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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The Ideal training partner

By Shaun Banfield

Shaun Banfield and Emma Robins

I tend to think of my personal training as being split into three, sometimes unbalanced sections. Firstly I have the training I participate in, alongside my peers, sweating in dojo classes. Secondly I have training that I participate in alone – which involves a variety of training on the bag, close personal analysis and personal self study. Finally, I have the training that I do with my close training partner…this is the section I participate in mostly at this point in my career.

Karate training, when away from the dojo line up, can be a somewhat lonely affair. Whilst fulfilling, it can be very isolated, so to break up the large amount of personal training that I do, I work with my training partner.

A training partner serves a variety of purposes, and can be invaluable to your development. Finding the right training partner is essential however. The person must be on your wavelength, there must be a mutual respect, and criticisms must be offered and received in the spirit they are intended. My personal training partner is of course Emma Robins.

When I am asked to list the most influential karateka on my personal development, with an exception of Sensei Dave Hazard, Emma Robins is at the top of that list. Emma is one of the most modest karateka I have ever met, and without question one of the toughest and most talented karateka I have had the pleasure of working with. We tend to train together pre-teaching and post-teaching. She will look at me, and I will look at her, and we will do drills etc. together. We’ll study one another’s movements and offer guidance. The beauty of my working relationship with Emma is that I trust her viewpoint absolutely. I know when she tells me I’m doing something inaccurately, that she’s going to be spot on. Having a training partner that you trust, that is capable and willing to share criticisms and also receive them well is invaluable. Emma and I never take one another’s criticisms as negatives, as we simply want one another’s karate to blossom. Just last week I was working on the kata Empi, and she spotted the slightest of errors on my opening sequence. When I self analysed, I couldn’t quite see it, but when we recorded it, she was absolutely correct.

Over the last seventeen years of knowing one another and training alongside and under one another, we have gotten to know one another’s karate exceptionally well. She knows my strengths and my weaknesses, and visa versa. Consequently, when we give one another advice, it’s fully informed. Over this last seventeen years, we have seen one another go through triumphs and ruts of the many. When I am in a rut, of which I have fallen deeply in the past, Emma is hugely responsible for inspiring me to get out of it. This has been vital to me, and is something I am remarkably grateful for.

Bouncing ideas back and forth with Emma is also essential to my progression. There isn’t a class I teach, or seminar I conduct that I haven’t discussed with her. Sometimes I may suggest an idea – be it technical or in relation to the running of the dojo – and she will bounce ideas around to make it better or more effective. In this way, I suppose she is my voice of reason and insight. Training partners are invaluable in this sense. We can often be too tunnel visioned in our own outlook, so someone that’s able to see beyond your peripheral is so important.

Emma Robins teaching at the Cowbridge Shotokan Karate Club (www.cowbridgeshotokankarate.com)

In terms of the running of our dojo in South Wales, UK, she is exceptional. I can honestly never overstate her talent as an instructor. She has the ability to convey ideas, and motivate students in a way that few are able. She is my perfect yang to my ying. Every weakness I have, is a strength of hers. In the teaching context, this is so helpful as she has been so pivotal in improving my weaknesses in every respect.

The beauty of my working relationship with Emma, is that our egos aren’t competing. I sincerely want her to be the best she possibly can be, and visa versa. I have, in the past, worked with people that simply wanted to impress upon me that they are better than me. I am fortunate that when Emma and I work together, we simply want to become better and to improve.

Looking back on my karate developments, and the successes I have had, Emma is at the forefront of them all. When I competed at the World Championships in Belgium when I was in my late teens, it was Emma in the back room giving me support and encouragement. Similarly, when Emma now competes, I’m at the side of that tatami watching her exceptional skill. When I teach seminars, she’s there looking at my lesson plan and giving her valuable insights.

I know, categorically, that without Emma’s support and insight, I would be half the karateka I am today. I would therefore encourage all karateka to develop a particular a working relationship with someone they trust and value the opinions of.