Loading... Please wait...

How to be a Good Training Partner in the Filipino Martial Arts

Posted by Tuhon Leslie Buck on

When learning martial arts, you will encounter all different kinds of training partners. Some are great, and others can be hard to work with. The truth of the matter is that you need a good training partner in order to grow. Without a good training partner, your growth will be very limited.

If you want to find a good partner, you have to be someone who others want to train with. You can’t be the guy everyone avoids in class when it is time to pick a partner. This is usually the guy who goes too fast, doesn’t feed you right, and thinks he knows better than the instructor, so he tries to teach you his version of the technique.

Don’t be like that guy. Follow the tips below to be a great training partner.

To be a great training partner, you need to build trust with and show concern for your partner by observing good etiquette, cooperating so that you both can learn, and by following safe training practices.


Follow the drill that the instructor assigned to you. Stick to the drill, it is part of a progressive plan to develop your skills. Focus on the objective of the drill in order to build a foundation for the next phase of the training.

Don’t try to improve the drill or add-on additional moves, unless that is part of the exercise. It’s tempting to show off the other things you know. Don’t do it. When you do, you are not helping your partner because you are taking away from his ability to practice and focus on what the instructor is teaching.

Be a partner, not another instructor. When in class, help your partner, but don’t take over the drill time by teaching him as if you are the instructor. You may think you are helping your partner by teaching him, but you may be taking him off course or just overwhelming him.

Each situation is different, sometimes it is appropriate for you to help a little more, such as when you are partnered with a new student. Just make sure you are not overdoing it. When in doubt, just check in with your instructor.

Respect your gear and that of others. Don’t throw your stick across the room when you are done with it. Go place it in your bag. Don’t step on other people’s gear, even if they left it out. Put it to the side if it is in the way, or find out who left it there, and return it to them. Don’t do anything that would damage your partner’s gear.

Use sticks that match the weight and size of your partner’s sticks. Don’t think you are cool crushing everyone’s sticks with your training log. Swing that thing in the air or hit tires to develop your power. You don’t need to use it for partner drilling. If you use a stick that is grossly mismatched to your partner’s stick, you will just destroy his stick, and you may even lose a training partner.


Communicate with your partner. While training, check in with your partner to make sure that you are moving at the right level of intensity for him. Are you moving too fast? Are you hitting too hard? Communicate with your partner to understand each other’s limitations or injuries, and to agree on parameters of training, such as intensity level and what activities and types of contact are acceptable. When in doubt, it’s better to start light and add intensity, than it is to begin too hard and catch your partner unprepared.

Let your partner know when he is going too hard, too fast, or hurting you. Let him know right away so you don’t get hurt or build up frustration as the issue repeats itself. Often, he will not even know he is doing it. He may just be trying to keep up with you. When doing this, make sure you slow down as well. If you are moving fast, so will your partner.

Use the right intensity for the drill. Just because you ultimately will perform a technique at full speed in a real situation does not mean that you need to drill everything at full speed. When learning movements and techniques, it is appropriate to simplify, slow down, and reduce force. This allows skill to grow from a rudimentary level to to a level at which it can be successfully performed at full speed. Intensity can be ramped up as appropriate.

Help your partner improve. You and your partner need each other to train. If he gets better, you get better. Don’t worry about him learning to counter your favorite techniques. Even that will make you better. Help him whenever you can. Be mindful and give him your best when he is practicing on you.

Feed your partner the right attack. Don’t give him a lazy feed. Use the correct angle, pressure, and follow-through when feeding your partner for a technique.

Don’t think you are helping your partner by striking unrealistically wide or off-target. By striking off-target, you are preventing your partner from learning to recognize the correct stimulus or cue for the technique he is practicing. In order to perform well, he must learn to recognize the attack. If your feed is not consistent with the actual attack, he will not be able to fine tune his ability to react to it.

At the same time, you don’t need to hit your partner in the face every time he makes a mistake. Be ready to withdraw power and speed from your attack if he is not responding correctly.

Be open to feedback. Because you are practicing on your partner, he can give you direct feedback on how precise and effective your techniques are. Don’t miss this opportunity. This information is paramount for you to improve. When performing a technique on your partner, ask him if it looks and feels right.

Offer feedback to your partner. Tell your partner when he is performing the technique right. Let him know where he can improve. Give your partner the feedback while he is practicing, so he can make adjustments right away.

Some people react emotionally to feedback. If you are working with a new partner, you may want to ask him if would like some feedback before you actually give it. Asking will often keep the partner open and minimize the chances of a negative reaction.

Give useful and brief feedback. Useful feedback may include short tips that help your partner adjust an angle, a position, body mechanics, or the direction of force applied in the proper execution of a technique. It includes any relevant information that helps him perform better. Useful feedback also includes corrective directives, such as "move to the side,” “rotate your hips more," or "keep your weapon up.”

Safety and Health

Use control. Be courteous toward your partner and use control when executing two person drills. Do not move beyond a speed that you can control. Do this to help avoid injuries.

When you are reckless, your partner is often the one who suffers. He gets hit, when you do not control your strikes. He gets hurt when you go too fast while practicing a lock or takedown. When your partner is voluntarily leaving himself exposed so you can practice on him, he should be able to trust you to keep his safety in mind while you practice.

Be responsible for your partner’s safety when applying techniques. When practicing any technique, if you first consider what may happen if you make a mistake, you can easily avoid serious accidents.

If you execute a takedown or throw, you are responsible for controlling your partner's fall. Be sure to look where you are throwing or directing someone. Anticipate and avoid collisions with other students, walls, or any property near or in your training area.

Apply locks and breaks slowly and gradually. Don’t apply them explosively. Give your partner time to tap or roll with them.

Use caution when striking in the air near your partner as you practice follow up strikes and combinations. Don’t strike close to your partner’s face without protective gear. One mistake with your stick, and he may get hit in the eye.

Don’t surprise your partner during training. Unexpected quick movements can surprise your partner and possibly cause an injury. If the drill calls for variables or improvisation, be sure your partner is ready for that. If you are about to try something very different from what he expects, let him know what is coming so he can protect himself from injury.

Don’t use unsafe training weapons or inappropriate gear. Make sure the gear you are using is safe for the drill you are doing.

A metal training knife may be good for slower drills, but it is not suited for sparring. Sharply pointed training knives may look more realistic, but could end up scratching or cutting your partner. Before training, make sure there are no splinters or sharp edges on your sticks and training weapons that could cut your partner during practice. Rattan sticks can easily be taped when they fray, but other woods may be more risky to use when they are damaged because they tend to have sharper splinters and edges.

Remove jewelry and clothing with sharp parts before practice. Rings can hurt or cut, necklaces can choke, exposed zippers and body jewelry can rip off skin. Sometimes your personal items or clothing can be a potential injury to your partner and yourself. Remove jewelry before practice to avoid cuts, tears to you, your partner and training equipment as well as damage to your jewelry itself.

Maintain general hygiene as a courtesy to your partners. Keep your fingernails and toenails trimmed to avoid cuts and scrapes. Shower or clean up before class if you are already dirty from a long day at work or a hard workout earlier. Keep any cuts or weeping wounds covered. Nobody wants your blood on them.

If you are sick, stay home. Do not come to train. Avoid spreading any contagious illness to your partners bycoming to class when you are not well. You may feel like you can tough it out during class, but it is inconsiderate to train with others when you are contagious.

Bonus Points

Here are just a few more things you can do to be a great training partner:

- Have some bandaids and athletic tape on hand for anyone who gets blisters or small knuckle scrapes. These small injuries happen often. It’s better to keep open wounds covered, and treating them right away will allow you or your partner to get back to training quickly.

- Bring electrical tape to class for taping up fraying rattan sticks. It seems like it always runs out when you need it. Bring two rolls so you have plenty to share.

- Keep an extra stick and knife in your bag that you can loan to new students, or anyone else who may need one during class.

- Be there as a friend for your training partners outside of class. Give him a ride, check on him if he is sick or missing. Often our training partners become our closest friends.

Final Words

Being a good training partner is largely based on just being mindful, respectful, and helpful. Keep your partner’s safety in mind. Treat your partner like a friend. Be invested in helping your partner learn. Do these things, and you will be a good partner, not the guy everyone avoids in class.

Together with a good training partner you need to have the right gear. Check out the gear bags we have at Kali Gear. We have a few different designs that will allow you to bring the gear you need as well as an extra pair of sticks and knives that you can share with your training partners. Check out our gear bags below.


View Comments

5 Essential Technical Skill Sets to Develop for the Filipino Martial Arts

The Filipino Martial Arts offer a wide variety of techniques that range from striking, locking, and breaking to trapping, disarming, and takedowns. The options are vast. With so many options, it can become challenging to focus training on core elements that will make you effective and well rounded. In budgeting your training time, it is [...]

Read more

Fundamentals of Strength and Conditioning for the Filipino Martial Arts

Developing prowess in the Filipino martial arts requires access to quality instruction, hours of training alone and with partners, and a real dedication to improvement. It requires the development of coordination, timing, and a variety of other skills specific to the application of the Filipino martial arts. However, there is some low hanging fruit [...]

Read more

Beyond the Basics of Kali- Learning to Read, Adapt, and Act

When studying Kali, learning in the beginning is easy. You just imitate those who are better than you. You drill to develop coordination through consistent repetition. Eventually, you memorize patterns of movements that become techniques. You learn to perform those techniques when your partner feeds you a specific attack. The [...]

Read more

Using Performance Profiling to Assess and Improve your Filipino Martial Arts Skills

If we had more time to do so, many of us would spend more time training. Training for most of us is enjoyable. Putting in hours to improve our skills a little at a time is not a chore; it’s more of a pleasure. However, work, family, money, life can all compete [...]

Read more

Top 10 Qualities of a Great Filipino Martial Arts Teacher

Whether you are looking for a teacher or striving to become one, there are a few traits that you should look for when considering what makes a great instructor. If you are looking for a teacher, then it is in your interest to find one that is best prepared to help you with your [...]

Read more

Filipino Martial Arts Basics - How to Measure a Rattan Stick for Filipino Kali, Escrima, or Arnis

We often get questions about selecting the right pair of rattan sticks. In this short video, Leslie Buck shows a few examples of measuring them and shares a few tips on determining the length, diameter, and weight of rattan sticks for use in the Filipino martial arts.

Read more

Do More Now - Faster Skill Development for Kali, Escrima, Arnis

We all seek ways to get better at our skills. We learn new drills. We add new techniques to our arsenal. We find new ways to test our skills. Learning these things can keep us excited about growth. However, learning new techniques and drills don’t always make us better or even more skilled in [...]

Read more

Reaction Training for Filipino Kali

One of the most important factors in your training to get right is reaction training. No matter how great your technique is, if you have not trained it properly, it will be useless. You must train the technique to be reflexive. You cannot rely solely on your conscious ability to analyze your [...]

Read more

Top 10 Tips for Learning Kali, Escrima, and Arnis

In more than 20 years of teaching the Filipino Martial Arts, I have seen many students grow from a fresh beginner into a solid intermediate student, then a seasoned advanced student and some on to instructor ranks. Because of this experience, I have been able to observe several trends in the growth a student [...]

Read more

Back to Top