In my previous article, I explained how honest enquiry was a vital part of testing the validity of a skillset or training methodology. In this article, we will look at where co-operative training fits in to the developmental model and how to avoid the pitfalls.
Solo training > Partner Training
It is common for some groups to spend almost all their time solo training. They will do forms, basic drills, body methods, movement loops, meditation etc. Indeed, this is a vitally important part of anyone’s training plan. But one thing you notice when you cross hands with people who have spent almost all their time without a training partner is that they lack ability when dealing with forces, even in the simplest of tests or drills.
The reason for this is clear, the person becomes accustomed to only playing with the forces that they create in their own bodies and is completely unfamiliar with the external forces that the partner creates. At some point, normally relatively early, we need to begin working with another person to start to test and refine our body skill.
The move from solo to partner training is fraught with ‘traps’ and loss of focus however. I am sure everyone reading this article or following my work will have experienced the partner who just won’t stay ‘in the drill’, who will constantly try to ‘win’, or who will get upset when they think they have ‘lost’ in some way.
Moreover, escalating your training to sparring or fighting straight away can also be a trap. In that environment, the psychological and physical boundaries of a specific skillset can be muddied or lost, meaning that you are unable to ‘train’ a quality accurately.
There is a fertile ground between these two extremes where a huge amount of value can be found but it is also filled with landmines which we must try to avoid.
The survival mechanism.
It is important to note that the martial arts and even their most innocuous and seemingly non-combative drills, place us into a situation we are not usually familiar with. We are in very close proximity to others and are in physical contact with them. This is interaction carries with it, some subconscious baggage that we need to recognise.
Firstly, we should understand that, unless the interaction is some sort of free sparring, exchange game, the goal of these interactions is often co-operative. There truly is no winner or loser in this situation if the training drill is adhered too. However, the very nature of having someone stood in front of you pushing on your body to defeat your structure in some way will stir up what I call a ‘Survival Mechanism’. I have seen this in virtually every class I have run over the last 10 – 12 years of teaching. People will initially start the training correctly but in a very short period of time it will devolve into a completely different drill or a free exchange. Sometimes even a fight!
Why is this? Why should a simply pushing drill devolve this way or stir the emotions to such a degree that fighting becomes a viable outcome? Simply put, we are not wired to lose, and even those I have met who regularly express the well-known phrase ‘Invest in Loss’ to their students find it very hard to reprogram their psyche to really embrace this concept.
When our body perceives that it is vulnerable, which is extremely common when we are doing simple testing drills or are asking a partner to get us to the limits of our structural integrity or balance, we have an almost automatic neurological response to ‘fight’ our way back to security. Now this fight could simply be applying excessive pressure incorrectly, it could be making excuses so we don’t have to do the drill, it could be telling the partner they are doing things wrong, it could be aggression founded in our want to be perceived as better than we really are, it could manifest in a scrap! The mind and body are very subtle in their ways of protecting their balance.
Although this reaction is good under certain circumstances, in a fight we really want to protect our balance so that we can end things quickly, it is reaction we must work very hard to disconnect with in certain settings, most notable the setting of training.
The partners help
During training, we are often asking our partner to ‘test’ the limits of our structure, root, balance, movement, etc. This process by its very nature will mean that we are constantly in the process of teetering on the edge of ‘defeat’. The partner is helping us find our limits.
And the partners role here is perhaps the most vital, but one which is also extremely susceptible to fault. Let’s say that we are doing a simply pushing test, where the pusher has their hand on the chest of the partner and is applying a steadily increasing pressure until they feel the point at which the structure of the receive starts to compromise. Often a very interesting thing happens here that I have witnessed hundreds of times. The pusher finds themselves on the verge of ‘winning’ the encounter! Their ego swells, they apply that ounce more force, and the receiver must step.
This is a big problem for both parties. The receiver has not been able to train, they are allowing the pusher to get them to the edge of their ability, and then they are pushed past it before they have time to resolve anything or adjust. The pusher has only trained their ego and often subconsciously don’t even realise they have done it. They perceive the win, they don’t perceive that there was never a ‘win’ to begin with in this highly contrived situation.
So, the partners help is extremely important in co-operative training. Don’t be ‘that guy’ that everyone in class knows.
Turning the attention on yourself.
To bypass the survival mechanism kicking in we need to take a different path of awareness, and for both pusher and receiver in the exercise above it boils down to the same thing. Forgetting the person in front of you and turning your attention and awareness inward.
If you listen very carefully to what your body is telling you, what you are feeling internally and consider how you are going to resolve the situations of the co-operative drill, you will notice the interesting phenomena that the will to compete disappears. Not only this, but you will be able to notice its emergence much more clearly when it does arise. This simple trick is often anything but simple, and much like meditation, thoughts and emotions linked to the survival mechanism will arise quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. But the value of this method is true for the pusher and the receiver. The pusher can listen to the pressure they are applying and accurately notice the receiver’s loss of structure for instance, they can then aim to hold that pressure and note its feeling in their own bodies.
Every martial artist understands the importance of good training partners, but that doesn’t just mean guys who can push you in sparring or rolling. It also means guys who can help you with the simplest of cooperative drills or testing, without turning it into a fight, a battle of egos or a Win loose scenario.
“invest in loss!”