The Arms Race
Is there someone at your club that you are always battling against? One week you kick his butt, and the following week it’s payback time? Back and forth, week after week? If you do, then consider yourself lucky. It’s a terrible thing to be the best grappler at a club…
Even if you train at a school with hundreds of members you will still probably do most of your sparring with a smaller subset of people who are roughly at your level. This core group of sparring partners will drive your development as a grappler and as a martial artist. Part of your development is because the “arms race” that you have with each specific individual.
To quote wikipedia, an arms race is “any competition where there is no absolute goal, only the relative goal of staying ahead of the other competitors.” On the mat it might look something like this: one week you submit your sparring partner three times with a specific kneebar technique. The next week he figures out a counter to that technique and squashes you. The following week you’ve figured out how to counter his counter, and so on.
This doesn’t have to be animosity between you and this other person, in fact your development is going to be fastest if you actively try to help that person beat you. What I’m talking about creating is a cooperative arms race, where you are each competing against each other, but also trying to help the other person get better.
Helping them is a bit of a selfish thing. Your goal is to make your training partner as good as he can be, so that he can then help you get better too. He will force your game to evolve to the next level.
I’ve personally had a long-standing arms race with one of my main training partners, Vlado. The first time Vlado and I sparred, which was about 10 years ago, he triangle choked me and I footlocked him. We’ve been great friends and great sparring partners ever since, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not continuously plotting how to defeat his techniques, and I know he’s doing the same for me.
The key detail is that it’s a friendly rivalry – all I really want is for my new technique or counter to work for one day. Then I’ll show him exactly what I’m doing, and the probable result is that my hard-fought advantage will slip away. That’s what being a great training partner is all about. It’s an arms race all right, but it has tremendous benefits for all parties involved.
Now both Vlado and I have our own approaches to developing ‘the next big thing’ to nullify the other guy’s techniques.