You need a plan in order to build the technical tool chest, physical strength, and cardiovascular capacity to excel at competitive grappling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and mixed martial arts. Like a perfectly balanced cocktail at that local hipster bar – where the skinny jeans, ironic tattoos, and Anthony Bourdain infatuation make you want to stay away, but the Cajun fried pickles keep you coming back – you need a careful combination of ingredients. You need training in practical fighting, you need a strength program, you need a clean diet, you need . . .well, you need a lot.
However, sometimes you just need to remember what you already know. In this case, you should recall the importance of drilling the positions, techniques, and body movements that you think you know. Lately, I have taken to reminding people that “repetition is the best teacher” (of course, this spurred one of my students to make the comical remark, “when does he teach?”).
The practice of repetition can be performed throughout the day. Like Rocky Balboa before him, UFC fighter, Nick Diaz, makes it a habit to throw punches, or shadow box, throughout the day. Similarly, to maintain a diligent practice in her shadow boxing, UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has small balls hanging from the ceiling of her Los Angeles home as a constant reminder to drill head movement and to increase the accuracy of her punches. The persistent process of throwing punches builds muscle memory, increases hand speed, and refines your technique.
While the art of ambulatory shadow boxing offers a means to improve your pugilistic skillset, you can also perform more directed drilling with a partner. Perhaps, pummeling is one of the best drills for MMA and grappling. The goal of the pummeling drill is to achieve underhooks on your partner and to control hip position. Proficiency with pummeling improves a fighter’s comfort level in a clinch and expands his arsenal of attacks on the mat. In addition, this drill may be tweaked to mimic the realities of fighting against a cage by having one partner start with his back against a wall. The general idea of the drill may be learned quickly, but a high level of competence requires continual practice.
In a similar manner, the basic mechanics of arm bar drills from the guard or mount may be learned in a day or two. Yet, to become an ‘arm bar assassin,’ it is necessary to maintain a regular habit of drilling the technique. Like with pummeling and shadow boxing, focus on the movement of the body, not the small details of the technique.
The point of these drills is to remove any extraneous feature of the technique and to constantly remind your subconscious body of the correct line of attack. In this way, the goal of drilling becomes the consistent process of clearing the path that leads you to the best expression of your martial skill.
Adam benShea is a BJJ black belt under Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller and he received his PhD from Emory University. Adam teaches jiu-jitsu and college level courses on the central coast of California. He is also the coauthor of the Amazon bestselling series, Jailhouse Strong, which covers physical culture and training.