In yesterday’s class, I worked on a bunch of basic counters with my students. Then I turned them into drills so they could go back and forth non-stop and get lots of reps in. I like drills, always have. It all began when I discovered Bob Orlando’s kilap hand drills about 15 years ago. The drills he showed just clicked for me, even though I know many people think they’re useless. I think they’re missing the point.
They’re not supposed to be the “real” thing
Drills are never meant to be used as such in a combat situation. Sure, it could happen exactly like in the drill but you’re better off not hoping for that to happen. What they are meant to teach you is skill. Skill in performing techniques, timing, distancing, body mechanics, and tons more. What they do not teach is freely applying those things directly to your training partner. If that were allowed, it wouldn’t be a drill anymore but an application of the techniques in it.
That’s the key point most critics miss: You’re not supposed to be training applications, you’re supposed to do a drill, an exercise. But ever since the advent of RBSD and the UFC, traditional drills have gotten a bad rep. People point to “real fights” in or outside the Octagon and say that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. Well, maybe, maybe not but that’s still actual fighting and not training. Like Bob Orlando said (paraphrasing):
“Accept that all training is nothing but simulation.”
In other words, it’s not “real”, it’s a simulation and simulations allow you to prepare for the real thing, try out different solutions, etc. Inherently, this means you leave out some elements. Because if you don’t, then it’s no longer a simulation but the real thing again..
So we come full circle:
The critics say drills are useless because they’re not exactly like a real fight. But they don’t realize that making drills exactly like the real thing defeats the purpose of doing a drill in the first place. Which is skill acquisition. Skills you then try to transpose to your performance in the real thing.
In fairness to them, there are plenty of poorly designed or even counterproductive drills out there. It should be obvious that I’m not talking about those…
Another aspect is the way a good teaching structure is built: it’s supposed to be one step at a time with each one building on what you learn in the previous. Giving a student too much (make him spar full on from his first lesson) is just as counterproductive as giving him too little (never letting him spar or make contact at all.) A good curriculum takes these different steps into account and helps the student go through them quickly. Drills are a perfect tool for that. By taking away one critical component, for instance, the fear of getting hit, the student can focus on learning all those things that will make sure that fear doesn’t materialize. Once he gets to that level, you gradually re-introduce that component into the training.
I find it ironic how critics of drills make such a big deal about it but never question their use in other sports. Take a look at this clip:
Why aren’t football players and coaches shouting “There are no padded iron constructions on the field so training with one is useless.” or “A human player is not the same thing as a big orange ball so what’s the point?”
Maybe, just maybe, they get it that drills have their time and place…
I do drills in all the arts I practice and teach: push hands in my tai chi chuan, kilap hand drills in kuntao and the drills I make up for my MMA class. Invariably, the students who do well in the drills are the better fighters.