How to Refuse a Dance Partner

Question: I love my jiu-jitsu academy except for one thing: one of the other students there. He is very nice, but I do not feel comfortable training with him. He’s the type to refuse to tap and instead tries to thrash himself out of every submission. He has one speed, which is a million miles an hour, and I have gotten more than a few bumps and bruises from his elbows and knees. I have tried to talk to him, and he promises to calm down, but nothing changes. At this point, I would rather not train with him. How can I politely refuse when he asks me to train?


No Spazzes Need Apply

Answer: Thank you for your question, which is a tough one. Nobody likes to be turned down for training or told they are spazzy, and it is uncomfortable to be the person dropping the knowledge. But sometimes that is the best and safest choice. Read on for my suggestions about how to address this issue.

Discuss your concerns with your instructor. Your coach will likely have some thoughts about how to approach someone like this student, so consider asking him/her about spazzy behavior generally—what is it, how does s/he handle it, how can you keep from doing it yourself? Talk to your coach in the spirit of problem-solving; you are not the first person to experience this, and you will not be the last.

A good coach will answer your questions and then probe further, wanting to help you address your specific problem and perhaps create a teachable moment for multiple students. Even if you would rather not name names, chances are your coach will know whom you are referring to. Find out from your instructor about the role s/he plans to take in dealing with the spazzing and his/her expectations for you. That could very well help you answer your question. Even if it does, read on for more thoughts.

Repeat yourself. Ad nauseam if need be. Maybe you have not yet had an opportunity to talk to your coach, or maybe s/he has given you the go-ahead to refuse to dance. For whatever reason, imagine you are once again faced with either rolling with this person or refusing yet another invitation.

If you do not want to train, create a brief, pointed response, and get comfortable repeating it. “No thanks; I’m resting this one.” “We get pretty intense when we train, so I’m going to find someone else.” “I get a little stressed out when we train together, so I’m going to work with someone else.”

One of two things may happen once you have responded. Your spazzy friend may shrug, say okay, and find a different partner. In that case, your problem is solved, at least for the moment, and your early victory should give you the confidence to continue to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” in the future.

Or, your spazzy friend may press the issue. “Oh, come on. You can rest when you’re dead.” “What do you mean we train too intensely?” “Why do you get stressed out?” Repeat your response. Remember nobody likes to be refused or the implication that they are out of control, but nobody likes to get hurt or feel unsafe either. A training session is for two people, and it would be a shame for one person to get their needs met at the expense of the other person’s. Maybe at another time you can have a lengthier conversation, but right now, you have training to do. With someone else.

Saying no in the first place, not to mention saying it repeatedly, may feel disrespectful or wrong. And actually, not too long ago, it was considered inappropriate for lower belts to refuse to roll with anyone, and in some places and situations it still is. But more and more, academy owners are striking a balance among the needs of each person in the group to have a variety of training partners, the needs of individuals to define and move past their own physical boundaries in ways that feel safe to them, and the needs of all of us to learn how to be effective training partners for others.

Tap. Ad nauseam if need be. Maybe you accept an invitation to train from someone you have never rolled with before. You assume the best, slap hands, and get started, only to realize within seconds that you have unwittingly agreed to roll with a spaz. If you get that sinking or anxious feeling, just tap. Your partner may look at you quizzically since you are not technically tapping to a submission. So, create a response, just like in the previous suggestion, something like, “I’m getting uncomfortable with our energy level. Can we tone it down a little?”

Chances are your partner will say sure, and then go right back to Mach 5 speed. Tap again, and say some permutation of the same thing again. Do it as many times as you need to until the round ends. It may not be the round either of you expected, but you will get through it safely and maybe your partner’s behavior will change: s/he will either stop asking you to train or take your comments to heart. Either way, enough repetitions should help you start to address your problem.

Look inward. We have met the spaz, and sometimes they are us. I believe you when you say that your partner is spazzy. However, I also believe that each of us can always tone down our own intensity, particularly given our natural inclination to ramp it up in the face of a perceived threat. So, as you are asking your partner to keep things calm, remind yourself to do the same. Take note of the number of spazzy people in your orbit. Is it one or two people, or is it everyone? Consider the implications if it is the latter, and use this situation as an opportunity to refine your own behavior.

How do you handle an overly energetic training partner? Post your ideas to comments.