Regardless of the two-person drill, sometimes you have a partner who's certain he understands the drill, particularly when he's been doing it a while. Unfortunately, that's ... Not always true.

In my eyes, the absolute best things to do are:

  • Ask the teacher for clarification on the drill
  • Talk to the student about how the drill works
  • Practice more until you understand the drill better as well

Sometimes, the teacher or the student aren't readily available, and the pace of the class doesn't always allow for questions. While these are issues that probably require addressing in their own right, I don't want to focus on these here.

Note - here we're talking about classes where there is minimal talking happening, and the juniors do not talk back to the seniors.

So - what is the best way to handle a partner who misunderstands the drill?

  • 1
    I believe the correct answer will depend on the way your school/teacher runs its classes. On the spectrum from "no talking; only the teacher gives instruction" to "chatty classes where every more-senior is supposed to help every more-junior"... where do the classes fall for this question? Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 13:17
  • @craig - edited in.
    – Anon
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 22:30

4 Answers 4


if teacher or the student aren't available and the pace of the class doesn't allow for questions (and your partner doesn't want to listen to you) -

just do the drill the best you can (if there are no safety concerns); consider this to be one more challenge;

later (after the class) ask sensei what to do if this happens again.

  • 6
    In most martial arts classes, training drills are done pretty frequently. Advising your sensei/instructor of the issue will also make sure that next time the drill is done, he'll take some time to watch you and your partner. And who knows, maybe you were the one that did the drill wrong :p
    – Dungarth
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 17:08

In the context you've given I would do the following, based on my rank and experience relative to my partner. I'm setting aside safety issues and presuming nothing I'm suggesting here leads to danger.

If the other person clearly outranks me, (or has much more experience if ranking isn't a big thing in your art): This person is definitely my superior and I am wrong by definition. I would do the drill their way without discussion. My hope, (since I believe I am correct and my superior is wrong,) is that the teacher will see what we are doing and will correct us. Life and practice goes on wether I am vindicated or not.

If the other person is my inferior, or we are close enough that we could discuss something as peers: I would do it their way when they are practicing (ie if I'm attacking and they're practicing a drill, then I'd do it their way when it's my turn to attack), and then I'd ask them to do it my way when I am practicing. I would NOT initiate a discussion. If they open a discussion, I'd say things like, "I understand your point of view. I did it your way, please do it my way for me."

So the key point of my answer here is that I would try to never correct/contradict a superior. I would try to help my inferior/peer partner by doing it their way, and would ask them to help me in return by doing it my way.

  • But the question then becomes, are you a good partner if you just do it their way?
    – Anon
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 0:46
  • in the situation where I described 'doing it there way,' yes, certainly. In that situation, you clearly are not their teacher and should resist the urge to give instruction. To correct/teach them, I should be an instructor/teacher; If that were the case, this question is moot. Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 0:58
  • I just meant - would doing it YOUR way also be a good thing for them to practice, even if it is the wrong way?
    – Anon
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 1:45
  • if my way is wrong, no of course it's not good for them. The original question presents a logic problem that I feel is not solvable in the context OP spelled out. Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 14:03
  • 1
    The logic problem I'm referring to is finding "the best way" [your question, last sentence in OP] in the context of the question; Where you don't have the teacher/instructor coming over to sort it out. So my answer, on which we're commenting, is just a road map to make an action choice in the situation. Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 2:38

Assuming I am working with a superior/senior/sempai:

When I am uke, and am getting it wrong, it is helpful if nage stops me, indicates that I should attack him/her, and then goes through the technique slowly and deliberately. Usually that helps a lot.

When I am nage, it's also very helpful when uke takes exaggerated ukemi (e.g. puts him/herself in place for the next part of the technique, even if I didn't necessarily "put him/her there").

In the rare event that I am someone's sempai and am in a position to correct, I try the above techniques first (have them attack me, swap roles, take helpful/exaggerated ukemi for them). If that doesn't work, I will give verbal advice, but I try to avoid it. Even though our dojo doesn't frown upon talking on the mat in practice, we try to keep it to a minimum, and since I am a beginner I am quite self conscious of correcting anyone, even if I am their senior or have more experience than they.


The thing is, until you have gained some understanding, you really cannot tell which is wrong. This is why in some dojos the etiquette dictate that noone under 1st dan is allowed to give explanations (which just follows the principle that in any japanese art, not only the martial ones, 1st dan means you're able to teach below your rank).

One sempai recently gave me a piece of additional advice: you can always repeat the words of the sensei.

In my experience, sometimes when my partner seems wrong, he's actually doing something that challenges my preconceptions about the technique. So I try to go with it and understand something new, if only that what he does is utterly wrong. But I try hard to believe they might be something right until a sempai or sensei corrects us (and I do mean us, because when my partner does something utterly wrong, usually I was also doing something wrong).

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