Partner Training in Martial Arts

Two are better than one,

Because they have a good return for their labor.

Ecclesiastes 4:9

Everyone interested in preparedness and self-defense needs unarmed skills.  Unarmed skills enable you to live long enough to get a gun in the fight.  There are also times in which a gun isn’t a proper response, or you could be attacked in a place where you couldn’t bring a concealed handgun.

In an earlier article, I discussed solo training and how to effectively train by yourself.  

Working with a partner is necessary at some point, in order to learn how throws and defenses actually work, as well as to develop timing.

Here we will discuss some ways to get the most out of training with a partner for real-life self-defense, in order to develop the most skill in the shortest time.

Developing skill in a relatively short period of time is the basic tenet of military combative training, as well as the founding philosophy of Krav Maga (which itself is really just a military combative).  The way it’s achieved is by a VERY HIGH number of repetitions.  

Generally, any skill you practice in any given session should be done a minimum of 25 times on each side (left and right).  The most common problem with modern martial arts training, is that people only want to do 5-6 reps, then learn something new.  Resist this temptation.

I do not fear the man who practiced 10,000 kicks one time;

I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Bruce Lee

Let’s begin discussing some of the drills seen in traditional martial arts.  In Korean Martial Arts, the basic defensive training is called Il Soo Sik, which Japanese arts call “One Step Sparring”.  The drill basically involves the attacker launching a punch, and the defender executing a defensive combination.  When you learn it at a Traditional school, like PKSA Karate ( both partners bow, and begin in a formal stance.  

To make this practical for real-world defense, start with both partners in a fighting stance, and alternate who attacks, just launching into the defense, without being so rigid in formal stances, just make it effective.  

This makes the training apply to real life….I’ve never had a guy step back into a low block and then let me know when he was going to launch his attack.

Most martial arts involve wrist grab defenses and a lot of people roll their eyes, saying “is there a real danger of someone grabbing my wrist?  This is for kids”.  Really?  Let’s say a man intends to rob you and you go to draw a handgun….what’s the bad guy going to do?  He’s going to GRAB YOUR WRIST to prevent you drawing a gun or a knife.  

Take wrist grab training seriously.  To make the traditional training more realistic, adjust it.  Traditional training generally has them grabbing your wrist, with you both squared off.  Make it realistic by having the attacker grab your strong side wrist with your hand near your waist, as if drawing from concealment…You’ll find the mechanics are very different, and train as if your life depends on it, because it might one day.

Most traditional throws lend themselves easily to punch defenses, and you adapt your training the same way.  Rather than beginning in a formal stance, start from a fighting stance and block the punch, immediately launching into the throw from there, and then following up the throw with either a punch, joint break, or hold, simulating real combat, rather than just stopping once the throw is complete.  Attackers don’t stop when you throw them.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has an excellent series of drills called “fight simulation drills”, that illustrate this.  It involves both parties executing techniques throughout an entire encounter, and then they start over, reversing roles.  It’s great training.

For example, one begins with a takedown, and one partner passing the guard, then the person on the ground executes a trap and roll defense, passes the guard, and attempts a choke.  Next, the new bottom person executes a defense against the choke, and then applies a joint lock to end the encounter, and then they restart the drill, reversing roles.

A caution about BJJ, though, and I’m sure I’m about to get a bunch of angry comments, but BJJ is a SKILL SET, not a complete system.  It’s absolutely a skill set you should have, but you also need striking skills, weapon skills, and blocking skills.  

Blessed be the Lord, my Rock,

Who trains my hands for war,

And my fingers for battle.

Psalm 144:1

When doing Krav Maga drills, the component to master first is called the finish or the “point of reference”.  Point of reference means that you end every defense the exact same way, rather than learning 25 different finishing moves.  This makes it easier to master in a short period of time.  

The point of reference is that after you have removed the immediate threat and secured a proper Krav clinch, you then finish with the same combination every singe time.  I teach two knee kicks to the solar plexus, one front kick to the groin, followed by a leg sweep takedown, finishing with a punch and a shoulder dislocation.  

To set this up for training, your place your strong side arm against the opponents face, while grabbing their collar.  The weak side arm secures an over-hook on the opponents arm.  At this point, they can’t attack you and can’t shoot in for a take-down.  Execute the three kicks, then sweep the leg, while maintaining the over-hook all the way down.  Once they are down on their back, punch with the strong hand, then lift on the over-hook, dislocating the shoulder.

Any Krav Maga defense you execute, no matter what attack you are defending against, ends this way.  It really makes is easier to learn, because now you only need to learn how to get to the point of reference on any given defense.

You can literally spend entire training sessions just working on the point of reference, because under stress in a real fight, you’ll find yourself here at some point, and the response should just be ingrained and automatic.

 …And let the one who has no sword 

Sell his cloak and buy one…

Luke 22:36b

Working partner drills with a knife (not a sword, but that’s fun, too) is just as important as unarmed skills.

It’s the only way you can develop timing and the ability to strike a specific target while moving with a knife (experience).

Basic two person drills include practicing the 12 basic Arnis striking points, as well as the accompanying blocks.  Start slowly then work your way faster.

Krav Maga/Haganah has 8 slashing lines and 9 stabbing targets.  You can work drills involving targeting those areas, as well as developing endless combinations (slash followed by stab, etc.) against a live partner (never with live blades).

KM/Haganah also has a series of knife blocks and defenses that can really only be learned by working with a partner and they make excellent drills, with one partner practicing the attack angle and the other practicing the defense.  Start slowly, then build speed.

As you can see, there is a lot of value to training with a partner.  It’s important to make sure that you are training safely, because no one likes to work with the partner that always hurts them.  

Train seriously, but not to the point of injuring each other.


Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

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