Finding Better Ways to Train
Throughout my martial arts training and especially since I’ve been coaching I’ve been interested in investigating more efficient ways of training. I’ve never been convinced by people who say ‘this is the way they’ve trained in Japan/Thailand/Brazil etc. for 100’s of years’. Interestingly this doesn’t happen in other sports. Golf coaches don’t stick to the same coaching methods that were used in 15th Century Scotland, Soccer and Rugby coaches don’t use the same training methods that they used 100 years ago so why should training for Martial Arts and Combat Sports be different.
In my opinion a lot of traditional training methods such as (in the case of striking sports) doing 30 minutes of skipping, endless rounds of bag-work and then live sparring are inefficient. The majority of people who train in this way will not enjoy the training, they will not make any progress and will eventually drop off and quit. If only a tiny percentage of the people are getting any measurable results it indicates that there is a fault in the process.
Using techniques against Resistance
Another problem is that students spend a long time learning techniques and are often able to perform these moves perfectly on the punch bag or against an un-resisting partner but then as soon as they try to spar it all goes out the window.
One alternative which can be fun for the new student is to not spend too much time practicing technical skills and just do lots of sparring to get used to the speed and pressure right from the start. This often leads to the student not spending enough time actually practicing and perfecting techniques and instead relying on instinct and athleticism. They may also fall into the trap of becoming over reliant on their favourite techniques and avoiding their weak areas. This can leave huge holes in their game which may be easily exploited in the future by more experienced and well rounded opponents.
Speeding up Reaction Time
Another major problem that students experience in sparring is remembering which technique to do at which time. At the end the round the student realises that they could have used a specific technique which they had been practicing for all of last week. Too many techniques and positions at the early stage means there is too much to think about which slows down the students reaction speed and decision making.
The best way I've found to overcome these issues and to bridge the gap between practicing techniques and then using those techniques in sparring is to use a concept which I borrowed from the Straight Blast Gym. It is called Isolation training and involves zeroing in on just one aspect or skill and focusing on improving it under sparring conditions.
Isolation Boxing Sparring
An example of how this works can be seen in boxing sparring. A group of students have just spent the class working on their jabs and then moved onto slipping jabs, head movement and counters. Now if they go straight into boxing sparring it is likely that everything they have been working on will go out the window, they will be throwing lazy jabs and forgetting how to slip. The alternative is that we go into 'Jab Only Isolation Sparring'. I have found that this leads to much better results as there is less to think about and allows the student to just focus on and perfect one aspect of their game.
Isolation BJJ Sparring
There are many variations of these types of drills, some of the most successful that I have used in the past are BJJ positional sparring drills. A good example of this is the side control sparring progression drill. One person starts off on top in side control and just has to maintain the position while the other tries to escape, as you progress you can add other variables to the drills such as the person on top cannot use hands, person on top has to switch position every 5 seconds, person on top has a specific objective such as getting to mount or knee ride position.
Other good ideas for BJJ drills are sparring from just one specific type of guard e.g. De la Riva guard then going back to the start as soon as either partner achieves their objective which could be getting a sweep or passing the guard.
This idea can also be useful for getting students working on finishing submissions and escaping from submissions at the same time. One student starts with the submission such as a Triangle Choke semi locked in. He then tries to finish the submission while partner works on escaping. If either of them are successful they just reset and try again or reverse roles.
Benefits for Both Training Partners
The great thing about training like this is that it's beneficial for both partners rather than just one person doing the techniques while the other is the dummy. Also, training like this can be better than sparring if there is a big difference in the skill level between students. In a sparring situation the less skilled person would never get a chance to do any attacks of his own and would just spend the entire time unsuccessfully defending attacks.
There are infinite options for these types of drills and are only limited by the imagination of the coaches and students. It is important though that that you don’t just do drills for the sake of it. Ask yourself is this drill developing a skill which is transferable and effective in live sparring and competition . The objective is always to improve real fighting ability rather than to just get better at drills which look impressive but ultimately have no crossover benefits for real fighting ( which is where many traditional martial arts styles have gone wrong in the past)
Don't Try to Win The Drill
Also, within every group of students the majority will see the benefit of the drill and have 'lightbulb' moments (‘oh yeah I do struggle to regain half guard/check kicks/move my head… this drill will really help’) but there will always be one who tries to ‘WIN the DRILL’ by finding loopholes in the rules rather than using the drill the way it was intended. So make sure everyone is clear that the objective is to learn & develop skills rather than just trying to win. Like the person in this clip.