Cacoy Doce Pares / CTS / Martial Arts

How to Be a Good Training Partner

When we start that journey into the martial arts, it’s a decision that we make alone. As we start down that road, we pick up friends along the way. We find community, and in that community, we have a responsibility to those we train with to improve our skills and to help them improve theirs.

Joel Daugherty and Josh Ryer Playing Espada Y Daga

Joel Daugherty is playing Espada Y Daga for his second degree black belt test. He is assisted by Josh Ryer.

In Counterpoint Tactical Systems (CTS), it is impossible to perfect our art without training partners. They are our allies on our journey. In order to be the best ally that we can be, some of the advanced CTS practitioners have provided these thoughts on how to be a good partner.  Josh Ryer of Ryer Martial Arts Academy says “…there is a process to learning and becoming successful with a technique. You could practice in the air, but truly applying a technique takes having a training partner and this partner could make or break your success at properly learning the technique.” We depend on these allies, and our training partners are depending on us as well.

Russ Haas of the East Coast School of Self Defense defines this dependence: “In CTS the open motor training model (use of progressive resistance of a partner) allows students to develop faster. A good training partner will feel the student’s ability to progress in speed and complexity of a given attribute or skill set.” Under this training methodology, the partner is essential in developing our skills sets. Solo training is important because it develops muscle memory and physical coordination, but without partner work, attributes like timing and distance perception are difficult to attain. “A good training partner communicates intent and appropriate level of pressure/resistance,” says Mike Miller of Springfield FMA. This means that our partner helps explore the why of the drill/technique/sparring that is being learned. The level of resistance of our partner is like the difficulty setting on a video game. If it is too high, the game is frustrating. If it is too low, the game is boring. So, a good training partner adjusts to provide the optimum level of resistance. A good training partner strives to be challenging without being overwhelming. We work together cooperatively to increase our skills, and cooperation is truly the important factor. It must be a joint venture between the two students. CR Munhall of Atlanta Martial Arts Club warns, “If you are ‘that guy,’ if you strive to dominate and not educate your partner, then you will lose out. It is hard to keep people around if you constantly kill their confidence or injure them.”

Master Zach Whitson is providing instructions during the test. He is assisted by Kevin Wagner.

Master Zach Whitson is providing instructions during the test. He is assisted by Kevin Wagner.

We rely on our training partners to push us, but the learning isn’t one sided. For Kevin Wagner, head instructor at Gem City Martial Arts, this means that “Whenever I train with someone, I expect to work my skills, but I also expect my partner to work his. That means showing me my weaknesses.” Both sides are increasing their skills and improving their limitations. In order to improve and understand our weaknesses, we rely on our partners pointing them out by an honest critique or by the successful execution of their own techniques. Mike Miller believes “A great training partner will become adept at training you by knowing your strengths and weaknesses. They’ll expose those weaknesses so you can train through them instead of letting you only practice and experience your successes.” The great training partner pushes us out of our comfort zone instead of just reinforcing our strengths.


Russ Haas and Kevin Wagner playing Espada Y Daga for their second degree black belt test.

Russ Haas and Kevin Wagner playing Espada Y Daga for their second degree black belt test.

Russ Haas encourages students “…to train with as many different people as we can (in each class and in general) so we can get different feeling in the same drills/ exercises/ skill sets.” Diversity in training prepares students as much as possible for the unknown. Being a good training partner means looking for opportunities to improve. It means recognizing that each person does things in ways that might be unfamiliar. We want to work with everyone without consideration of their skills. Kevin Wagner reminds us, “It’s a partnership, and regardless of whatever gap in rank [or skill] between the two may be, you will always find yourself learning something valuable that will help you grow.” With some students, we are being led, and with others, we are leading them, but we are always learning.

Being a training partner is an act of learning, instruction, and cooperation all at once. Josh Ryer uses this specific example: “I’m reminded of pad work for Panatukan… many times students line up in front of each other and just hold both pads up mindless and expect the ‘puncher’ to just go. What the pad holder doesn’t realize is that they are the most important factor in the success of the pad work, placing the pads in a realistic position, knowing the pattern before the puncher does, and really being engaged in the work. It’s a two-way street and the success of the training is dependent upon both you and your training partner to get the most out of the work.” We strive to help each other, and we gain as the skills of those around us increase. To be a good training partner, be in the moment, be communicative, recognize when a technique has been successfully used, and provide honest feedback to the person you’re working with. Be as good a training partner as you wish you had. At the very least, as C.R. Munhall and the Atlanta guys say, “Don’t be that guy.”

2012 Iron Mountain Camp

2012 Iron Mountain Camp


I would like to thank Josh Ryer, Kevin Wagner, Russ Haas, CR Munhall, and Mike Miller for their help with this article. Please, visit their pages and see the exciting ways they are promoting the Filipino Martial Arts and Counterpoint Tactical Systems.


4 thoughts on “How to Be a Good Training Partner

  1. Great article! I want to comment on the subject of having a partner.
    I am a beginner with the martial arts ( Pangasinan Arnis ) under Guro Jim Hogue.
    I totally agree that a training partner is a must if one wants to develop his skill level to the point of where it should be! it’s very hard, to say the least, to get the feel of how to execute a technique without a partner.
    When I wanted to learn ballroom dancing I didn’t have a partner, and when I mentioned this to the manager of the prospective school, I was always told
    that I didn’t need a partner and at their Friday night school socials, that there would be plenty of people willing to dance with me.
    I am using a man’s perspective for this example. You can’t get the feel on how to lead woman properly, or how to move her on a cross body lead, so on, and so on! Also, everybody has a different body type, short, tall, etc,etc, so you are not going to get the same feel with everyone.
    You have to learn how to FEEL to make the proper adjustments, and you can’t do that by practicing by yourself!
    I would like to add, that as a beginner, a few of the ladies along with the instructor will dance with you but a few times. The instructor would have to share herself with her other students,and the other ladies would rather dance with an experienced dancer.
    If you are wondering what has dancing have to do with the martial arts? It does relate very closely. Many beginners, including myself find it hard to find a martial arts practitioner available to work with outside the class and development comes very slowly.
    Unfortunately, some instructors fail to recognize this reality, not just for the beginner but also for the experienced practitioner. In some cases the instructor will lose his patience with his student, through no fault of his own, for not being up to par with a technique that requires a partner.
    I have been there, so if you have a partner, treat him as GOLD! A good training partner is PRICELESS!
    By the way I did find a dance partner, and what a difference the dance world became!

    • I agree that martial arts and dancing have a lot in common. I like Latin dancing myself, and there’s timing, proper body control, creativity and working with a partner. Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing this comment. Good luck in your own study of Pangasinan Arnis. Stop by sometime and let us know how it’s going!

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