Steel Sharpens Steel – Why Your Training Partners Are So Important

One of my favorite quotes in combat sports is the below by UFC legend Randy Couture:

“ One of the quotes that I use a lot – besides you’re only as good as the guys you sweat and bleed with – is that iron sharpens iron.So that one man sharpens another. I think that it is very true. If you are not in a training environment where you are getting smacked in the head, you are getting tapped out, you are getting challenged on a daily basis, then you are not getting any better. You’re not improving. Your workout partners are a very important piece of your progression as an athlete and the character that you are building as a person as well. Those are key components and finding that right place is a piece of it.  Randy Couture “Wrestling For Fighting”


One of the most popular topics discussed at any competition is the strength of certain teams in bjj. Serious competitors will move across the country to an academy with a strong competition team knowing that is what it will take for them to achieve their athletic potential.
Those who have the goal of winning a top championship have to decide sometimes between being “the big fish” on their home academy or moving to a shark tank where the waters are deeper. We see guys who can tap out everyone in their home academy purposely seek out even higher level practitioners in hopes that they will find harder training and be dominated! All for the ultimate goal of learning and raising their own level.

longquan_sword_making_techniqueefbbb19441cc840ad07fWhile the coaching at these top academies is top notch, it is the quality and quantity of your training partners that is the primary reason. More than the number of techniques one has memorized, your ability to identify and react almost instantly to your opponent is key. And this comes from training daily with partners who are sharp and fast themselves and force you to adapt and keep pace.
When all of your training partners are well conditioned and technical, if you are immersed in that environment you will have no other choice but raise your own level to keep pace with theirs! 
One of the best athletes that I ever shared a mat with said to me one time “..the reason that team does so well is that they have a room full of monsters and there are no easy days at that academy. Everyone is forced to become better or they don’t last.”

Even for the non competitors, your training partners are no less important. These are the guys who you share your bjj journey with day in and day out year after year at the academy. They are the ones that you measure your growing abilities by and your friendly rivalries motivate you to get to the academy even when you feel a little lazy.
You place your trust and safety in their hands (and vice versa) each time you roll. You push each other to test your skills but know that a tap will allow you to restart and try again.
I remind some of the students at my Gracie Barra Academy that it is important that they show up for classes as a competition approaches even if they are not competing. The competitors are depending on their teammates to help them prepare. The non competitors in turn will be inspired and carried upwards along with the competitors in their preparations and raise their own conditioning and technique.

It is a source of pride for the entire academy when the team does well at a competition. Even the non competitors who helped the gold medal winners train in the their preparations can feel that they contributed in a small but significant way to the overall team victory.

IronSharpeningIron_865833410Part of our love of jiu-jitsu comes form the fact that as human beings, we want to be part of something greater than ourselves. And by being a good teammate, you become a valuable part of something larger than your own personal goals.

I once had a much smaller training partner who had a guard that was impossible for me to pass. He had developed his spider guard hooks combined with an attacking closed guard and each time you started to peel off his grips he would pull you back into closed guard and start attacking your arms.

I was frustrated after failing once again to pass his guard and he gave me a brief tutorial on what he was trying to do and how I might counter some of his grips. I appreciated his openness and expressed surprise that he was willing to reveal his secrets that would help me to pass his guard.

He said simply “This is how we learn. If you get better at passing my guard, then my guard has to get better to stop you. And now everyone gets better and the entire level of the club is raised.”

Credits: Mark Mullen 
GB Black belt from GB Calgary, Canada
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ