We hear the phrase all the time, but what does it actually mean? Conflicting remarks are said when it comes to sparring and rolling, and what one should do and why they should do it. Some people are in favor of going hard and fast, believing that iron sharpens iron, being fed to the lions, etc. Others have a calmer demeanor when it comes to sparring and rolling and say that one should never push their training partner past their physical limit in fear that it might lead to injury.
There are also people who think there is a happy medium where you can train hard while not training so hard that you hurt your training partner. But what do you do when you are much better, or much stronger? Or maybe your partner is better than you but YOU are stronger? Do you go all out? Or the other side of the same coin, do you “go light?” What do you do!? My answer? “You train WITH your Partner not ON Your Partner.”
Let me put it this way: I want to be the person who everyone wants to roll with, who everyone wants to spar with; and so should you! Not the person people cower away from when asked if they want to spar or roll. Or the person everyone is saying “I went with so-and-so yesterday and they completely killed me.” Translation: “I am not looking forward to training with them again but I will to show my true grit.”
Personally, I want to be able to roll with a Heavy Weight 10x Black Belt World Champ and have them say to themselves “that was fun, can’t wait to roll with him again!” while at the same time be able to roll with the smaller, older-than-me non-competitive blue belt or spar with a brand new student and have them say “wow, that was a lot of fun! Let’s go again!” This would mean being able to dial up or dial down my intensity to match my training partner’s physical and technical attributes. If everyone does this, we ALL win! “Train WITH your Partner not ON Your Partner.”
Some people say, “But competitive fighters need to be pushed, so why would they waste their time with some non-competitive student who isn’t as good/strong/big as them?” “Why ‘go light’ when in competition we go as hard as possible?” Opposing opinions will say, “Do you get paid to go hard in the gym? Do you like getting knocked out in training? Then why not save the big blows for when you are actually getting paid!?” For grappling, “Why push your joints to the breaking point just to see if you could get out of the submission rather than tapping? Do you like going to the hospital?!” Sure it would be great to be able to train with people our exact level and size all the time but that is just not how most gyms work.
The truth is, “rank” or “experience” often blinds people into thinking they are better in some way than someone else or someone else is better than them. “This guy just started, there is no way he is going to get the better of me.” In comes our good old friend “The Ego.” People don’t want to admit someone else is better than them or that they “caught” them in a submission/hit them in sparring, especially if they are outranked. “Oh I was going light . . . (or insert endless excuses here).” Well for those of you who are ready to be honest and admit when you get caught even if it is by someone lower ranked or less experienced than you, I’ve got the last excuse you will ever have to use, and it is an honest one. ATTRIBUTES! If you keep in mind the Attribute Equation you will always be honest in your training. What is the Attribute Equation? Easy, acknowledging all of the physical and technical attributes that go into you and your training partner. “Hey listen, I’m a 110 pound female. Most men, if they went 100% against me, have the physical attributes to beat me.” “I’m a 365 pound male. If I used my weight and strength against everyone, people would hate me and I wouldn’t have any training partners.” Let’s take those two examples and pin them against each other but add technical ability into the mix for fun.
Let’s say there is a lightweight female black belt, for example, going against a heavyweight male purple belt or any other variation of such a dichotomy for that matter. Should the heavyweight male go harder in hopes of nullifying the technical abilities of the female black belt? Should they expect the black belt to be able to deal with their weight and strength advantage? Moreover, should the black belt assume that their technique will always get them through tough rolls with people who possess more physical attributes than them? My answer? “Train WITH your Partner not ON Your Partner.”
Be honest with your own physical and technical attributes and have your training partner do the same! I for instance am a 6’1”, 185 pound male. If I go with a 110 pound female, I am going to acknowledge the fact that I can hit harder in sparring and am stronger while rolling. What should I do in this situation? Dial back my physical attributes to the point where the playing field is even and work my technical game, without making it blatantly obvious. Is there a chance I am going to get hit/submitted by doing this? Yes. Is that okay? Yes. If you go 100% and always try to “win” without thinking about your training partner’s specific goals or physical/technical attributes, you will soon find yourself with a very small group of people, maybe even nobody that will want to train with you. Everyone will be hurt or simply avoid you so they don’t get hurt. This is especially true when rank comes into play. This leads us to our final points. I caution you to avoid “Upper Belt Syndrome.” You know, when you think that just because you are an upper belt that a lower belt isn’t going to tap you, or, the other way around. Or, you think that just because they are a higher belt than you that you can go 100% and try and kill them. Regardless of their physical attributes like size, age, etc.
Remember, the belt is often a blinder to people who don’t want to admit the truth when it comes to physical attributes. Treat the 65 year old brown belt the same way you would treat a 65 year old blue belt with the same attributes. Sure they have more knowledge but that doesn’t give you the right to try and kill them, even if they have a higher belt. 97-years-old-blue-beltI’ll leave you with this: be honest with yourself and the training partner you have in front of you. Don’t let the belt/experience level intimidate you into thinking you or your partner is “better.” Don’t ignore the Attribute Equation. Instead, look at the person you have in front of you. Are they smaller than you? Okay then, don’t use all your strength. Are they older than you? Okay, be aware that they might not be as flexible and limber as someone younger. Are they a lot bigger than you? Okay, maybe don’t use all your speed. However, do look forward to the times when technical and physical attributes align. It leads to extremely exciting rolls and sparring sessions! Look forward to training with people who are not in your “division” but also look forward to training with people who are! Lastly, if you find yourself on the other end of the rope and someone is going too fast or too hard, etc., and you are worried about your physical safety you should never, EVER feel embarrassed or think it is not okay to tell them to slow/calm down. Albeit this can feel a little humiliating, especially if you are the upper belt asking the lower belt to chill out. If someone tells YOU to chill out/slow down/go lighter, don’t be offended or think less of them.
Also, don’t think that it means you are the almighty and have just dominated them. There are almost always factors (attributes) at play that you are not recognizing. The “it’s not you, it’s me” line comes to mind. Be respectful in such a situation and dial it back! Some situations may present themselves where you feel it is inappropriate to bring it up to the person during training. If this happens, don’t feel like it is tattling to go to your instructor and tell them that someone needs to dial it back a bit and is going to/did hurt someone. In most cases the instructor will already have an eye on someone like this and will or has already talked to them. It is better to inform the senior instructor of this rather than pouting to yourself or complaining to fellow students or just flat out not wanting to train with that particular person. In my gym everyone trains with everyone, and we all benefit because of it. In the end, educating your training partners will help you and your gym retain ALL training partners which ultimately makes the entire gym better!
“BE THE PERSON EVERYONE WANTS TO TRAIN WITH!” “TRAIN WITH YOUR PARTNER NOT ON YOUR PARTNER.”