How, What, and Why to Drill

I’ve been working out and dieting long enough to know that everyone and their grandmother have a theory of how to get good at a specific sport. I’ve recently read Moneyball (a book about analyzing data to maximize a baseball team’s potential) and it’s just another reminder that the conventional wisdom is often wrong.

So, no matter what you believe is the best way to get good at jiu jitsu, make sure you add a healthy dose of doubt to that every once in a while. Ask yourself if there is something else you can be doing to achieve your goals in the sport.

Anyway, I say all that because I believe drilling technique is the best and fastest way to improve at jiu jitsu. There are a lot of ways to drill, so it’s always good to experiment with different ideas. But progress doesn’t come from a couple minutes of drilling here and there. Progress comes from the regular accumulation of thousands of reps. At least that’s what I believe.

Here are some details about how I like to drill:

  • Develop a system of techniques that you want to get good at this year. Example: ankle pick takedown, stack pass, back take from side control, rear naked choke. There should be a bunch more to fill out all the major opponent responses and situations you may be put in. I have about 8-10 techniques that I focus on (and about 20 around those that I keep in mind and pull out occasionally). You will drill these 8-10 techniques for the next several months. This is a commitment!
  • Take 2-3 techniques for a 1 hour drilling session.
  • Use an interval timer set for 2 minutes. Use each 2 minute period to focus on one technique, both right and left versions.
  • Start slow, but increase speed and pressure as you get better and better over a period of several months.

The challenge, as with everything in life, is to find a group of good people to drill with. It’s a constant struggle, but I hope by the time I’m a purple / brown belt, I’ll find a good rhythm with a close knit group of guys and be able to get a lot of drilling in every week. A good partner is one who is also obsessed about drilling, knows the value of it, and is able/willing to show up regularly to drill when they feel like it or they don’t. Also, he/she should be able to correct you when mistakes are made, provide proper responses and resistance, and work around any injuries you might have.

A lot of what I know about drilling comes from my own experimentation and from conversation with proponents of drilling like Gianni Grippo (from whom I was lucky enough to get a ton of advice recently about drilling). Here’s Gianni speed drilling a couple of techniques:

To many people this seems utterly boring. To me it’s super fun. Because what I enjoy is not the drilling, but the progress I make on the long road to mastering a technique. One of the pleasures of jiu jitsu is effortlessly pulling off a technique in competition that you’ve drilling for hundreds and thousands of reps.

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