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Early Morning Drilling

Everyone loves to roll: sparring against a live, resisting opponent isn’t just what makes jiu-jitsu so effective at preparing for real life situations, it’s also fun and unpredictable and exhilarating.

Not everyone loves to drill. I can understand this. It’s repetitive by nature, and usually features movements you’ve done thousands of times already.

This is also its value. Repeating those core movements over and over means you can do them instinctually when it matters. Part of the power of jiu-jitsu is that technical knowledge gets you out of bad spots before you get into bad spots. If you’ve drilled enough mount escapes that your body automatically goes into one even before the guy has secured the mount, you’ve maximized your chance of success.

If Galvao does it, it probably works.

If Galvao does it, it probably works.

Even the people that don’t enjoy the process of drilling recognize, usually, its benefits. I’m one of the lucky few that actually enjoys drilling. It’s more than recognizing the practice’s value: I actually enjoy seeing the movements get smoother. One of the best teachers I know says “slow makes smooth: smooth makes fast.” It’s gratifying over the time I spend drilling, even if it’s just a few minutes, to see the movements become more ingrained.

I like drilling so much that, for the past 6 months or so, I’ve been doing 6 a.m. drilling two or three days a week. This is a way to get mat time when there are no classes scheduled (and, to be honest, when my girlfriend is asleep). I’ve noticed tangible improvements: I hit moves I never used to hit, and I know moves I never used to know, even if I can’t hit them yet.

These guys still drill basics. But don't worry, bro, I'm sure your upa escape is perfect.

These guys still drill basics. But don’t worry, bro, I’m sure your upa escape is perfect.

These are some reasons I think drilling is so important. I’ll close this part by pointing out that Rorion Gracie and Fabio Gurgel still drill the basics. If they do it, why shouldn’t we?

Now, let’s talk about drilling method. There are two common problems that I try to avoid.

First, there is the time issue. Virtually no one who loves jiu-jitsu has as much time on the mats as they would like. It’s tempting to use what limited time we do have to do what we enjoy most — and for most people, that’s rolling. This isn’t bad, necessarily, but it’s important not to crowd out vital drilling time.

Rolling is certainly necessary to improve,  but I like to have time set aside to really focus hard on correct technique. As much as I love rolling, when I’m 9 minutes deep into a sparring session with a huge guy on top of me, I don’t always hit the details I need to. Drilling helps counteract the tendency to get sloppy in those moments.

That’s why I started doing the 6 a.m. sessions. I didn’t have the time to do what I needed to, so I asked my instructor if he’d mind. Luckily, my instructor is awesome, and completely understands the mat addiction. Best, now I have specific time that is set aside just to do drilling.

There is one other risk that I try to avoid, though, and Roy Marsh hints at it in this post. It’s very tempting, given limited drilling time, to hit only the cool new moves. Fancy attacks that are popular in sport tournaments can crowd out the basic moves that help build a solid foundation.

If Andre Galvao and the Beastie Boys agree on something, you can take it to the bank. Drilling is good.

If Andre Galvao and the Beastie Boys agree on something, you can take it to the bank. Drilling is good.

I noticed this tendency in myself when I learned berimbolo. I’m a flexible guy, and spinning underneath guys is really fun! There’s nothing wrong with that, in my view. Where it starts to go wrong is when you do that stuff to the exclusion of the core movements and techniques.

Here’s how I personally counteract that tendency in myself. I make lists of what I want to work on. In the mornings, I drill with a partner for an hour: we set a clock for three minutes, and each of us gets to drill whatever we want for those three minutes. Then we switch. So, for example, I would do three minutes of hip bumps on him/her; then he/she would choose a technique (say, a scissor sweep) and do three minutes of those on me.

Depending on how on time people are, that usually gives me time to drill between 8 and 10 techniques. I make a list of everything I want to work on, and I divide those techniques into categories.

Each 6 a.m. session, I try to do the following: 

2 Standing Self Defense Techniques
2 Basic Bread-and-Butter Ground Techniques on Bottom (from the Blue Belt Curriculum)
2 Basic Bread-and-Butter Ground Techniques on Top (from the Blue Belt Curriculum) 
1-2 Takedowns
2 New Techniques I Want To Incorporate (usually from seminars I just attended)

Our school emphasizes the self defense curriculum, so it’s important to get work in on those items. To give you an example, during a given session, I might drill these things:

Two-hand collar grab with hands apart
Two-hand collar grab with hands together

Arm bar from guard
Triangle from guard

Knee slide pass
Stack pass

Single leg

A guard pass Dave Camarillo taught at a seminar last week
A De La Riva sweep from MendesBros.com

This gives me a good mix of the basic and the new. It helps me ingrain the fundamental movements, but also makes sure I don’t forget the new stuff I just learned at a seminar by an amazing visiting instructor. It helps me work out the kinks in techniques I think I know, and figure out the core elements of techniques I know I don’t.

There are ways you can mix and match, too: for example, I might do 90 seconds of collar grab with hands together and then 90 seconds of collar grab with hands apart. It’s all a matter of comfort level and goals.

This is far from the only way to do it, of course. I’ve been lucky to be around a lot of incredible black belts and world-class competitors, and many of them have different training methods.

But they all believe in drilling, and that’s why I do too.

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About Jeff

I write, work for social justice, listen to music and grapple. That's about it for now.

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