The Most Important Person

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Most Important Person

Who is the most important person on the mat?  To the outside observer, the answer might seem obvious.  Many might think it's the instructor or the person with the highest belt rank.  Obviously, they have put in a great deal of time & effort to achieve that rank & status, and they have a higher technical level & knowledge base.  They are the subject matter expert.  Everyone else hold them in a position of prestige.  However, I would argue that they are not the most important person.  They are, of course, integral to the academy & the training process.  The way that I look at it, the most important person on the mat is your training partner.  Of course, everyone in the academy has multiple training partners, sometimes even in the same class session.  And, they are all the most important person.  This is my personal attitude, and one that I hope that you will consider as well, as this attitude is mutually beneficial for everyone, as well as for the general well-being of the academy as a whole.

Training in Jiu-jitsu is unique among martial arts, in that it generally requires a good training partner. Unlike other martial arts, there are no katas, or solo practice forms.  In fact, it is this "liveness" and the immediate feedback provided by a good training partner is one of the things that makes Jiu-jitsu so effective as a fighting art.  And while there are certainly solo movement drills that you can practice alone, in general, you need someone to practice with.  So, it logically follows that you should take good care of your training partners, otherwise, they will not be around to train with you.  If you are the guy or girl who is always going a little too hard, hyperextending your partners joints, applying submissions too quickly, throwing inadvertent elbows, knees, & headbutts,  grabbing skin when making grips, etc. you will soon find yourself sitting by yourself on the wall when everyone pairs up because people don't want to work with you.  If you already are that guy or girl, don't's not too late to change your ways.  Being aware of the problem is the first step towards fixing it.  It doesn't mean that you're a bad person.  Obviously, you're probably not doing these things intentionally.  Your intent is just to get better & sometimes when you get in a tough spot you go too hard.  It's just typically a lack of awareness (Zanshin).  The reality is, slowing down a little bit will help both you & your training partners.

There is more to this than just not injuring or roughing up your training partners.  That's only the first step.  You need to be legitimately invested in your training partners development.  Sometimes, we become so focused on "winning" when we spar with our partners that that becomes our primary focus-just tap the other person.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to tap your partners out when you spar.  However, you should pay attention to what they are doing also, and when you catch your partner, maybe give some feedback on how that position happened and what they can do to help prevent making the same mistake in the future.  This goes both ways of course.  Don't get tapped out without understanding why it happened, so when you are sparring with someone more experienced, it is your obligation to ask questions at appropriate times.  Of course, the more experienced students will have more to offer to their training partners, but in a sense, we are all teachers & should all be striving to help each other on the mat in whatever way & to whatever capacity we can.

If you are a blue belt or purple belt, you may barely notice the new white belt who comes in the door. They are so far below your skill level that you feel they don't really have anything to offer you in terms of your own development.  If that is the case, you need to adjust your attitude.  Everyone who steps on the mat can teach you something!  The beginner can be a very valuable tool in your development, especially from a self-defense perspective.  It is exactly because they don't know the right things to do, the right way to move, use too much strength, etc. that can give you a much more realistic perspective on how an untrained person will respond in a self-defense situation.  There lack of knowledge can be very valuable.  If you aren't getting something useful out of training with lower belts, that is your fault.

That new white belt may be the next blue or purple belt.  It is your job to help them get there & to share your valuable experience with them.  You can mold them into a good training partner for you, which obviously will benefit both of you!  Be willing to share what Jiu-jitsu has given you.  It's not only a good idea, I believe it is your obligation.  You wouldn't be where you are without others sharing their knowledge & experience with you.  Everyone had a first day on the mat.  Remember what it was like when you were a new white belt & the people that helped you along the way.  Do that for others coming up behind you.  Your goal should be to make each & every one of your training partners better.  The better they get, the more they will be able to challenge you & in turn, the better you will get.  I believe that you will find that helping others is not only beneficial to your Jiu-jitsu, but also very rewarding personally.  I know personally, as an instructor, I love watching the growth in my students & take great pride in it.  My personal goal is to help each student achieve their maximum personal potential for as long as they are on my mat, and I hope that each of them will become better than I am.  One of my white belt students recently remarked to me that one of the things they liked most about training at our academy is that everyone is so helpful & provides them with useful guidance & insight each training session.  While this was awesome to hear, it wasn't surprising.  We have a great group of people in our academy.  Let's keep building on this attitude.  It's easy to get too caught up in winning all the time.  Next time you step on the mat, pause & take a minute to remember who the most important person is.

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