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. 

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