust your attacks from slow and easy up to safelyrealistic.

None of what has been discussed today is some sort of new earth-shattering revelation. It is, however, a good reminder of how to get the most out of our training. Whether it is typical technique training, rolling in grappling class, or finding function in your katas, working with great partners will undoubtedly boost your performance. You’ll see responses you hadn’t expected. You’ll feel resistance where you weren’t even aware it existed. And most importantly, you’ll walk away from training having learned something new and having helped your training partners do the same.

Salute, Ian Lauer

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