Are we drilling the right way or wasting Time?
Can you really rely on muscle memory without the true benefit of real resistance?
If you’ve been practicing Jiu Jitsu for more than a day you probably heard your coach or an upper belt tell you ‘Drillers make killers.’ Sure I get it, you should always practice, but if drillers truly make killers, then why do we see so many traditional martial artists get wrecked whenever they step into the arena against a half decent MMA fighter (shoutout to Xu Xiao Dong). All these traditional martial artists spend ALL their training time drilling for decades, and a lot of them aren’t really killing much except plates full of dumplings.
No matter how you cut it, drilling without any resistance loses almost all its benefit after about 100 or so reps. You see white belts rep out hundreds of armbars from guard, yet they never get close to hitting it during live rolls. WHY? As it turns out drilling in isolation won’t do much to prepare our students to fight against someone that doesn’t want to comply with our technique. Same can be said about the excessive application of flow rolling. AS I KEEP SAYING OVER AND OVER AND OVER “YOU FIGHT HOW YOU TRAIN”
Even though flow rolling can produce some beautiful sequences as demonstrated by the Mendes Brothers, it can hurt our games if we overuse it. Just like static, compliant drilling, flow rolling isn’t realistic when we compare it to a hard roll. Chances are if you’re competing or even rolling against someone stubborn, your opponent won’t just let you advance your position for free. Even worse, you might trick yourself into thinking you developed a good sequence from your flow roll, when your sequence only worked because your partner let you have it. Nothing feels worse than having your game shut down when rolling against someone playing for keeps.
To take a page out of Keenan’s book, a lot of us can benefit from positional sparring more than drilling, even beginners. When drilling a technique, wouldn’t it be way more engaging if we ramped up the resistance level? Take our armbar from the guard example. Would you be afraid of someone that just repped it out 100 times against a grappling dummy, or someone that has had to practice their armbar against someone not giving up their arm? There are a LOT of little nuances that go into learning our techniques that can’t always be captured when practicing against non resisting opponents. This isn’t to say ALL passive drilling isn’t fruitful.
There’s also something we can learn about repetitive drilling from our sister arts, Wrestling and Judo. In those arts, it’s not uncommon for students to be putting in hundreds of reps per technique in each session. Those arts also invest a lot of time into sparring as well, but one key difference is in the number of techniques that they will drill. In Judo, most will master just 3 throws, and in Wrestling most people will be repping their single leg, double leg and high crotch. By zeroing in on a small number of techniques and how to chain them together, they are given a lot of time to study every single setup for their game. In Jiu Jitsu, most classes won’t cultivate a short list of techniques to rep out due to the nature of the technique of the day class structure. Because of all the techniques Jiu Jitsu students are exposed to, most won’t become familiar with all the setups and nuances of the techniques.
In conclusion, I don’t think drillers make killers. Intentional practice and positional sparring makes killers, but unfortunately that doesn’t rhyme.
Truly Yours, Anonymous White Belt