It’s the season of love, or at the very least, it’s the season to try something new with someone special. This Valentine’s week, try something different and learn to connect with your partner in an entirely new way – take a Jiu Jitsu or Kickboxing class!
Training in a martial art together can give you and your partner a shared goal to strive for, a way to stay fit, and an inevitably expanded friend network. Not to mention, it’ll teach you more than you ever thought about communication.
You’re working on something and discovering new things together, and showing each other different things. The camaraderie from this will remind you why your partner is your best friend, and if you’re lucky, become one of the most fun and fulfilling aspects of your practice.
Breaking (and setting) boundaries
We talked to three couples in our Easton community about their experience training with their partners. Professor Alex Huddleston, Head of Easton BJJ and former MMA champ known as the Shaved Gorilla, has been training BJJ for 14 years and holds a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. His wife, Beth Huddleston, has been training for about 11 years and holds a brown belt..
For the Huddlestons, the mat creates a framework outside of their regular husband-wife roles where they can explore their identities as fellow students, teachers, or a teacher-student dynamic. Once the new framework, separate from whatever they left off the mats, has been established, they can dive into learning and have tons of fun together.
However, Alex and Beth had to get really clear on how they communicate.
“If we’re on the mats,” says Alex, “while I do want to talk about our off mat responsibilities – we don’t stop being husband and wife – jiu jitsu isn’t the time to talk about who did what chores, or what bill didn’t get paid.”
The life stuff will always be there, but on the mats you have a different goal, and you get to be a different expression of yourself – students and teachers. The clearer the boundaries, the more effective the communication – on the mats together, and off. From there, the clarity of communication that comes from training together can bleed into the rest of your lives.
“I feel like it builds confidence in our relationship and a lot of trust between us both,” adds Beth. “Alex is massive but he has never hurt me training. He’s never smashed me, and he’s never not let me get good work in when training with other.”
Exploring these dynamics that may differ from your usual ones can be a healthy way to practice being comfortable with your partner in different situations and dynamics.
Fighting on the same side
One of the benefits of training in martial arts together is that there’s a mutual problem to tackle, and solving problems with anyone–especially your partner–helps to build and strengthen relationships.
Working on a team to solve the same problem can bring you closer to your partner and deepen your trust in them. It can also create new dimensions and avenues of your relationship where one person can teach the other.
For Coach Micheal Phipps and his wife Celeste Moreno, training together has created a connection that’s very different from their relationship, giving them a space to explore their dynamics and roles. Phipps began training seven years ago, and Celeste two years ago.
“Our relationship is on very even footing,” says Phipps, “though there are definitely avenues where Celeste is master and I’m the apprentice. Doing martial arts takes us to a place where I’m the one that gets to steward her and help her through it.”
As Easton Longmont’s head of Muay Thai and Easton Training Center’s Marketing Director, Phipps entwines a large part of his identity and the way he shows up in his life with training. He holds a purple shirt in Muay Thai and a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has rarely ever missed a day of class.
“One thing I love about practicing Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu alongside Micheal,” his wife Celeste says, “is that it gives us something unique to share. A lot of our day-to-day interests are quite different. But, when it comes to martial arts, we laugh about our rolls and sparring sessions together, we learn together, we cry (I do 99% of the crying), and we get to cheer on our teammates and friends together.”
A partner who shares your journey can also help you troubleshoot moves to review your training – seeing what worked and what didn’t. Having a partner with more expertise than you, or a coach, has its own benefits since they’ve likely seen it all from helping other students work through similar problems.
“Practicing martial arts can be a really emotional experience with lots of strong feelings,” Celeste remarks, “both highs and lows. So it’s nice to be able to talk through those moments with someone who understands, and who understands you.”
Michele and Ian Cofrin, who have been training at Easton since 2019 and 2018, also enjoy working out concepts and areas of struggle together, and having a partner who understands all the time spent at the gym (“and why you come home with bruises”!)
“It’s been so helpful to talk to each other about our experiences in class,” says Michele, who trains both Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. “And to have someone to encourage you to keep at it when things get tough, especially after a tough roll or sparring session.”
Michele and Ian love the fitness regimen the academy gives them. When they first met, Michele and Ian initially had Muay Thai as a common interest, and since then Ian likes to credit himself with Michele’s switch to training at Easton. They have since gotten married!
Ian holds a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu and a green shirt in Muay Thai, while Michele is a three-stripe white belt in BJJ and a blue shirt in Muay Thai!
Go at your own pace and encourage each other
Celeste, with a busy life in the arts and sciences, holds a white belt with 4 stripes in BJJ and an orange shirt in Muay Thai. Rather than a highly regimented structure for her daily life, she uses martial arts as a way to connect with her body and stay plugged into a community.
If something comes up in her day, she may not make it to class and that’s fine. Phipps, on the other hand, would need the world to turn upside down before he missed a class.
Phipps jokes that the only squabbles they ever really have is over training – expectations when it comes to training, training habits, and for anyone who’s ever had a class with him, you know he won’t let you off the hook.
We joke, but it’s a real fact that one challenge you and your partner may encounter is a clash in expectations surrounding training. While you may start on even footing, maybe one of you is naturally more athletic than the average practitioner, or has prior experience, and will pick things up quicker.
Or perhaps you like training at different times, or one of your schedules permits more training time than the other’s and suddenly one of you is shooting ahead.
Remember, martial arts isn’t a race – it’s a practice. Not everybody will have the same intensity when it comes to their progress and it’s crucial not to compare yourself to your partner.