It’s almost a curse word. It’s the worst part of class, next to warm-ups. You may wish you could skip it and get on to the fun stuff.

Yet drilling is a necessary and important aspect of learning, regardless of how loved it is. You’ve got to build muscle memory somehow.

The disdain for drilling likely comes from what it entails: repetition. To some, this might as well be a synonym for “boring”. And that’s what it is when you approach it as a chore, instead of a valuable tool for improving.

If you drill like a robot, you’ll no doubt find it dull. You’ve got to invest thought into the activity to truly benefit. While I can’t promise it’ll make drilling any more fun, I think I can give helpful advice on how to make it more meaningful.

These are the questions I ask myself when drilling to keep my mind active.

Hips Always

The hips are king. Practically every technique and skill in BJJ (or any sport or physical activity) is built around the hips. You can never go wrong by analyzing what your hips are doing.

You may be surprised to find how many moves come down to the hips. A collar choke or a guillotine may seem to be all in the arms, but the setups don’t work and real leverage doesn’t come until you know how and where to use your hips.

Examples

Is my hip movement smooth enough?
Is my hip placement correct?
Did I rotate my hips far enough?
Are my hips heavy enough?

Gross Motor Skills

Moving outwards from the core, you can look at the next largest elements of the technique: what are your limbs is doing?

Try paying attention to each limb individually, making sure it plays its role to the fullest. Look at them altogether and see if they’re working in sync. Tie this into the last point and see if and how each limb contributes to your hip movement.

Examples

What is my left arm doing? My right?
What is my left leg doing? My right?
Did I move each in the proper sequence?
Which limbs are moving my hips?

Posture and Grips

Closely related to your hips and limbs are your posture and grips. They are the other defining characteristics of a position and its techniques.

Make sure you’re starting in proper posture. Make sure you’re grabbing the right spots at the right times.

Examples

Am I in proper posture?
Are my neck, back and hips in proper alignment?
Should my back be straight or bent?
Where does each hand go?

Underlying Concepts

Every technique is built on fundamental principles. Once you grasp the technique, you can try to reverse engineer it. What is the most basic reason it works? Use what you learned earlier by analyzing the hip and limb movement, etc. to reflect on this. Try to reduce it to its essence.

Look at the physics involved. Think of the technique in terms of patterns and flows of movements. Think of it in terms of space, weight, supports and levers.

Look at the anatomy involved. Why did you use each part of your body the way you did? Why did you manipulate his body like that?

Look at the strategy involved. What was the advantage of what you did? What was the disadvantage?

If the moves you’re learning form a series, look for unifying principles between them. How does this move relate to the last?

Examples

How does this sweep attack their base and posture?
How does this armlock compare to others ones?
Crossing their arm makes them extremely vulnerable.
A guard pass is when my hips pass the line of their hips.

Finer Points

With all of the major components of the technique down, it’s time to develop your attention to detail. Accuracy in seemingly minor details can make the difference between “okay” and “highly skilled”.

Refine your understanding of the technique. Make mental notes of the little things. Try to spot something you missed before. Discover nuances.

Examples

I should grip just above the elbow, but no higher or lower.
My posture is stronger if I turn my elbows in.
I actually make it harder if I escape my hips too far.
Do I like claw or pistol grip more for this?

What If?

Once you’ve got the mechanics down, and if you have time, try asking what if? and troubleshooting the technique.

It can be just as valuable to know how not to do a move. By “breaking” it and observing what happens, you can gain greater insight into the technique.

Try doing a repetition where you purposely leave out a step or don’t do it as well as you should have. Compare this with a properly done one.

What if there are several equally valid ways to do a move? Test each and see what you find.

Examples

What happens if I don’t rotate my hips enough?
What if I’m lazy with this leg?
What if I grip over here instead?
What if I do this first?

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Consciously try to improve each repetition. Make each one better than the last. Don’t be happy with a sloppy technique. Seek perfection.

This can take a lot of self-discipline. You’ve simply got to stick to it. It may not be the most exciting part of training, but it can be very rewarding, and I think you’ll find it’s worth it in the long run.

That Said…

No amount of static drilling will make you good by itself. You’ll eventually reach a point where you won’t be benefiting as much as you could, and it’s time to move on.

The problem most people run here is having their beautiful technique falls out the window as soon as they spar, which is why my next piece will be on bridging the gap between drilling and sparring.

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