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#185438 - 09/12/05 03:46 PM ARTICLE - active drills for passive students
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
Ok, here we go with my first submission. Still kind of rough, but what the heck.

In times past, the concept of martial arts as we understand them in the modern era were much less prevalent.. The idea that one would practice a fighting style for health or relaxation would have been considered by many a waste of time. Years ago, combat training was just that deadly techniques, often practiced with full force. The harshness of life in the past dictated that training to fight be as brutally realistic as possible, because loss in one of those battles could very well have meant loss of one's life.

Luckily, in the modern era, time saving conveniences and the general rule of law have made need for such deadly training not as dire. Many modern martial arts have evolved into predominantly sporting applications, using movements of questionable combat application or foregoing many of the deadliest techniques. Even with these considerations, many students have a deep fear of sparring. While other facets of the art can give health and spiritual benefits, sparring is by far the best at imparting knowledge of what it is like to face an unwilling, resisting opponent. This idea of resistance can be very intimidating to students. Of course, the ideal student (generally young, strong and already motivated) will take to the idea of sparring willingly enough. It is the other ninety percent of the class that will need some reassurance that they can spar without getting killed -- or even hurt!

Perhaps the class is composed of people that are too young to do realistic full contact sparring. Perhaps there are students who have sustained injuries and recovered physically--but not mentally/emotionally. There may be the odd perfect physical specimen--who is simply intimidated anyway! As instructors, if we are to focus on fighting ability, the students must become used to resistance. The act of using a technique against resistance and having it fail is a vital part of learning how to fight! Learning what NOT to do is just as important as learning what to do in the first place. So we, as instructors, can not allow ourselves to become complacent with the idea that it is acceptable for some of our students to avoid sparring because they are intimidated. That is an unacceptable dereliction of our duties as instructors.

With a little bit of thought, there are many types of drills students can work on that employ resistance without being dangerous or intimidating. The general idea is to isolate a single concept or aspect of sparring and have the student work it until they are comfortable. I believe that one of the main causes of student intimidation is the overwhelming nature of sparring. Inexperienced students tend to have a massive, frightening sensory overload when confronted with flailing hands and feet coming at them. This over stimulation of their senses will cause them to shut-down physically and mentally, raising the fear factor the next time they are required to spar. So it stands to reason that limiting the amount of sensory overload will allow the student more opportunity to train an individual aspect of combat, increasing their confidence. By chaining together different aspect drills, eventually you will have the student sparring--without them even realizing it.

Let's look at some drills that work different ranges of combat.

In the striking range, a good drill to start with is the jab and catch. One person will be the attacker, throwing the jabs. The other person will be the defender, catching the jabs. The students start off by moving around each other in a random fashion, with their hands up. The attacker will throw jabs at random to the defender, who will simply try to catch the jab in the palm of his/her hand. The random nature of the drill will benefit both participants. The attacker has to get used to hitting a moving target, and the defender learns proper evasive body movement and hand position. Try making the students do several thirty second to one minute rounds to start off with. Have the students reverse roles every round, so they can get used to both aspects (defending AND attacking).

In the trapping range, a good drill to start with is the arm grab. In this drill, one student will be the attacker, who is trying to grab and hold onto the defender's wrist/fore-arm. It starts off with the students moving around each other in a random fashion, with their hands up. The defender's job is to not allow the attacker to grab the defender's arm. The attacker may use one or both hands to grab. The defender can not put his/her hands behind the back or over the head, as that would become a different drill. The attacker must be able to maintain the grip for at least two seconds--just touching the defender's arms does not count. For instance, if the attacker grabs the defender's arm, but the defender manages to pull out of the grab before two seconds has elapsed, it does not count. Try having the students go until the attacker has scored three times, then have the students reverse roles.

In the ground fighting range, a good drill to start off with is the Ride the mount drill. In this drill, one student will be on the bottom, the other will be on top in the mount position. The person on bottom will simply try to push the student on top off, using their arms or try to buck them off raising their hips, etc. No submissions are allowed. The point of this drill is to get the student on top used to maintaining a dominant position, while the person on the bottom learns basic escape body dynamics.

Remember that these drills are geared towards beginners. Do not try to make them more difficult than they are yet. By doing these drills with resistance you are bridging the gap between less useful non active training and more realistic active training, As the students become comfortable doing them, gradually push the force and speed levels higher. There are many possible variations of these drills as well. You can substitute kicks to the body for the jabs to the face in the striking range. Or substitute the clinch for the arm grab in the trapping range. Almost any aspect of fighting can be isolated to make one of these drills. Use your imagination. Pretty soon, they will be ready for actual sparring--and by that point, they should have almost no fear of it.

Keep the drills simple, and try to make them more like games. Students having fun will be much more confident doing them, even if you push them fairly hard. Instructor attitude is key. The student that hears Ok, if this hits you, you could die etc, will not want to participate. But if you say Ok, all you have to do is don't let me hit/grab/reverse position, etc, they will not have the intimidation factor they otherwise might. Of course, the idea is for the student to be active--moving and resisting. The drills should start slowly and with light contact. As the student becomes more confident, gradually increase the speed and contact level. Give each person doing the drill only one job at a time (one student jabs, the other catches, etc.). Remember, avoiding over-stimulation and increasing confidence is the goal.

In my experience as an instructor, I saw three main causes of student drop-out: Boredom, lack of funds, and intimidation. As it relates to sparring, intimidation was certainly a major factor. This is one of the most difficult hurdles for both the instructor and the student to overcome. The student is naturally afraid of the consequences of hard sparring, and the instructor needs to be flexible in approach as to get the student past the initial fears. This does not mean the instructor should simply not train students to spar, or take the important element of active resistance out of the syllabus. They simply need to broken down into manageable elements that the students can work on in a safe, confidence inspiring manner. The especially hard-core amongst us may scoff at the idea of doing these drills, thinking that they are a waste of time, or watering down the art too much. But as long as you keep the drills based on the idea of active resistance, the students will get most of same benefits of sparring--without scaring them right out the door! Making the art more accessible and less intimidating for the beginner will eventually get more people doing it-- benefiting everyone.
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"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

#185439 - 09/12/05 04:10 PM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: MattJ]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
More like 'active drills for timid students'. Sounds like a good recipe for what ails me, and my concerns about learning to punch...when I don't want to hit!

Resistance training, and learning how to two newbie obstacles.

#185440 - 09/12/05 04:23 PM ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: MattJ]
Ronin1966 Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/26/02
Posts: 3119
Loc: East Coast, United States
Hello Matt:

Your "1st submission", but you're a ~Professional Poster~ according to the server?!?!?!

In that "past" they like us, had boredom, time off, time away (from the wife and kids, ones jobs, etc.). There were laws, enforcers of the laws and the "need" for combat whether then or now, if not a certainty.

Consider, what happens Matt, if someone you, I, our teachers someone in our "martial ancestry" the martial chain if you will actually had the "audacity" <sp.?> not to have ever gotten into a situation where the physical techniques were necessary...?

What happens then??? Consider the question can we be good martial artists, good practitioners of the techniques, ideas, philosophies of our respective arts.... IF we never USE/need the physical aspects outside of training?

What would that mean ???


Edited by Ronin1966 (09/12/05 04:28 PM)

#185441 - 09/12/05 04:48 PM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: Ronin1966]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
Good point, Jeff. The highest use of martial arts is not to ever have to use it. And I have no problem with schools that wish to emphasize spiritual/moral development.

I was merely trying to give some direction to students/instructors that are interested in working more of the physical side of training. I started with the idea that most students enter into martial arts training for the purpose of learning how to physically defend themselves ie; learn techniques. That was true for me and most of my friends.

You are correct that modern "rule of law" has greatly limited the need for martial arts. However, I have found a "spiritual" aspect to hard training - facing your fears, and knowing that you can withstand a certain amount of punishment gives you a certain amount of inner peace and resolve that is indirectly proportionate to the amount of fear and/or ego you have.

It is in this spirit that I offer these suggestions. Thanks for your post.
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

#185442 - 09/12/05 04:50 PM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: MattJ]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
very cool article Matt!

some possible points to touch on...

What are your thoughts about protective gear? does it help with student confidence, or does it add a false sense of security?

How (as an instructor), do you deal with the occational accidental contact? do you ream the offending student a new one...or do you explain to the other student that accidental contact and injury just happens sometimes?

great topic and interesting read.
(thanks for raising the bar )

#185443 - 09/12/05 05:12 PM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: Kintama]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA

What are your thoughts about protective gear? does it help with student confidence, or does it add a false sense of security?


Seriously, it is a bit of both. I am in favor of protective equipment for the beginners. They tend to not have the control (even when going light) to keep from hurting each other.

I do recommend that the more experienced practitioners do some non-safety-equipment work, though. A necessary ego-reducer for the big bruisers to find out just how bad even a light bare knuckle shot to the nose can be!

Power training, I use safety equipment.


How (as an instructor), do you deal with the occational accidental contact? do you ream the offending student a new one...or do you explain to the other student that accidental contact and injury just happens sometimes?

I come from the school of thought that unintentional contact is part of the process. If I get hit, it's my fault. After all - that IS the opponent's job, right? He IS trying to hit you.

Beginners should be closely monitored by the instructor to make sure that they are moving at a comfortable pace for each other. Keeping it at an appropriate level will greatly reduce the chance for injury.

Intentional blasting of each other is totally unacceptable, unless expressly agreed upon beforehand.
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

#185444 - 09/12/05 09:45 PM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: MattJ]
kenposan Offline

Registered: 08/23/01
Posts: 633
Loc: Columbus, Ohio
I voted "Great Read" because I liked the drills you suggest in the article. Altough the article can certainly be expanded to include discussions of protective gear, your article was about drills and drills is what you covered.
The angry man will defeat himself in battle, as well as in life. -Samurai maxim

#185445 - 09/12/05 11:31 PM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: kenposan]
JoelM Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/26/04
Posts: 6355
Loc: Georgia, USA
I liked it, Matt. The only thing I was thinking that was missing while I was reading it was "gradually upping the intensity," but then I kept reading and you covered that base as well. I can't think of much/anything that needs to be added. Kintama's points are good, but I'm not sure about their necessity to this particular article. Possibly "putting too many eggs in one basket" to misquote a popular phrase.

I do look forward to reading more from you.
We should all take ourselves seriously...and then crumple that image up and toss it out the window.

#185446 - 09/13/05 10:33 AM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: JoelM]
Leo_E_49 Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 02/24/05
Posts: 4117
Loc: California
Sounds good, I can't find fault in it at all.
Self Defense
(Website by Marc MacYoung, not me)

#185447 - 09/13/05 11:04 AM Re: ARTICLE - active drills for passive students [Re: MattJ]
Gavin Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 05/11/05
Posts: 2267
Loc: Southend, Essex, UK
I really liked it Matt. Alot of MA's articles are aimed at experienced MA's, telling them to train as hard as they possibly can, but few address how to actually get there. I think a new MA or those simply new to contact work would benefit heavily from your drills and approach!
Gavin King
Follow me on twitter @taichigav

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