Finding your Ideal Partner… In Jiu-Jitsu
Updated: Feb 25
Picking a training partner during your bjj class can be hard. Use this guide to help you find your one.... on the jiu-jitsu mat!
You’ve gotten to class, did all the warm-ups (unless you’re a purple belt and up you most likely came to class after the warm-up), your coach tells you what you’re going to be learning, shows you how to do it and then… it’s that dreaded time to choose a partner for the class. In this time there are two types of people: the ones who already know who their partner is going to be and the ones who sit around waiting to be chosen.
I don’t know about you, but I was always super shy about asking someone to be my partner or I would wait around for someone to choose me to be their partner ( I can totally see some of my Shanghai friends laughing at this part in disbelief). Now, I’m a bit more calculated in who I choose to be my partner but, in any event, let’s go back and meet baby blue belt Jess:
She was always eager to come in, learn, and train. Always friendly and said hi to all her teammates and coaches. Depending on the workday, she was generally on time, doing the warm-up (purple belt Jess is not great at being on time. Not on purpose though), and on the mats to see what she was going to learn for the day. After the coach/professor showed the technique and everyone was clear on what to do, baby blue belt Jess would shyly look around to see who wanted to be her partner. To her dismay, most people had selected the partners they wanted to work with for the class.
Baby blue belt Jess was always happy to train with anyone, but sometimes she would maybe want to work with an upper belt to ask questions or maybe a buddy to have fun during the training time. Sometimes, she didn’t feel like getting paired up with the person who was also leftover (no shade but sometimes you want to work with who you want to work with *shrug*)
So, after learning about her process in choosing a partner ( and with a little tiny bit of intimidation), big blue belt Jess and current purple belt Jess has a new way that she goes about choosing a partner that she would like to share with you jiu-jitsu class goers who always end up waiting around to be picked instead of choosing a partner
How to choose a partner in class
Sometimes choosing the right partner for a class depends on what exactly you’re looking for that day: are you learning something that is more advanced for you and want to train with someone who knows what the actual F**k their doing? Are you only comfortable training with women? Is the technique of the class part of your ideal partner’s game so you can learn something?
These are all the things you should consider when choosing your partner for the class. In addition, you should consider the following:
If you’re 5’1/155cm and 140 lbs/63 kg maybe your ideal partner isn’t 6’2/190cm and 250 lbs/ 113 kg it’s probably not a good match for training to learn technique. This is not to say that there is nothing to learn from training with someone who’s bigger or smaller. I’m a big advocate of training with all people and all body types to see how your jiu-jitsu adjusts to them. Choosing someone who’s closer to your size might be better for you to learn the technique.
On the mats, there are usually many different types of belts, fitness levels, and learning abilities. When choosing your partner, depending how you learn, what you can do, how long you’ve been training or the type of training you did or do outside of the mats, you gotta decide how your partner is going to help you.
If you’re a white belt and you want to have some extra help, asking someone more advanced than you to be your training partner for the class might be a good way to get the help you’re looking for. I don’t know if you’ve seen that look that two beginners give each other when they have no idea how to do the move the coached showed the class, and they’re looking around confused as ever and then they look at ME like I have an idea of how to do the stuff (I do sometimes but it never fails that the times that I don’t get it is the times when people want to watch me do it).
If you’re not really a beginner and you know someone does a technique quite well, partnering up with that person might good for some people who want to learn something from a different perspective.
There might be other things to consider when thinking about who to work with during a class and maybe it’s a lot of thinking to do when you want to have a successful class. But now that I’ve lined up what you should consider when you’re choosing a partner, here’s how to get THE ONE. Here are a few methods I’ve considered when I don’t want to look around like an idiot when everyone has a partner.
Also, just a small note: sometimes you will get rejected (aka they want to work with someone else, etc.). It happens. It’s not you, it’s them, you’ll find someone better, there’s someone right just for you, *insert line of reassurance people tell you when you get turned down*. But in all seriousness, they have a right to say no to you.
Asking before the class starts
If there is someone you know you want to work with for the class, there is no harm in asking them before the class starts. At least you’re on their mind from the beginning and you don’t have to look around like an idiot while everyone else finds their partners. If you want to humble yourself a little bit, you can say something like, “I really would like to train with you because I feel that I could learn a lot from you.” This method is more calculated, and you are putting yourself out there more to get the partner that you want.
Standing next to or close by the person you want to train with
So, if you’re like me and you’re (always) running late to class from work and you make it just in time to see what the technique is for the day’s class, you can spot your desired partner and stand next to them while the coach is talking. When their done demonstrating and you about to break off, you can tap your partner on the shoulder and be like “Let’s partner up!” The only issue with this method is that if your desired partner makes eye contact with someone else before you tap them, then you have to deal with the rejection of not being that person’s first choice.
Asking the coach/professor if he can help you choose a partner
This way is more applicable if you need your coach to “set you up” or if you’re new to a gym or to jiu-jitsu in general. Pulling the coach aside and telling them that you have trouble choosing a partner or that you want a good training partner based on your level or body type, is a good way for him to assess your level and for you to not have a deciding hand into who your training partner is. Sometimes it’s nice to just have your coach create the comfortable environment for you instead of you getting stressed about who your partner is going to be or feeling like no one wants to partner with you if you get picked last.
Also, as per any situation, gauge if the person is comfortable being partners with you as well. You can always tell if someone actually wants to be your partner by how they respond to the request, and we all know that sometimes people aren’t as forthcoming when they actually don’t want to work with you. So, make sure it isn’t like a situation where the coach is basically forcing them to be partners with you.
What happens during non-class times (aka open mat)?
We all know that sometimes training doesn’t only happen during class time. Open mats and other free times are great to get together with your partner and work on things you’ve been having issues with or practicing a new move to fit into your game. I’m sure asking a person to take some of their precious time is daunting and if you’re anything like me, you kind of think to yourself, “I don’t want to bother them” or “Why would they want to train with me outside of class?”
The one thing I’ve realized is that despite what you think about yourself or if you think you’re bothering someone, you’re not. Everyone wants to help each other at your gym and you’ll only know if you ask. In the case that they don’t want to be bothered with you 1) I think you’ll be able to tell aka them saying “no” or their demeanor (I’m a big believer in reading people’s energy) and 2) there are still more teammates and coaches to ask for help.
In terms of choosing an open mat buddy, I overheard this advice from an upper belt: if you’re at a higher level, choose someone who is a bit below your level so that you can practice all the moves that you want to practice with realistic resistance. In this way, you get to practice everything you want to practice, and you help someone get better along the way as well. I think that if you’re a white belt or you have no idea what you want to work on you can just go to open mat, roll around a bit, see where you get caught and ask whoever you rolled with what they felt when they rolled with you.
In all the situations mentioned, always make sure you thank your partner for a good training session. Everyone is there to learn from everyone no matter what level you’re at. It just up to you to ask the right questions and train with the right people!
What is your process in finding an ideal training partner (can be outside of jiu-jitsu)? Let's talk on Instagram