It’s been said many times in many ways that “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”, but I was reminded of it with a particularly good phrasing of this concept in a new book Winning on the Ground by AnnMarie De Mars (her blog):
“The difference between being #1 in the world and #100 isn’t so much the hours on the mat. It’s what you are doing in those hours.”
I think this applies to people who train professionally as well as to people who train as a hobby for different reasons. In the former case, your body and mind can only take so much in a day. Anyone who’s ever tried to drill (really drill) a move for an hour will know the wear it can have on you, not physically, but mentally. The focus required to perform a technique to the best of your ability is as draining as trying to solve a difficult math problem (or puzzle for the non-math-inclined).
For the hobbyist, the reality is that you really do have a very limited amount of time per day that you can train. Ironically, with the higher constraint on time, I find that people do less of the good stuff (drilling very specific techniques, transitions) and more of the fun stuff (rolling in jiu jitsu, randori in judo).
I was always of the opinion that you have to earn the fun stuff. To me “fun” is rolling without any constraints on my game, without a focus on a particular position/technique, etc. That’s very good to do a lot of, especially if you have 4-6 hours a day to train. But if I only have an hour (or less as usual), I have to become my own drill sergeant. I’ll get in 30-60 minutes of hard fast paced drilling on a dummy or a partner no matter what, and enjoy a few sets of training. It’s a balance between short term “happiness” and long term “happiness”. Ultimately, I really enjoy getting a better understanding of the art of jiu jitsu, and that requires the not-so-fun process of drilling and rolling with a purpose.
By the way, I’m also realizing that “drilling” is like “dieting”. It’s a concept that is used by a lot of people to describe a wide variety of activities. So I have to be more specific. I do a lot of kinds of drilling, but the one I refer to as “really drilling” is where I do 100-200+ reps in 30 minutes of one technique. This isn’t some new technique, it’s one that I’ve already done thousands of reps of and most importantly have tried in positional training, live training, and competition. Every other kind of drilling is more relaxed. This is hard work. Productive hard work.