Why your choice of training partner(s) is so critical

I was recently involved in yet another club randori night (as one does). Going hard. Giving as much as I was getting. I eventually changed partners and moved on to one club mate who I’ve always had a scrappy randori with. This chap has a poor tani otoshi in the kenka yotsu (right vs left) scenario which, whilst brutally effective, involves slamming into the side of my left knee with his groin or upper leg. Previously I’ve been out of action for weeks because of it.

Unfortunately this night was another instance of it: I went in for a koshi guruma (my current favourite) and he rammed into the side of my leg to counter with a tani otoshi. It hurt. Enough for me to howl in pain. I had full knee mobility afterwards but it felt wrong.

What happened next

Previously I would have soldiered on and continued practice with an injured knee and this club mate would also continue on, oblivious to the pain he’d caused. This night, in hindsight, I’m certain I dramatised up the pain in order for him to stop the action and realise what he’d done. I wanted to create a synapse in his brain to mark a memory of “this wasn’t a good thing”.

It’s now been a little over a week of inactivity, where my knee is slowly recovering. I had a good physio friend provide an assessment and training plan for it. The good news is that all the knee structures are intact and all the developed inflammation suggests a manageable sprain.

….but I’ve missed training. Judo is something I love and I’ve essentially been denied it for a time. And all because of someone else’s haphazard and sloppy technique. This particular team mate recently joined the black belt ranks but his Judo has always been more scrappy and power-based. Couple that with the controversies around the tani otoshi throw itself and it’s not a good recipe.

Mutual Benefit

There is a concept called “jita kyoei” in Judo which translates into English as “mutual benefit”. It’s a foundational principle of Judo, and is very indirectly raised in the clubs I have frequented.

I personally think that often we (I include myself here!) get so caught up in the thrill of a well-executed throw that we forget that it’s got to be beneficial to our partners too. There are plenty of reasons for this…

Your chosen club is the place where like-minded individuals come to train, get fitter and get better. If your club mates are all damaged because of you, they won’t want to train with you. And besides, their damage will limit their performance as a training partner.

A lot of the time we need a pliant partner who allows us to practice the mechanics of a move in a less-hectic setting to establish the foundational basics. We need them just as much as they need us.

On Thuggery

Being rough with a training partner means they’ll likely reciprocate and be rough in return. To counter-act this, I’ve found that striving for technical excellence with good flowing movement is more beneficial to progression. Think Japanese-style rather than American Wrestler style. Don’t misunderstand – thuggery will always be prevalent in this sport but if thuggery is your whole game then your expiry date will be much quicker than you’d like.

This past year it’s really helped me to congratulate others when I’ve been caught in a good technique. I tell people when they’ve executed an enviable taiotoshi on me. Or when they have succeeded in blocking me from performing something that I’ve had repeated success on them in the past. It makes me feel good if I’m honest. More importantly, it helps them get better. Another benefit is they then want to train with me.

Newer guys

I want to inspire new club members and to continue on. But by God I don’t want them to break me with their sloppy technique. Being fair, I rarely come across a new guy who isn’t aggressive on the mats to begin with. It’s nerve-wracking to go against newer people, and whenever the coach is scouring the mats to see who to pair up with Mr Jogging Sweats I avert my gaze.

These newer players won’t know the ins and outs of the sport, so their protocols are all off. There’s some ego baggage there to address too. Whereas this can be somewhat manageable in newaza when the action can slow down a bit, it’s a lot trickier in tachiwaza randori.

Survivorship Bias

I wanted to end this off with the topic of Survivorship Bias. Lots of people come and go in Judo, sadly. I can confidently say that many who have enjoyed Judo for many years will have more than likely survived multiple injuries. The ones that stay the course will more than likely have been lucky enough to not experience a crippling injury. I hope that more people start seeing this sport as a long-term pursuit and practice in this spirit rather than the often-phrased “I’ll get a black belt and then I’ll quit”..

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