How Do You Choose the Right Training Partners?

by Kanani Guerra

Have you ever told someone you don’t want to train with them? It can be an awkward situation. People’s feeling can get hurt and it can cause tension in the gym. There can be a lot of fear in telling someone no: “Am I being disrespectful?”, “Will others start avoiding me now?”, etc. But there are situations where it is more appropriate to take a pass and sit out a round than roll with someone.

Safety: Mister fighting-for-the-world-championship-open-class-gold-medal during our warm-up roll? “No, thanks”. Good partners should know how to hit an appropriate intensity. Pick a partner that can match your desired intensity. Hard, intense training is great, but slow flow rolling has its place too. If you need to say “no” to the partner that is trying to tear your arm off: do it. Don’t use this as an excuse to avoid tough rounds: we all need to be pushed and challenged. But don’t feel like you have to train with the guy/girl who is trying to throw you through the window. Take care of your body!

Hygiene: If you have an unclean gi (or no-gi gear), any open cuts, or the fingernails of a banshee: “No, thanks.” Mat germs are real. Ringworm is real. Staph infections are real. Don’t mess around with hygiene. Someone’s poor hygiene decision can lead to infection transfer and then you can be out of training for weeks. Sweating, stinking, and a little blood can be typical after a tough training session. But coming in with a clean uniform, keeping cuts cleaned and wrapped, and having good bathroom hygiene (washing your hands!) are non-negotiable. You get one body. Take care of it. Feel free to decline training with the person who doesn’t.

Attitude: Sore loser? Sore winner? Inappropriate? “No, thanks.” BJJ should be fun and inviting for all. It is tough for some to lose the ego and have a good time. And any form of harassment or inappropriate behavior is an automatic red flag. If you feel uncomfortable with a partner, tell your coach immediately. Bad-mouthing, verbal abuse, threats, pouting, whining: all no fun.

Take into account that this is all from the perspective of a light-weight female. It can be very uncomfortable to tell someone “no”. But you need to look out for and advocate for yourself. If your partner can be safe, clean, and have a good attitude: take the roll! White belt, black belt, male, female, rooster, or ultra-heavy: you can learn something from everyone. The beauty of jiu-jitsu is that it is for all body types. You get the opportunity to train with the short, tall, petite, and husky. Experienced or new, it doesn’t matter: each person has a different style and game to bring to the mat. Reap the benefits (not the knees. Ha.) of training with many partners. But if the moment comes when you know that a partner is not a good fit for you, just say, “No, thanks”.