One step sparring drill: Frankenstein

Here’s one of my favorite one-step sparring drills: Frankenstein.

The concept is very simple but for the younger generation (who probably haven’t seen these old flicks), please watch this clip from an old Frankenstein movie first.

As you can see, the Frankenstein monster attacks in a stiff and clumsy way. If the Wolfman would have used his speed and agility, he’d have cut him to shreds without getting hit at all. However, what the monster lacks in speed and skill, it makes up for in tenacity and endurance: it can take a LOT of damage. That’s the key to this drill. Here’s how it goes:

  • The attacker acts like Frankenstein: he keeps going after the defender, all the time. He never steps back to create room, he always steps towards the defender, regardless of where he is.
  • The attacker does only one technique at slow to moderate speed and then he waits for the defender to finish. This is mainly for safety reasons as we’re not using protective gear here. The faster you go, the more difficult it is to control your counters and you’ll end up hurting each other. It’s not a full-contact drill just yet (more on that later.)
  • The defender however can go as fast as he likes. The only thing he has to worry about is pulling his techniques so they don’t do damage. Again, this is not a full-contact drill at this stage. It’s all about timing, technique, footwork, etc. The heavy impacts come later.
  • One key point is that the defender has to step away as soon as he finishes his counterstrike. If he stays where he is, the monster can squash him. You have to imagine going up against a stronger opponent or a guy who’s so drugged up, he doesn’t feel a thing. Imagine you have to do damage and then move away before you take any because you know your best shot won’t end it right away.
  • The more variation in the attacks, the more the defender will learn. In the video, you’ll see me defend against some not so common attacks. We do that on purpose. The goal is to throw the defender off balance and try to surprise him with an unconventional angle of attack. This keeps him sharp and focused on the job at hand.
  • We usually don’t do that many throws or take downs as counters. Nor should you use too many joint locks either. If you do, it slows down the drill to the point of being less effective. The whole idea is to put the defender under a lot of pressure: he has to constantly strike and move out of the way before he gets hit again.
  • The attacker can pick any attack he likes and never does the same one twice in a row. The attacks should always be unrehearsed and unpredictable.

That’s how you do the drill. Here’s a video of me doing two rounds of this:


Some thoughts:

  • Like I said, the attacks are sometimes a bit over the top. That’s OK, as long as you don’t do just those funky ones. By adding these every now and then, the defender actually has to work a lot harder than if you only do the standard haymaker or straight punch.
  • I try to use a lot of footwork and angling away. When I do it correctly, I’m usually in a good position for handling the next attack. When I mess it up, it becomes harder.
  • Take a look at 1min47sec. The first upward elbow, I dodge it with footwork and it gives me a great shot at my attacker’s back. But the second one, I was a bit off balance and also misjudged the angle. As a result, I had to block it and ate some of the impact. When that happens, you keep on going and fight through it. But you then know you have to work on that defense a bit more afterwards.
  • You usually see me standing far away form the attacker before he throws a shot. However, I only get there because I use footwork after finishing my counter. If I don’t, he won’t hesitate to hit me from closer by. This happens a lot with beginning students: they move in to strike and then forget they’re within the monster’s range a well. When they then stop working and forget to get clear, the attacker launches into another technique right away. It’s in those cases that you see a lot more close range fighting and also some surprised faces right before the punch comes in… :-)
  • I like to use elbows and knees. You don’t have to use them as much as I do though. It’s just a personal preference.
  • I also like to kick at the knee, especially when the attacker is in a position where I can break that knee in one strike. A good example of that is at 3min22sec. The attacker misses with his kick because I step back. Then I land my own shot to his knee just as he puts his weight back on his leg.  If were to do the kick full force, his knee would be ruined.
  • In contrast with the previous bullet where I only did one technique to finish it, you’ll often see me do quick combinations. Often, this happens when I don’t feel I’m at the right distance or in a less than ideal position. Then I’ll start hitting him faster and with more techniques to make sure he can’t exploit whatever opening I feel he has then and there. As before, this is just my own preference; feel free to do it totally differently if that works better for you.
  • As you can see, my partners and I are focused and train hard but we don’t take ourselves seriously. We goof off and act silly. Now I don’t mean you have to joke around non-stop, that would mean you’re not doing enough training. But don’t end up being too uptight either. It’s supposed to be fun.
  • This is just the first stage. Once you’re comfortable with this drill, you put on light gloves and some headgear so you can start making some contact. It’s still controlled but you can now go at top speed and not be afraid to hurt your partner. After you are OK with that, put the attacker in a full protective suit and start hitting him hard. The step after that is both of you in a suit so nobody has to hold back. Once you get to that stage, make sure to have somebody referee and pull you apart if it starts getting out of hand. There’s always a danger of that happening.

There you have it, the Frankenstein drill. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

Feel free to tweak this drill to suit your own needs of course. Have fun.


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  1. Looks like a lot of fun Wim! It was interesting to me to see how the first guy and you handled the attacks differently. He stayed a lot closer to the attacker after he finished his counter, whereas the attacker generally had to take more than one step to get within range to you.

    • That’s one of the goals of the drill Bram, to get practice getting clear as soon as you can. And preferably into a position where you are best placed to handle the next attack.

  2. Very cool. Reminds me a bit of Tony Blauer’s “Night of the Living Dead” drill (right down to the horror movie name), but for empty hand instead of knife. I’ll add it to my list of “stuff to play with”.

    • I haven’t seen Tony’s drill but mine here is an adaptation of one of the drills we do in the tai chi chuan style I teach. I modified it a bit to emphasize footwork more but the key point of being under constant pressure is still there. It’s a fun drill.

      • I don’t know where Tony’s drill came from, if it came from anywhere but his own head.

        It is similar in that the attacker gives a slow motion feed, but the defender’s responses are also in slow motion. There’s a few different stages too it, working through the various stages we teach in our counter weapons stuff. I’ve played with doing it empty handed too. Ends up being similar, but not exactly, like what you’re doing.

        Cool stuff.

        • We usually don’t do slow motion unless the student is very new. The things for us is to go as quickly as possible to the point where the defender is working at full speed where as the attacker is still going at half speed. The student should be real comfortable with that before the attacker can start gong faster. Once they’re both going at speed, then we start cranking up the power, add protective gear, etc.
          I don’t often add the weapons to the drill because the students often start cheating then. So I only add them when they’re experienced enough to stick to the drill and practice what they actually should be practicing.

          • Interesting…can you explain what you mean by the student’s “cheating” when weapons are introduced? Who does the cheating? The person with the weapon, or without it?

            • Mainly that they start altering their techniques to the point where they become unrealistic. As in, they only work because the attacker is going slow, isn’t hitting hard, isn’t trying to push through, etc. attackers do the same thing when they use techniques that wouldn’t do effective damage were they to try it for real against an opponent who will do his utmost to stop them.
              Like my teacher Bob Orlando said: Training is only a simulation of reality. I totally agree with him. The drills are supposed to help you come close to certain specific parts of reality (not all of them). As soon as you alter the drill, you risk losing sight of those aspects. Which is why I don’t like to add certain elements unless I know the students can practice correctly so they learn what they should be learning instead of the opposite.

  3. Makes sense. Tony says something similar (“All training is fake…we just want the best fake stuff possible”).

    Thanks for clarifying!

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