How to Be a Great Training Partner (with John Schmalbach)

This article is an exchange between Gerry Seymour and John Schmalbach (see below for information about Mr. Schmalbach). The initial discussion was around dealing with training partners who refuse to cooperate for a training drill.

John Schmalbach’s Take:

This actually reminds me of a seminar we ran on Saturday. The seminar was focused on ground fighting with edged weapons (“traditional” knives and karambits) and “combat” grappling/take downs. I put combat in quotes because it was based on the idea that unlike say LE or Security in self defense you want to break joints and tear muscles so you can escape. It was an amalgam of Chin Na, Kali and Silat techniques.

I actually got a tad frustrated at one point. I was partnered with a person when it came time to perform a technique that controlling the arm, hyperextensions the shoulder while using head control to take the person down. My partner insisted on keeping their feet planted until I had hyper extended their shoulder to the point they were literally shouting…”ow ow ow my shoulder, my shoulder, my shoulder.”

Eventually, politely but firmly (to hide my frustration) I said, “In a real fight I wouldn’t have stopped when you cried out. I had control, you didn’t and so you would have had only two choices. 1. Go with the flow and to the ground where yes I will have even greater control. 2. Have me dislocate your shoulder, and still end up on the ground and now I DEFINITELY have greater control. We aren’t simply learning today how to perform the takedown. We are also learning how to properly go with the flow so that if someone does it to you, you still have a chance of defending yourself.”

Now with that particular technique if I apply the correct leverage I can, if I wish to be brutal, virtually dislocate the shoulder at will. The simple fact it was almost happening because of a rigid uke makes that almost a certainty. I get that the Sifu put me with them because he knew I had the control not to hurt them (they had apparently been doing that all day in one shape or another) but it was still frustrating as hell because when I train I like to train hard.

Gerry Seymour’s reply:

This is something that some students take a while to learn. Sometimes we need to be compliant (as uke) to protect ourselves. I sometimes get new students who think they should provide rigid resistance (not actually realistic resistance, just a general tensing of muscles) at all times. I have to explain to them the principles of ukemi:

  • Protect yourself. For most throws, the more relaxed you are, the easier the fall is. For most locks, the more you resist, the more likely you are to get injured.
  • Simulate the situation being practiced. It does nobody any good if you push when the attack being simulated is grabbing by the lapel and pulling in for a punch. If we are practicing responses to a specific situation, do that.
  • When providing resistance, provide realistic resistance. Someone pulling you in will rarely lock their arm rigidly at 90 degrees. Someone punching will rarely lean in and use a stiffened arm to try to push a block slowly down with strength. Someone shoving will rarely hold their weight back over center.
  • Don’t invent resistance. When we are practicing a technique that we would only do once we’ve destroyed structure, we don’t do that technique if any resistance is present (we use a different technique), so don’t invent resistance to “test” the technique. If you do that, the appropriate response for your partner is to change techniques, probably by using a strike to “soften” you.

These are fairly common problems in training when someone doesn’t actually commit to the practice (simulated) attack.


John Schmalbach is a law enforcement officer, and studies Traditional Wing Chun and Inosanto Kali at the Kuntao Martial Arts Club in Phoenixville, PA under Dale Yeager. 

Strength doesn’t matter – or does it? (with Tony Dismukes)

I often hear martial artists and instructors say something like, “With [insert name of art here], strength doesn’t matter. If you do it right, it won’t matter how strong they are.”

There’s a kernel of truth in there, but it’s really overstated. I’ve talked about this before with groups – both my students and other groups – but I’m going to let someone else explain this. The following was posted to by Tony Dismukes (see information about Tony at the end of this article) in September 2017. Tony is referring to Brazilian Jiu Jutsu (BJJ) here, but the principle is the same for all grappling.

Tony Dismukes’ Post:

So here’s the deal regarding jiu-jitsu and strength:

Jiu-jitsu is absolutely about using strength. To be precise, it’s about using your available strength as efficiently and effectively as possible, When you see criticism about someone “muscling through a technique”, the problem isn’t that they’re using strength – it’s that they’re wasting strength. Either they’re trying to overpower their opponent’s strength head on (which will only work as long as the person doing the technique is the stronger one) or they’re using their strength in an inefficient fashion which involves more effort than necessary, causing them to tire out and deplete their reserves of strength prematurely.

That’s how jiu-jitsu can allow you to overcome a stronger opponent. When I outgrapple someone who is twice as strong as I am, it’s because I’m using my available strength more than twice as efficiently as he is.

The reason top jiu-jitsu competitors are all in fantastic shape is that their opponents are in great shape and also know how to use their physical attributes efficiently. The skill levels are close enough that they can’t afford to give up a huge discrepancy in strength or endurance or speed the way they could against a beginner.

Gerry Seymour’s Wrap-up

Well said, Tony! Strength matters. Good technique (being efficient and effective in your use of strength) makes strength differentials matter less. What I tell my students is that strength is a tool. You can use it, but you shouldn’t have to depend upon it, or you’ll lose against anyone stronger. If you can do a technique (whether that’s a throw, takedown, lock, escape, or whatever) without needing to use much strength, then that strength is a good reserve for when things go wrong. And in self-defense, things are going to go wrong – fights get messy, and technique doesn’t stay pretty.

Tony Dismukes has been training in various forms of martial arts for over 35 years. He holds a black belt in BJJ as well as a black belt in Bujinkan taijutsu and an instructor’s license in Muay Thai. His focus is on jiu-jitsu as a practical means for self-defense and as a life-long tool for self-improvement. His thoughts on training can be found at He trains and teaches under Mike ODonnell at 4 Seasons Martial Arts in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Principles in Our Classical Techniques

Note: This article was written from the mainline NGA point of view, prior to the development of Shojin-ryu.

Many students, as they learn the classical techniques of Nihon Goshin Aikido, misunderstand the purpose of these techniques. They may think the classical techniques are for defense, which they are not     [Read more…] “The Principles in Our Classical Techniques”

The Answer

On many occasions, I have heard Steven Weber Sensei (Godan, Nihon Goshin Aikido) speak of those students who seek “The Answer”. …That one absolutely correct response to a given attack, technique, question, or conundrum. On these occasions, he paints a picture of an inexperienced martial artist begging him for the “right way” to respond, rather than thinking the situation through and selecting some appropriate response based upon the circumstances at the moment.     [Read more…] “The Answer”

A Swing and a Miss (by Tom Quinn)

When faced with someone intent on doing you bodily harm in the street, or when training in the dojo, the ability to avoid being hit is a skill well worth developing. There are four basic ways to avoid being hit that are used by virtually every martial art, sometimes and stand alone techniques, but most often, used in combination with one another.

Blocking is the act of stopping an attack from reaching its intended target. When done properly     [Read more…] “A Swing and a Miss (by Tom Quinn)”