Jiu Jitsu is fun, training it is fun, and (with a little practice) sparring is really fun.  It’s only natural that you want to share something that you enjoy so much with others, particularly if you are paired up with someone who has much less training experience than you.  You naturally to fall into the microcosm of ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ within your group, and if you are the ‘teacher’ of course you want to help out your partner as much as possible.

Now, if you’ve been training for a while you’ve probably had a few situations where you tried to show someone a move or detail (particularly someone who has never done Jiu Jitsu before), and they just didn’t get it.  No matter how many details and how carefully you tried to explain it, they just couldn’t understand what you wanted them to do, and frustration ensued on both sides.  Or, they got it but it seemed that they resented your advice for some reason.  Now you’ve realized that DOING something and TEACHING something are completely different animals, but you aren’t really sure what to do about it.

If you want to avoid this issue but still be helpful, here are a few ideas that will help in presenting what you know in a way that will facilitate the ‘information download’ if you end up being the ‘teacher’ in your group.

  1. Praise, praise, praise!
    • Don’t tell them what they are doing wrong, tell them what they are doing right! If all they hear are a series of No’s, with little or no affirmation, that’s going to create frustration and resentment real quick, and could eventually lead someone into believing that Jiu Jitsu’s simply not for them.  Even if it’s just a statement of something that they did followed by “Good” or “Yes”, it has a tremendous positive influence on the ego, and they are more likely to think ‘ok, this is tricky but I can get it’.  For example: “Head Control. Good”,  “Shrimp out. Yup.”, “Close guard.  Nice”.  You have to set the stage if you want to share the knowledge!
  2. Show, don’t tell.
    • If you did #1 well, then you are set for offering feedback and having it listened to when it’s time. But don’t use a whole bunch of words, just make the correction for your partner if they are having difficulty.  For example, your training partner uses a thumb full grip when it should be thumbless, and it’s their first day on the mat.  Don’t spend minutes discussing about how this grip vs that grip works and what they did wrong.  Just take your hand and move the thumb yourself- “Hold on a second, [moves partner’s thumb], thumbless grip here.  Very good! ”.  If they ask why, you can explain.  If not, just move on with the technique.
  3. Pick your battles.
    • If you do a good job of recognizing what your partner does well, then you can make the occasional adjustment to help them progress without creating friction. You certainly don’t want to let your partner drill fundamentally wrong technique- that’s being a bad training partner.  BUT- you can’t correct everything on every single rep.  If your partner is really struggling, focus on only the most fundamental aspects required to making the technique work, but also make sure that you are calling them out on all the good stuff as well.  At least two-to-one of praise vs. correction (more if it’s their first time with with technique).  This is THE most important thing you can do for your partner if you don’t want them to feel overwhelmed.  Don’t worry, they’ll eventually get the technique down, plus all the details, but Rome wasn’t built on the first rep.  Focus on fundamentals first, let the minutia slide for now.
  4. See how that feels.
    • This is another way to offer some advice covertly without creating friction in the group.  Simply make a suggestion and ask for THEIR feedback.  “How does that feel?”  It works particularly well if there’s not as much of a clear ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ dynamic in your group (i.e. maybe you both have the same rank, but you happen to know this technique better).  This can also be a good one to use if you haven’t given enough praise yet to warrant throwing in a correction or two.  For example, if you know the technique requires an overhook, but your partner keeps persisting with an underhook, suggest “Try it with an overhook this time and see how that feels.”  Or you can do it with the underhook (wrong way) and ask, “Does this feel different than the overhook?”  You aren’t making a correction if they discover the error and fix it themselves, so everybody wins.

Ok, cool- this sounds great for kids and whatnot, but adults too?  Yup!  It works for everybody, regardless of age.  And, it will help your partners appreciate that they can lean a lot not just from the instructor, but from their training partners as well.

It doesn’t take much practice before you get good enough at giving feedback that people will willingly accept it- even be eager to ask you for it, as long as you’ve laid the groundwork of positivity and helpfulness beforehand.  Making corrections in this way doesn’t only work for teaching BJJ, it’s great for everyday life as well.  How about trying to help your kid with his math homework?  Maybe teaching your partner how to change a flat tire?  Doing a pre-meeting PowerPoint review with your co-workers?…  You can break Jiu Jitsu into your everyday life!

So why go through all this in the first place, anyway?  Well, in a martial art with the highest attrition rate of all martial arts styles, it’s important to keep your training partners motivated and positive as they progress, or you quickly find yourself without many training partners.  It’s too easy for a lower belt to get discouraged and feel that BJJ isn’t for them if they get lots of abrupt corrections from all the upper belts without much encouragement along the way.

The ‘Hey, I went through it too, and nobody was nice to me when I came up’ routine just doesn’t fly anymore.  Everyone will start looking for an exit and move on to some other activity, when they could still be enjoying BJJ.  Nooo!!!…

I’m lucky that most of my students are very attentive and go out of their way to help each other AND also keep things positive along the way for others!  I see these tips being used almost every day in class and the resulting vibe is one of positive teamwork and cooperation.  And let’s be honest, jiu jitsu can be tricky enough to learn- but there’s no point in making it any harder than it has to be.

One thought on “4 Tips for being an Awesome Training Partner

  1. Awesome post, you really hit the nail on the head with the praise v correction section and I think that’s where most people go wrong, focusing on what they’re doing wrong as opposed to what they’re doing right!


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