Getting The Most Out Of Your Drills

There’s a lot of martial arts out there, and a lot of good stuff along with a lot of not so good stuff.

Regardless of technique, because that’s a whole other topic, HOW you train is much more important than WHAT you train. (This will also help weed out some of the junk by the way.)

Something I’ve always embraced is training to hit the target you’re aiming at. This doesn’t seem like a radical concept, in fact, it’s almost common sense, however, what you will notice if you look at how most martial arts schools perform drills they actually miss quite a bit.

Missing is okay, with the right mindset, and whichever way you train you should make sure you stick with a particular system until you get the hang of it. Let’s cover a few.

Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail.

Mindset is key with any sport that you are involved with. Martial arts and self-defense training is no different. It involves physically demanding tasks that, at minimum, feel like an all out sprint in winter clothes(think Antartica wardrobe) whilst breathing through a straw in the middle of a hot July day in the middle of the desert, or something like that…

Somewhere in the middle of that you have to be able to hit a moving target with precision and force, maybe manipulate some joints, and, oh yes, have some sort of awareness as to what is going on. Did I mention that’s just a controlled sparring/competition environment with rules and referees, oh yeah, and paramedics standing by… what about if we notch it up a bit and remove the little “safety catches”? Changes things a bit, doesn’t it…

How much time do you really have to “think” your way through the situation?

The answer is, you don’t.

A punch coming at your face is the worst time to dig into your “bag of tricks” to see what one you should pull out… You have to train your reactions to be spot on and be able to improvise a bit if need be. This is similar, in some capacity, to playing high impact sports(think hockey/football/rugby) with much higher stakes than just winning or losing. In fact, the stakes could very well be your life. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is the truth.

To successfully “compete” at this game, your training ahead of time is of the utmost importance.

Don’t go with the Hollywood movies on this one friend. You can’t have a 1980’s style montage of training for 5 minutes then suddenly become a master… life doesn’t work that way.

It’s not as much about the physical as you think, it’s the mental game that gets you to where you need to be, and I can tell you right now, if someone attacks me, and my life(or my kids/girlfriend/family members) is at stake, that person is going to immediately regret their decision.. I have mentally prepared myself to know what I am, and am not, cool with doing to get safely out of a life threatening situation(let me tell you, there isn’t a whole lot left off the list). This is the level you need to play the game at to be able to show up again next week for practice.(sorry for all the sports analogies… but not really)

Jonathan Shellnut & I drilling several variations on leg kick defense. This particular drill had about 5 variations off of just 1 kick!

Without rambling too much, here’s a few strategies on how to get “the most” out of your training.

  1. Aim to HIT!
    This, I cannot stress enough. When you are practicing any type of striking, make sure you hit the target(the very small target) that you pick out for yourself – i.e. nose, temple, sternum, bladder, groin, you get the point. Make sure you practice this on a live human being, at least some of the time. Remember, Aim Small, Miss Small.
  2. Miss, but with Power
    Missing isn’t the worst thing in the world, if you add about 85% effort to the technique you just thew out there. The idea behind this strategy is to be able to go “all out” as it were without damaging your training partner. But there is a trick to this method that most people miss(see below) and it is a game changer when you know what the “secret” behind the drill is.
  3. The Power Of 3’s
    Our body picks up on things when we are a little odd in our practice. Not odd like doing goofy stuff, but odd like numbers, 3, 5, 7, like that. 3 seems to be a good number for a few reasons. I picked this up from Iain Abernathy a few years ago, here it is – Practice 3 strikes to the exact same spot. This does a few things, first of all, in a real situation, your first strike probably isn’t going to land, the second might(but won’t be that strong), and the third… that’s the money shot. Worst case, you nail the target with full force for all 3 repetitions, bonus. It also aids in the 1st strategy mentioned above, hitting your target and should be practiced solely with that other strategy in mind(sorry, missing does not work for this one)
    We do this fantastic sparing drill where literally everything goes, but at 25%. That’s 25% power, 25% speed, 25% intensity. This allows you to be more “expressive” in your defense and gives you a key insight into how you would actually react in a situation. The best part is, it’s smooth, smooth is fast from what I remember, and fast is strong, so really smooth + fast = strong. If there is any hiccup anywhere, your body will have time to sort through this and “fix it” for the next time, if done with too much speed, well, then… I just wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when you get attacked if all you practice is speed… (speed is a great way to hide bad technique)

I’ve showed you the door, now here’s the KEY…

Bang for your buck, these are the best ways to practice drills for whatever your train.

For every drill, the following should be your thought process:

I would have ______. Fill in the blank for whatever component you left out, I would have followed through on that or I would have hit ____ (target), etc…

Without this last component, the training is rendered utterly useless and you won’t be able to 1. Hit hard enough 2. Hit what you intended 3. Follow through with the technique or any other “thing” that can go awry in the heat of the moment. Remember this – you will only do 50% of what you practice. That means it will be twice as sloppy, 1/2 the power, 1/2 as accurate and so on, train for perfection, always.

This is why mastery is so important in whatever you do. If you are not constantly working to improve/hone your technique & skills, you are training for failure. (This applies to anything you do, not just martial arts/self-defense.)

In summary, your biggest takeaway should be the mindset of the training trumps all else. Understand the components of the drill and, most importantly, understand that the drill is just that – a drill. The drill will not save your life unless you know how to apply it effectively.

This is what separates the “McDojos” who are guaranteeing black belts in 2 years(just out for money) from the “old school” places who want their students to survive an attack or, preferably, avoid one all together.(see, mindset).

Get your head right, and you’ll go far, no matter where the road takes you…

Stay Strong My Friends!


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