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Friday, October 21, 2011

Training Partners

There's an interesting post over on Tim Larkin's blog. I like half of it, and not the other half. I started out trying to just talk about the things I like, but realized that there's too much overlap to safely talk about one without the other.

The Part I Don't Like

The author suggests that size, strength, and all that are totally irrelevant, and so it doesn't matter who you train with. I think, frankly, that that's bunk. Size and strength DO matter. There's an old saw about how "the race may not always be to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's a good way to bet." Being a mean, vicious bastard counts for a lot, but so does being one and half times the size of your opponent, and twice as strong. To quote the Princess Bride, anyone who says different is selling something.

The Part I Do Like

Where the author and I are in complete agreement is this; a lot of guys are absolute assholes to women who train. Some of these guys are also assholes to men who train, but are smaller and weaker than them, but women have it especially bad. Every time someone says to me, "I don't understand why more women don't do this stuff", my answer is something like "are you kidding me?"

While the idea that size and strength don't matter is bunk, the idea that you can only learn by training with someone in your own weight class is bunk too. I've learned plenty from women, as a teacher, peer, or student. Women make fantastic training partners for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they are largely free of the testosterone-driven ego fighting that comes with most males. In other words, they actually try to learn.

Point #2 in the article is particularly poignant, and it is what really drew me in. It works like this.

Guys...the fact that you are working with a woman does not mean you have suddenly received a promotion to instructor. If you are not the one running the class, shut your yap and train. It is not your responsibility to "help out" the "poor, confused, girl" any more than it was your responsibility to help out the 300-pound ex-lineman that you were training with on your last rep.

That's probably a whole separate post on it's own. larger thought on the subject was this; training partners are valuable. ALL TRAINING PARTNERS (okay, except the ones that are actually outright dangerous to you). If you cannot get something out of working with a particular individual, you're missing out.

Or, put another way: if you aren't getting anything out of the person you're training with, maybe the problem is YOU.


Maija said...

Aah so true ....
As the 'token minority' in over 20 years of martial arts training, I can't tell you how true this all is - especially in a seminar setting.
Few things to add though from my many years of experience ....(rolls eyeballs)
You point out something that dawned on me after many years of getting ignored - it's actually not completely gender based. Big guys don't like working with small guys, or rank beginners either - they partner up with folks that look like someone that can give them status in the eyes of the teacher. Obviously that's why they try to 'teach' people they assume to be inferior too.
The 'not trying' thing is also fear/status based - Can't lose to a woman, but can't beat her up either ... but if I make it obvious I'm not trying then I can't fail.
Of course training is not meant to be competitive - you are ON THE SAME SIDE after all ... but that urge to Monkey Dance and impress the head monkey is just so strong.
One of the reasons I like sword is that it instantly levels the playing field. Not that the same bullshit does not come up, but it's usually in the form of escalation if the guy feels like he is 'losing' - Of course that gets irritating so if the game starts to get a bit charged and my partner starts to escalate to show dominance to the detriment of what we're meant to be practicing, I generally get a bit slower or look more stupid, give them a couple hits etc, to make them feel better ... so we can get back to training. This works great for dueling, but as Rory Miller pointed out, there is potential negative fallout from this if transferred to a predatory assault.
On the entertaining side, my sword teacher used me as a ringer on many occasions if visitors came to workout. He'd always make sure I was hanging out on the couch when they arrived, introduce me by name but no more (oh yeah, chic on the couch. ignore) And then they would start to work out.
About 10 minutes in he would come over, hand the sword to me, and say 'why don't you flow with him for a bit'.
Guy had to be polite, so off we'd go, real slow and easy, Sonny directing from the side. After a little while he'd usually give me a nod, kind of 'take it up a few notches', and then he'd watch the new guy and see how he took it. It was a psychological evaluation to see if the guy kept his cool, or whatever, and this was partly how he weeded out those he didn't want to teach.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, one of my greatest frustrations was that I could have gotten 2 more years of training with him but even though I had met him at a seminar and he had invited me personally to train with him, I was denied access to him by others that told me he didn't teach women and I couldn't go without being taken there by them. Took 2 years to change their minds. How much does that suck?

Anyway ... I think the teacher is the one who can create the right atmosphere in the end. After my Bagua teacher started demoing techniques on me and others started to notice him giving me add ups to the techniques, suddenly I got more status and way less probs finding partners.
Making friends with, and asking advice from the highest level male students helps too. Even if you can only find one willing to give you extra tips, by association you'll have more status.

So my advice to the women out there - Find a good, non-sexist teacher who gives you opportunities to improve. Learn how to play the system, make alliances with the highest skilled players and get better than everybody else.
Guys - imagine your female training partner is the one who's going to have your back. Treat her in a way that means she's going to be able to save your ass and not want to kick you to the curb if push comes to shove.
And lastly - Women, please keep training with men, and men please keep training with women. We are ALL the better for it.

Jake said...


That is an awesome bit of info. Thank you.

Crazy that people would tell you he didn't teach women even after he invited you to come train.

It never occurred to me that demoing with female students might help with their acceptance. In Muay Thai, I'm usually demoing with other instructors, and right now, all of our coaches are men (we had women at a couple of points, but they've all moved on). When I'm teaching the PDR, I actually like using women for the demos, if I can find them and they are willing.

I find this stuff crops up way more in Muay Thai...probably because so much of what we do is just highly developed monkey dancing. It's FUN monkey dancing, but it's still monkey dancing.

The fact that your teacher used you as a ringer is awesome. I love it.