by Sensei Neil Prime
August, 1994

You are in line at the dojo and Sensei says "OK, everybody get a partner!".

Who do you choose?

Everybody in the dojo should be your friend so it shouldn't matter, right?

Of course there might be someone you spend a lot of time with outside the dojo, someone you are really good friends with, go to school with or just hang out with a lot... but is this the person you choose?

I feel that every person on the floor is a good partner, no matter what their rank is. Every single person in the dojo has something unique to offer you.

When we spar or practise sparring techniques we want a partner that will help us improve our technique but we should also consider how we will improve theirs.

Consider this: I am a black belt. If my partner is a brand new white belt how can I effectively utilize this partner to benefit us equally? I'm supposed to be better, after all, I am more experienced. However, if after I leave this partner and I haven't somehow improved, I have just wasted valuable learning time. Lets face it, we can't work out eight hours a day, so every moment in the dojo is valuable.

I like to train hard, but not everybody is capable or has the same tolerances as me. Of course there are people out there that I am not yet capable of keeping up to, but I'll try.

If I spar somebody and make them feel like they're not able to keep up to me or if I hurt them, they won't want to spar me or be my partner again.

So who does this benefit? No one!

No matter what rank your partner is, higher or lower, you have to treat everyone as separate individuals. When sparring with someone you have a physical advantage over, it's not necessary to let them dominate you, but you should use this opportunity to practise something that you may have difficulty doing with someone who has an advantage over you. This way it evens out the odds somewhat at the moment and soon you'll be able to perform this technique much more efficiently against a stronger opponent. Now both of you benefit by working together.

For example, if we are practising a simple technique like blocking a reverse punch, how should each person react? If I am the defender I would expect my partner to try and score with every punch thrown. As the defender I will try to let my partner get as close as possible to scoring on me before I move. I concentrate not only on the punch coming in but also how my body reacts. I want to make sure that not only is my arm in the correct position to defend and deflect, but I also concentrate on total body movement. Now I can be challenged by anyone, and every partner will have different speed so now I have to adapt accordingly.

So next time you hear your Sensei say "Get a partner!" don't always look for the same person. Turn to the closest person to you and take full advantage of his or her skills. You'll both benefit, and you'll both have a good feeling about helping each other become better karateka!

Back For More Great Reading!