The only way to learn how to be a partner is to work with other people.
As you move through the practice, you will need to learn how to partner up with another student. The first step is to learn how to hold bags/pads.
When students first start training, they often hold the bag/pad up with no real conscious effort; they only hold them in place as their partner tries to work the technique. Bag, pad, and shield work is the first level of engagement and awareness. It is a skill that needs to be practiced and thought about just like any other Kung Fu technique. Simply holding the bag/pad/shield is not enough. To be a good partner, follow these rules:
1. Hold the bag/pad firmly, in a proper stance. Don’t just stand up straight while holding the bag/pad/shield. Also, never use your knee to support a shield. The first rule of engagement is to be aware of your own body. Holding the shield allows the holder to explore their stance structure to determine the angle and position that supplies proper strength needed against the strike.
2. Don’t be rigid. Many students feel that in order to hold the bag/pad/shield firmly, they have to be rigid and stiff in order to provided the resistance needed for the strike. You want the presence of power when the bag/pad/shield gets hit. The key is to be relaxed at the moment of impact. This will help you supply enough resistance to meet the strike. You are not trying to stop or block the strike. Simply meet the strike with a presence of strength and power. The strike should move the bag/pad/shield with control. If, when holding the pads, you arm jerks away after the strike, then you are holding it with no presence of power, or your partner is hitting the pad way too hard and needs to adjust their force. If, when holding the shield, your partner falls back, then you are holding it with too much power and resistance. If you fall back, you are not holding the shield in a proper stance, or your partner is using excessive force when striking.
3. Understand yielding. Holding the shield allows you to explore the structure of your stance. You want to have enough strength in your stance structure to meet the strike, but if the strike is strong and forceful, you need to be able to transfer the energy from the front leg of your stance to the rear leg without slipping or falling. This teaches you how to transfer the energy from one limb to another.
4. Check your angles. Are you holding the shield/pads at the proper angle for the technique? Bag/pad/shield work not only allows you to engage with your partner, but you also need to be aware. For example, you cannot hold the shield directly facing your partner for a roundhouse kick the same way that you would hold it for a front kick. When your partner is getting ready to kick the shield with a roundhouse kick, you know that it will hit with the instep, and therefore, you need to adjust the angle in order for your partner to hit the shield properly.
5. Check your height. Is the height of the bag/pad/shield correct? You need to be aware of the partner that you are working with. Some people are more flexible and need the shield/pad to be hold higher, while others are less flexible, and need them adjusted to a lower height. Your job is to challenge your partner to excel in their training by holding the bag/pad/shield at the appropriate height level. Too low will not allow them to improve, and too high will make them sloppy and risk injury.
6. Check your counting. Your count should not be so fast that your partner does not have the opportunity to set up for each technique; this makes the techniques careless and sloppy. Also, your count should not be so slow that your partner loses interest and cannot get into the “zone” when hitting the bag/pad/shield. When counting, you should be aware and in the moment, fully engaged with your partner. Your count should be loud enough to hear, and sharp enough to keep your partner focused.
7. Be aware of your partner. When you are striking the bag/pad/shield, make sure you adjust your partner to the proper height, level, and angle that you would like the bag/pad/shield to be at. Be aware of your partner at all times to make sure that you do not miss the target and hit your partner.
8. Be aware of your technique. When striking the bag/pad/shield, it is about developing your skill at the particular technique you’re practicing. It is not about bashing the bag/pad/shield that your partner is holding. This is where courtesy and respect comes into play. You must adjust your level of force according to the person on the other side. The pad is for pinpointing your technique to develop focus and accuracy, not for developing power. The shield is for developing your technique and applying SOME power to get a feel for actually hitting something. Both your partner and the technique you’re practicing will dictate the amount of force you should apply to the shield.