How to improve when your dojo doesn’t have many training partners...

Embrace Isolation!

“The best way to get good is to strangle blue belts!  Practice with people with a limited amount of proficiency”

Joe Rogan

“About 80 to 90 percent of your training should be people who are significantly of a lower level skill level than you are...It’s very very hard to develop your technical skills on people that are better than you.”

John Danaher

When I often speak to coaches the conversation of “bodies” comes up.  How many training partners do you have or require. Second of what skill level are your opponents?  The basic idea being that a lot of value is placed on both the number, meaning the more the merrier, and that they should be of the highest skill level.  If you do not have a great number of great fighters to compete against than you will be harming your own development.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this and recently read and heard a similar sentiment from a couple highly accomplished and world renowned grapplers in John Danaher and Joe Rogan.   The goal of judo is to throw, pin or submit your opponent and if you have ever trained with someone that is significantly better than you then you know how difficult that can be.  Often times when judoka are evenly matched throws come rarely between either judoka. This does little to nothing to build the confidence in your own abilities to perform techniques. Having training partners that are of a lower level allows you to immediately put into action techniques that you are just developing. You can make changes as you see fit and quickly find success and build confidence in what you are doing. Once you feel the techniques are ready and you truly want to test them against great judoka that is what tournaments and training camps are for.  

I believe that while there is some value in having a huge number of great judoka or grapplers as your training partners, but often times this is just unrealistic for most people.  What is quite interesting though is that when there are only a small number of high performance judoka then there is an opportunity for more individual attention. Preparation for the opponents of a couple students is not unrealistic and there is lots of one on one time with your coach. There is a long history of one athlete having great success from a country that is not a traditional judo powerhouse. Saied MOLLAEI of Iran, Paula PARETO of Argentina and Cheng XUNZHAO of China to name a few recent athletes.

You don't need to travel to see the best players in the world anymore. Their matches are posted online live by the IJF. Don't just watch your favourite players but take note of how they deal with scenario's you face yourself.

You can embrace isolation! Success can be had despite the seemingly low ceiling of near solidarity.  There are both cases in judo, which I mentioned earlier, but in mainstream sports as well. The greatest hockey player of a generation is Sidney CROSBY, he grew up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.  Cole Harbour has a population of a mere 25,000 people and is 1,800 km away from Toronto, the hockey capital of Canada. Sidney was drafted 1st overall in 2005 into the NHL. In 2013 you have Nathan MACKINNON who was drafted 1st overall FROM THE SAME TOWN! Clearly with such a large age gap he did not grow up playing with Sidney but has somehow managed, as impossible as it seems, to reach the same heights.

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE!

1. Ask a lot of questions! If there aren't that many judoka on the mats then your sensei or coach obviously has more time for you.  Pick his brain whenever possible.

2. Book a private session, the more individual time the better.  Go over specific strategies to try out on your training partners later in the week.  Ask your coach make sure you stay on track with those strategies.

3. Help your partners out!  Give them some tips on how they can improve, then ask them to mimic a scenario for you to work out in randori.  I am sure they would be happy to reciprocate.

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