Stress – Your Worst Enemy or Your Best Friend?

You have decided to start training a martial art; congratulations!  Maybe it's Wing Chun Kung Fu, kickboxing, or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Regardless of the style you choose, I commend you for your decision!

You may be training for personal improvement, but you soon find that like life itself, you end up training with others as much as (or more than) you train alone. Both forms of practice, individual and partner training, are incredibly important.   We'll go into more detail on the keys to effective and efficient solo training in a subsequent article, but this article is dedicated to the discussion of training with others, and how you can best help your training partner progress.

Stress in Practice

"Pressure makes diamonds."  -George S. Patton Jr.

There is an important balance we need to achieve when working with a training partner. It is the balance between pushing our partner's limits and avoiding our partner feeling overwhelmed. If we don't push our partner's limits, she won't grow. We need stress to grow; applying the right amount of stress at the right time can lead to peak performance.  But too much stress, or not enough recovery between sessions of stress, and we become overwhelmed. How much stress our partner (and we) can handle is a variable that has a different value for different people at different times.

Helping our training partner is like finding Aristotle's "golden mean", only we apply it to the amount of stress we supply our partner with instead of to a character trait.  What we need to keep in mind is that the golden mean of stress is variable; it will change with different partners and with time (just as character traits do).  We may have pushed a training partner to his limit in a previous training session, but that limit may be different in the current one.

How do we determine if we are adhering to the proper balance between too much and too little stress?  How do we know if we are being the best possible training partner we can be, helping our partner grow and progress effectively and efficiently?  We use our awareness to receive feedback from our partners.

Awareness as Feedback

"Start slowly, and work your way up."

When we train with a partner on a given day, we don't know where his stress limit will be until we test it.  The best way to test our partner's limit is by starting at the low end and working our way up.  There is still the need to be able to go from zero to 60 quickly (metaphorically speaking), but in terms of training longevity, the best way is a slow start.

When we start slowly, we use our awareness to determine how much we need to increase or decrease the intensity of our attacks.  Is our partner calm or looking bored?  Increase intensity!  Is our partner flustered, and, more importantly, making repeated mistakes?  Decrease intensity!  Mistakes will happen, but our goal as training partners is to provide our partner with just enough stress that she makes maybe a few mistakes, but not so much stress that our partner is making repeated and consistent mistakes.  We adjust our intensity to suit our partners' real-time ability to handle stress.

Practicing our awareness not only helps us be better attackers, but better martial artists too.  The more aware we are, the better able we are to defend ourselves (or even better, be in a position to not have to defend ourselves).

Stress and Attitude

"It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it."  -Hans Selye

We can apply the perfect amount of stress to our partner to help him grow, but on the flip side, it's up to the person undergoing the stress to use that stress to help make him stronger.  The great thing about partner training is that once you're done stress testing your partner, it's your turn next!  Now watch this video on how our attitude about stress can change us for the better.


What is your attitude on stress and it's place in a martial arts training environment?  Leave a comment below.

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