Great Partners Build Better Fighters
No fighter, nak muay or otherwise stands alone against his or her opponent. An army waits at the ready behind them.
It takes a team of coaches, trainers, and (especially) training partners to successfully prepare for a fight.
My coach often repeats this idea before training sessions: “The most important person in this gym today is not you, it’s your partner.”
“Always take care of your partner.”
Let’s take a look at 7 ways to be a great Muay Thai training partner:
Train, don’t coach
At my last gym, there was this guy with whom I avoided sparring at all costs. He would interrupt and stop me after every single strike, trying to educate me on what I could do to improve.
In a three-minute round, I would end up spending 0:30 sparring and 2:30 trying to get him to shut up and work.
You and your partners are in the gym to learn from professionals. You don’t need to correct every error your partner makes. Let them learn by failing. Only offer help along the way if they ask for it or seem very confused. Truly experienced fighters and trainers teach by demonstration.
Practice good hygiene
We’ve all been there: you’re training and you somehow end up partnered with the guy who smells like an unwashed foot, with toe nails sharpened like bayonets.
Don’t be that person. Not only is it gross, it’s disrespectful to your teammates.
The DO’s of good training hygiene:
- Bathe (’nuff said).
- Wear deodorant.
- Wear clean training clothes.
- Clip your nails and toe nails so you don’t slash your partner.
- If you have long hair, tie it up.
- Brush your teeth or chew some minty gum before training.
- Bring and maintain your own gear.
- Take a shower within an hour of training (this helps to prevent the skin and scalp problems that sometimes plague martial artists).
- Don’t douse yourself in cologne or perfume.
- Don’t slather your face in make-up before you train.
- Don’t wear jewelry (I lost a chunk of my neck to someone’s engagement ring).
- Don’t train with an unbandaged cut or wound. Not only is this dangerous for you (you’re exposing yourself to some nasty bacteria), but it’s no good for your partners.
- Don’t train while sick. You’re not being tough. You’re not “powering through it.” You’re making others ill, too.
Sparring is not a title fight
Sparring does not exist to prove how amazing you are, nor is it for blowing off steam.
Sparring is mock combat in a controlled environment in which both you and your partner can practice your timing and techniques in a rhythm that simulates a real fight.
If you build a reputation as a fighter who hurts training partners, nobody will want to spar with you. If no one will spar with you, it affects your own ability to improve.
Be especially mindful of your power and speed when sparring with beginners or people who have less experience than you do. Your job is not to impress them with your skills, but to allow for a chance to test what they’ve learned and grow as athletes.
Push your partner and let them push you
Don’t be a lazy training partner! Push your teammates to get better by being encouraging and putting in work.
When doing pad work, test their defenses by mixing in a few strikes of your own.
In sparring, pick up the pace little by little (and with good control) to help them stretch their cardio.
When doing sprints, encourage your teammates to push their limits by challenging them to beat their times from the week before.
I had a teammate who used a very simple trick to help her partners push on and break barriers. Whenever we would let up during pad work or start slowing down during our runs, she would yell “Energy, baby, energy!”
She would yell it loud and with real passion. She would smile and pump her fists in the air like she had just scored a spinning-back elbow KO. Hearing her voice ring out through the gym or on the road would actually give me energy. Suddenly I would have enough gas to sprint the rest of the way or go an extra round.
Learn how to hold pads and mitts
You will have to hold pads and/or mitts for your partners at some point (in Western gyms, partners often have to switch back and forth on the pads during training), so learn how to do it properly.
Take some time to invest in your pad holding skills. This could mean holding your coach and the more experienced fighters after training, or it could mean attending a pad holding seminar (if your gym doesn’t already offer something like this, request it). Make sure that you’re comfortable holding pads and mitts for both orthodox and south paw stances.
Learning how to be a great pad holder will work in your favor. Holding pads and mitts strengthens your footwork, timing and your ability to recognize strikes as they’re coming. These are skills that you can carry on into your own training and into your fights.
Keep a beginner’s mindset
There is always more to learn.
Remember this when you train: everyone has something they can teach you. The guy who has had 20 fights is definitely going to show you a thing or two, but the rookie who has a single fight under his belt has lessons to teach you as well.
Abandon your ego, and approach every training session with the mind of a beginner. Your training partner for the day might be someone who is brand new to the sport, but even they may show you something you’ve never thought of before
Do you have fun with Muay Thai? Well, surprise surprise — so does your partner! They love the sport just as much as you do. So smile. Laugh. Crack jokes. Learn to appreciate all kinds of training partners and the love you both share for your sport.
After all, a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter. A happy fighter with a team of great partners behind them can take on the world. Just make sure that you’re a great partner, too.
- Emily is a martial artist who has trained and fought in Muay Thai for the last four years in Miami, FL. Now based in Atlanta, GA, she continues to train and grow in the martial arts while balancing her work as a health behavior researcher. Her dream is to combine her passion for both martial arts and population health so she can help make the world a healthier, better place.