How to Train in Martial Arts Without a Partner

Partner Martial Arts Training
Shutterstock / oneinchpunch

Why should you train in martial arts without a partner? How should you approach it? Those are the questions that will be addressed in this post.

As you know, the martial arts are all about finding balance. This holds true for the balance of internal training and training within a community. Luckily, there are many examples throughout history of how solitary training can be key to strengthening your martial arts practice, as well as a wonderful way to deepen your senses, boost your confidence and become better acquainted with the martial artist within you.

How did Bruce Lee do it?

It’s worth considering the life of Bruce Lee, whose regular training demonstrates the importance of cultivating one’s internal partner first and foremost — under the care of a good teacher, of course. With internal training, one can then effectively train with others.

Bruce Lee started his day with a solitary run. That entailed entering the quiet, meditative place runners go in the early morning, along with awakening the body, clearing the mind and settling.

His strength training also was done primarily alone. Bruce Lee prepared his body and mind in order to be able to step up to his martial arts practice with his first wing chun kung fu master Ip Man.

People have always trained alone while being supported by a community.

The practice of training alone is evident everywhere. It’s often most successful when you’re supported by a community of some kind. In today’s fitness environments, while you may find yourself amidst a torrent of cyclers, runners, weightlifters, swimmers and so on, ultimately you are aware that you’re training with yourself.

Historically, even as far back as our hunter-gatherer and tribal days, each person trained internally while remaining part of an essential community. Each hunter and each tribesperson had to cultivate the practice of his or her own coherent task to effectively contribute to the community.

You are your best partner.

The martial arts include forms, weapons, techniques, self-defense, self-protection, mindfulness practice, meditation, sparring, body training, the study of pressure points and so much more.

When you’re doing a form or kata, are you dependent on another human being, aside from your teacher, to complete the form? It’s important to break down the types of exercise that typically require partners and to have fun doing these same exercises without partners.

Techniques provide a good example. While it’s impossible to feel the physical sensation of the pressure point being activated or the joint lock being executed on your body without a partner, it is possible with an acute mindful awareness to feel the sensation of the joint lock or pressure-point technique while training on your own.

Proprioception, or kinesthesia, is the body’s ability to sense movement, action and location. It’s present in every muscle movement you make. Without proprioception, you would not be able to move without thinking about your next step, for example. The definition is literally “one’s own + receptor.” An acute and sensitive nervous system, gained through martial arts practice, allows the body and mind to feel the muscle, the joint and the pressure point through proprioception.

You can feel chi energy, cultivated by years of attention to how the electromagnetic fields run through your fascial networks. (Chi equates to the amount of electricity running through the body via a field of magnetism.) Similarly, you’re capable of imagining the sensation of a person doing a joint lock — even when no one is there.

Given the physics of the human body, the nervous system and the surrounding tissues, you now have your own perfect partner. This partner is you.

The following pointers will help you train in martial arts without a partner.

1.Start in a standing position, feeling your feet on the ground. Close your eyes. Bring your attention to your spinal column and notice the energy (chi) running up and down your spine. Begin lower-belly breathing. Inhale through your nose, letting your belly rise, and exhale through your mouth, letting your belly fall. Focus your attention on the amount of chi running through your body. If you need more chi, expand your breath and awareness to your internal organs. Imagine your body getting taller, wider and deeper so you now have a giant presence in your space.

2.Once you have grounded into this newly felt sense of a giant, powerful you, open your eyes and move in front of a mirror. If you don’t have a mirror, imagine that you’re watching yourself.

3.Begin your practice. Notice that the person in the mirror is a reflection of your best self. It’s not you; it’s a reflection. Whether you’re doing forms, weapons, techniques, grappling or some other exercise, you now have engaged your body’s proprioception through breath and awareness. If you’re willing, you’ll be able to feel the partner there with you.

4.Use Zoom. While we all have needed to participate in classes on Zoom during the pandemic, I’ve found this is even more difficult than imagining a partner. However, we all have had to engage in this two-dimensional reality. In Jungshin Fitness, we use sword sparring as a form of partner play on Zoom. The power, speed and effectiveness are exactly the same as in person. The only part we cannot imitate is the sound of the swords hitting. But that is OK. Sound, like proprioception and chi, can be sensed even when it’s not there.

5.Have fun! You are ultimately your best friend — in your body, in your mind and in your style. What better way to get to know oneself, one’s shadow, one’s best friend than to work out alone?

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