Martial arts in Portland, and how the innovations and scientific training methods designed by SBG have moved it forward.
Our main message is that of Aliveness.
If Aliveness doesn’t come first, then everything else unravels to some degree and what we are left with isn’t even the same animal.
The basic premise being that the entire martial arts curriculuum in Portland, which includes stand up (boxing/kickboxing), clinch (throws and takedowns) and ground (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) revolves around the fundamentals of the delivery system. And because of this, each individual athlete is given the freedom needed to develop his/her own style; one that is optimum for their own body, mind and temperament.
In an Academy that focuses on fundamentals, as opposed to a technique-by-technique, paint by numbers template, each and every purple belt (as one example) will roll using very different types of games. And this not only produces better athletes/technicians quickly, it also helps impart and preserve the core Art (delivery system) itself.
It is about giving students not just the game, but also the understanding behind why the game works the way it does.
A point that is for us at SBG martial arts & fitness Academy in Portland, is very important.
Learning to think critically/rationally, and understanding why things work the way they do, as opposed to simply how something works, is very important to us.
Of course certain core movements and techniques help form that curriculum, but as you will see in the article below sometimes these can be as simple as a posture, or a concept.
Our first big BJJ influence (and the person who gave Head Coach Matt Thornton his blue belt) was Rickson Gracie. And we owe a lot of credit regading our understanding of how important focusing on fundamentals is to him. *(The Coach who awarded Matt his purple, brown and black belts is Chris Haueter, and he had a massive influence on SBG as well. We will talk about that influence later on in this article)
If you have ever watched Rickson teach you will notice he seldom (if ever) shows anything that your average blue belt has not already been exposed to at some point.
Yet each and every time, a new detail or key point is revealed in his class about that core movement. And that is for us, the definition of a great Instructor.
As a recent example of the contrast that sometimes occurs, a few of our blue and purple belts recently visited another BJJ schools competitive open roll run by another BJJ black belt. One thing everyone noticed quickly was that everyone from the other Gym was using more or less the same set of techniques. The same couple of guard passes, the same escape series, the same attacks, etc.
By comparison, every blue & purple belt on the mat from our Gym was playing a different type/style of game. Needless to say, our athletes did extremely well.
We have many visitors at the Portland Academy who travel from all across the USA and World. And this point about the wide variety of styles represented on my mat always gets noticed.
It’s no secret, it is just the natural by product of focusing on the fundamentals.
This concept of maintaining a curriculum that revolves around the fundamental movements of a given delivery system/range and training that curriculum in an Alive manner, is something we do because it is the best method we have come up with so far.
Not only is it most efficient, but it also allows the athlete the most possible freedom to do things in the manner that he or she can make them work best.
And for every body, that is going to be different.
If you are of the “just do it”, or “there are no superior models” mindset, then this is probably not the article for you.
When it comes to martial arts in Portland, at the SBG Academy we do believe there is always room for improving things, and this goes for the field of education as well.
Martial arts in Portland we never quite the same after SBG introduced this training innovation.
What is the “I” method?
The “I” method is a simple 3-step process. You begin with introduction, the starting point for any class. Proceed directly into isolation, which is the drill stage, and consequently the stage we will be discussing the most in this article. And you finish with the integration stage. We call this the context stage, it’s the point where you take that class and work it back into the big picture of whatever game you are working on, BJJ, MMA, self defense, etc.
Step #1 = Introduction
Step #2 = Isolation
Step #3 = Integration
Here is a practical example for using the “I” method.
The Introduction stage
Let’s say you are working on escapes from mount position. You begin by introducing the core escapes to the class. For sake of example lets say that is an elbow escape, and an upa (bridge & roll).
During the intro stage students are encouraged to talk to each other, switch back and forth and work the material without using any resistance right now. If there is a place for repetition in training, this is it.
The objective for the Coach is two fold, first everyone in class should be able to demonstrate and work the movement in a manner that is technically correct when no resistance is being applied.
And second, every student should understand why/ how the movement is meant to work.
This process usually takes anywhere from 10-15 minutes. If it takes more time then that then you may be teaching something that the class is not ready for, i.e. a triangle escape in a class of people who may not know how to do a triangle yet.
The biggest factor in time for the introduction stage is usually just class size.
As a teacher I like to make sure everyone on the mat gets it when no resistance is applied. And I have yet to meet a student who was not able to get it at the intro stage, provided you are patient in communicating with them. But obviously class size will effect the time this process takes.
Another key point about the introduction stage is how is the nature of the curriculum itself is introduced to the student. And this brings us to a major point as it relates to teaching martial arts in Portland, or anywhere else:
The order in which you introduce things can determine the habits your students develop.
This point really can’t be emphasized enough. Here is a concrete example. If I begin a BJJ lesson with a ‘darce choke’ (as one of infinite examples), and these are individuals who are just starting out in BJJ (first few lessons), then I may in fact be helping them to develop habits which will be counter-productive to their game.
Because we have skipped quite a few steps, which in an Alive roll occur prior to the choke arising. In this example, we have not yet taught them about the importance of maintaining the far side underhook, we have not taught them the first thing to do when your opponent re-pummels and gets the underhook from crossides bottom, we have not yet taught them how to do a proper whizzer, etc. In fact, there are at least five steps that occur between the time your opponent gets the underhook on bottom, and the point at which you are in a position to do something like a darce choke.
So the question is, do you really want your students giving away the far side underhook, and then skipping all the steps needed to re-pummel and keep their opponent on his/her back? Because if you don’t teach them the material in order, then most students will automatically let all that go, and just attempt to jump into the darce choke.
Why wouldn’t they, if at this point it’s all you have taught them?
Now you might say so what, won’t we get around to working the rest of the material as well at some point anyway?
But the problem with that theory is that in BJJ everyone starts rolling on day one, and that means everyone starts developing habits on day one. And again, the order in which you introduce material to new students will have a direct effect on the habits those new students develop on the mat.
Of course that does not mean that a student should not be introduced to a darce choke. To the contrary, what it means is that there might be a better way to work the student towards acquiring that choke in a live roll.
You might want to first start with emphasizing the importance of not giving away the far side underhook to begin with. After that, you might want to work re-pummeling right away if that underhook is lost. A good movement to follow that is a counter series for when the opponent (bottom person) gets the far side underhook. When it comes to martial arts in Portland, at the Portland SBG we start with the “diaper check”, which is placing the hand inside the bottom persons thigh so that they cannot gain any leverage with their underhook, and then re-pummeling. After all that I would probably follow with the use of a proper whizzer (overhook) position from top. Something that is pretty detailed within itself. And from that whizzer position many submissions and movements open themselves up, one being the darce choke.
As Coaches who care a lot about helping our students be as good as they can be, we know what habits we would like them to acquire once they get crossides top.
Because we want them to develop those habits, we teach them in the order in which they arise naturally in a competitive roll.
And only after we see that they have learned one set (with resistance) do we move on to the next series.
For more info on SBG founder Matt Thornton click here:
So using the example we just gave above, there are quite a few things we would want to emphasize and work with a group of beginning BJJ students before we would introduce a move like a submission listed above. Why, because we don’t want our athletes giving away all that space in order to jump into a submission, simply because that is all they know how to do so far.
We want them to develop the habits that allow them to defend things (positions, submissions, counters) as early possible, as opposed to the last minute.
As much as that is all just common sense and as self evident as that actually is, we shouldn’t assume that people who have never had any formal training whatsoever as teachers would automatically get it right.
We have watched many classes from very high level BJJ players who simply begin with any random technique they may have been working on at the moment. And although that may be fine for a guest appearance, or at a seminar, or when working with a group of already seasoned blue belts, when your working with the same people week after week who are starting from scratch, learning simple concepts such as the relative importance of the order of the material can make all the difference in the world. And it can mean your students may be able to compete at a solid blue belt level within a Year, as opposed to two or three.
When it comes to martial arts in Portland, the community as a whole deserves better. Teaching is an art form, and one which needs to be respected as its own field.
How do you know what order to place the material in?
Here are three simple rules of thumb we often use:
1- Teach things in the order in which they arise naturally on the mat.
2- Teach them in the order in which you want your students to apply them as habits.
3- And don’t create problems before they arise naturally on the mat
Regarding number one, if we are teaching how to open the closed guard to a brand new group of people, we are not going to start with a couple specific leg opening movements and then proceed later into base and posture. That would be out of sequence with what they will experience when they are rolling. So obviously there we would start with base and posture, and then proceed to opening the legs.
Point number one and point number two tend to blend together when you are teaching. They are like two sides of the same coin. As a good Coach what you obviously want is for your students to develop the habit of defending and applying things in the same order in which they actually occur during a live role. And that means always trying to solve things as early as possible, not at the last possible minute.
Here is another example of point number two (you can see where it relates to point number one throughout). Lets use the example of leg lock counters. If we show a group of people new to leg locks how to counter an achilles hold, and I start with the lock almost completely on, then again we have skipped at least five different steps.
The natural by product of teaching this way is that you will have a room full of beginners who will often start their counter movements at a point in which they are just about to tap.
As a teachers who want our students to be catching these things as early as possible, this would not be good.
So instead, first we would start with where to put your feet.
We would follow with how to clear your foot once someone grabs it.
We would follow that with how to stay attached, and not allow your opponent to lay back and get position for the leg lock (assuming you could not prevent them from grabbing it in the first place, and once grabbed you were unable to free your foot), and only after all of those things would I proceed with the last ditch counter-submission movements.
Rickson Gracie had a very simple order in which he taught his curriculum, and when it comes to martial arts in Portland, it is exactly what we at the SBG academy use.
He called it:
defense – offense – defense.
What he meant by that was that he started with the fundamentals of a given position.
In his case he started with escapes.
As you have to teach top in order to teach bottom, we can call that first segment titled ‘defense’, fundamental positions. Your first, and by far your best means of defense is to always seek the advantage found in positional dominance.
That is what good BJJ is about.
Following positional dominance he taught the second section of core ‘offense’, chokes, armbars, etc.
All of these flow off of maintaining position first, as it’s the position that gives you the leverage for the submission.
This is a point all BJJ players know and learn very quickly.
Last he would teach ‘counter-offense’, this is the third section labeled ‘defense’, which is to say the counters to the submissions.
This is a very logical progression, defense – offense – defense. And it relates to the same points I have made above.
The last rule of thumb was not creating problems before they arise naturally.
Here is what we mean by that.
Again lets assume you are working with a group of brand new students. The lesson for the day is the triangle. The students have already worked some fundamentals about the guard, and as such they are well prepared for introduction to this fundamental submission.
Our answer to that is almost always (remember warnings not rules) an emphatic no.
When it comes to martial arts in Portland, what we want to see first is the students in the class tapping each other out in live rolls using a triangle. In a good class, this can often occur the same day. But that stated, we would probably give the group at least a few weeks to work the submission before we started drilling the counter to it. After a few weeks every time I got to the Q & A section at the end of class I am quite sure there would be at least a few people who would raise their hand and tell me they were having trouble getting caught with triangles.
The problem has now arisen, and as such it would be time to work the counter to it.
What we don’t want to do is drill the counter to the triangle before anyone in the class is really able to pull off a triangle in a competitive roll.
If we do, I may actually be doing a disservice to my students. We will be shortchanging their ability to play with, and grow into this submission.
Of coursewe are not suggesting that you will not mention key points that will involve what others may do in an attempt to counter the movement you just taught. IE: With a triangle you will probably discuss the need to keep the opponent from getting posture.
You may also work what to do if the opponent tries to pick them up and slam them, or tries to hide their own arm, make a frame, etc.
But the distinction here is one of perspective.
We are working from the perspective of the person applying the triangle, so the majority of drill time will be aimed at this objective. That does not mean you will not expose your students to the things that may come up while attempting the movement.
Again, as common sense as that idea seems to be, we cannot assume that anyone teaching BJJ will automatically understand it.
As good Coaches it is our job to help our staff learn how to best impart this information to others. I have seen many coaches introduce a new submission to the class, and then five minutes later teach the counter to the very same submission. The natural by product of that is that a good percentage of the students never actually learn to use the submission, as everyone counters it before they have even gotten a chance to develop it. A few weeks go by, and the move is forgotten. Perhaps only to be picked up Years later when some of the students are purple belt, and they say “Oh ya, I remember seeing that 4 Years ago but I could never do it?”
At this point it’s worth stating another obvious point.
All rules create exceptions.
So there will always be one or two athletes in any class no matter how terrible the Instructor is, who will get better using the material presented. I would offer that these individuals get better despite the Instruction, and certainly not due to it. And at the very least I think we can confidently say that given a more proper teaching method, not only do all the students on the mat get better, poor athletes and good athletes the same, but so do the natural ‘star’ students. As JFK said, “a rising tide raises all boats”. If the whole group is getting better, then every individual athletes game evolves as well.
As such, when it comes to martial arts in Portland, at SBG we are always focusing on the best ways to teach the majority, not just the already gifted minority.
This brings us to another point, we are always using the example of brand new students when talking about these teaching methods. We are assuming in these examples a group of people who have had no prior BJJ or grappling experience. Again, if you are working with a room full of solid blue belts, everything becomes much easier. The points I made above, may in this case seem far less critical. However, common sense again tells us that if the suggestions above make a big difference when working with brand new people (and I assure you from 12 Years of fulltime teaching, day in and day out that they do), then they will also help more advanced athletes, blues, purples, brown belts as well.
When I am teaching my Instructor courses and the lowest skill level of the students is at least high blue or purple, I still follow the same progressions I listed above. I still teach things in the order they arise on the mat, in the order in which I want them used (habits), and I don’t create problems that have not arisen yet. Often times this means that I begin a class that I am teaching to purple belts (as an example) with a ten or fifteen minute review of the fundamentals of any given position or posture. After the review I get into the newer material I am interested in working with them. This helps make sure all my advanced belts always stay sharp on the fundamentals of each position themselves, and it also helps remind them of what I want them to do when they are teaching brand new people. And on a side note, it helps keep my own game sharper as well.
It’s easy for a purple or brown belt that is teaching a group of beginners to forget all the things that made a huge difference to him/her when they first started, and jump right into a cool submission or counter-movement that they themselves are working on. This often leaves new white belts lost in translation. By always reviewing the fundamentals in every class, you keep your upper belts reminded of the key points they may otherwise occasionally forget to pass on.
1- Use little to no resistance when introducing the move.
2- Encourage verbal communication between training partners at this stage.
3- Make sure the movement can be done properly without resistance before. proceeding to the drill stage, which for us (SBGi) always incorporates resistance.
1- Stick the fundamentals of the delivery system being taught.
2- Make sure all the students can perform the move before proceeding, if this process takes more then about 15-20 minutes then the movements are probably to complex at this stage for the level of the group.
3- Introduce the movements in the order in which they occur in an Alive roll.
4- Remember the habits you want your students to develop, and emphasize these points by organizing the order in which you introduce the material, and the amount of time you spend on each piece.
5- Don’t create problems for your students before they arise naturally on the mat.
At SBGi the Introduction stage is always followed by the Isolation stage.
Of everything mentioned above, none of it is actually drilling yet. What we do not want to do is introduce a few new movements/techniques to students, repeat them in some form of dead pattern or repetition, and then roll. That exactly what I am not advocating.
This example of bad teaching is the often known coaching method of “here are a few random movements I just pulled out of my ass, they may, or may not even be related, lets do them a few times without resistance, okay now lets roll”. I have seen far too many teachers run classes this way.
A few final points before we leave the introduction stage. There are two good ways to know as the teacher when it’s time to move forward into the drilling stage. The first is to look around the room and observe if everyone in the class has the movement. And the second is to listen.
Because we place a lot of emphasis on helping your training partner out at my Gym, and because we encourage verbal communication during the introduction stage, the room is filled with conversations about the movements we are working. Everyone on the mat actively helps his or her partners. This is a great plus for new people, who find themselves in a welcoming environment where students go out of their way to help newcomers. But it also has the added benefit of allowing a smart teacher one more method of telling when it’s time to drill. By keeping your ears open to the conversations occurring on the mat, you will easily be able to notice if the group as a whole has the movements figured out up to this stage, or if some still need a bit more time. It’s always worth taking the time to walk around the mat and listen to the conversations.
Finally, I usually end the introduction portion of the class with a question and answer period that is related to the material we just worked. That does two things. One, it allows any final questions to be asked before we enter the drill stage. And two, it lets everyone know in the class that the time for conversation is now ending. We are now moving forward into the timing stage. The part of the class where it’s time to let the body do its thing, and give the mouth a rest.
Between working the technique without resistance (introduction), and rolling live at the end (integration), exists the extremely important drill stage (isolation), and this stage is the key linking point between the techniques/positions/movements introduced to the student in the class, and the entire game (rolling) that occurs at the end of class. And this is the stage I will talk about now.
The Isolation stage
Once we have completed the introduction stage we head into the key stage of isolation. This is the stage where students are actually drilling. This is the stage where students get to work the movements against Alive resistance. And this is the stage where students actually acquire the critical element of ‘timing’.
Timing is not gained from repetitions without resistance. As such we don’t usually refer to any form of repetition without resistance as a drill. All of drilling at SBGi is done Alive. And this linking point between technique, and what actually occurs in a live roll against a fully resisting opponent is know for us as the isolation stage.
Contrary to popular misconception, the majority of classes at my Gym are not ‘sparring’; the majority of any class I teach tends to be the isolations stage, it tends to be drilling.
As an example, if I am teaching a 60 minute BJJ class, the first 15 minutes or so may be devoted to the introduction stage, the following 30 minutes will be devoted to the drilling or isolation phase, and the last 15 minutes may be devoted to sparring, the integration stage. Of course this is just a sample break down. But most classes are quite close to this example of time.
There are many ways to drill Alive. And once drilling Alive is understood, the amount of great drills available for any particular movement is limited only by the Coaches own imagination.
I sat down and tried to list all the different ‘types’ of drills that can be created. So far I have only been able to come up with 5.
These are the 5 types of drills we use.
1- Objective drills
2- Isolation drills
3- Call out drills
4- Re-set drills
5- Pocket drills
Each type of drill isolates a different group of skill sets, or a particular type of timing. And each has its time and place, depending on the material you are working and the focus of that particular class.
Each type of drill could easily warrant an entire article on its own. But for simplicity sake I will give a brief example of each for ground (BJJ), clinch (takedowns/ wrestling) and stand up (boxing).
Keep in mind that many drills are combinations of two of more of the types listed above. Don’t get two hung up on the semantics of it. The point of listing them to begin with is to help open up your imagination/mind as a teacher and a coach. I want all my staff to easily be able to create fun and highly useful drills on the spot; regardless of the material that is being worked. My own students are constantly coming up with all kinds of variations on different drills, and it’s always something I enjoy seeing and learning from.
Using BJJ as an example, a drill where one side tries to pass the open guard and the other tries to hold the open guard, would be a simple objective based drill. Using the clinch, it could be one side tries to work a throw, one side defends. And using stand up, it could be one side trying to close the gap, and the other side working on staying off the fence/wall using footwork.
Objective based drills are probably the simplest to create, and their purpose is the isolation of a particular goal. For the training we do for martial arts in Portland, these are essential.
2- Isolation drills:
Isolation drills are drills that focus on a particular movement or technique.
Using BJJ as an example, a drill where one side tries to pass the guard using a knee over pass, and the other side defends, would be a simple isolation drill. Using the clinch it could be one side tries to execute a bodylock takedown, the other defends. And using stand up it could be one side working a jab, and the other side working head movement.
Isolation based drills are also fairly simple to create, and their purpose is to isolate a particular movement or technique.
As you can see already, isolation and objective drills, while being different, also tend to blend together to some degree. There is however a time and place for each.
For example, you may have a student that is quite good at escaping by pulling guard, but weak at going to quarters. If you work only objective based drills, i.e. one side tries to escape crossides, it’s highly probable that they may stick with pulling guard. If however you focused your class that day on getting to quarters, then using an isolation drill where the students have to escape that way (going to quarters) may be more useful.
Likewise, there are times when a more broad based objective drill is more appropriate. The main point is that as a coach you want to have as many good options as possible to help your athletes get better.
3- Call out drills:
Call out drills are drills that focus on a particular set of transitions.
Using BJJ, our guard surfing drill is a great example. Guard surfing is a drill where the coach calls out a series of ten commands. For simplicity I will list only three, tripod (this is posting one hand on your opponents lower stomach while you pass), lift (this is just as it states, using the persons heels and then belt to stack them onto their back and pass), and push – pull (pulling and pushing your opponents legs/gi pants). One student is trying to pass the open guard and the other defends. As the coach calls out a new pressure i.e. “lift!”, all the students in the class will immediately switch to that type of movement. So in a 3 minute round the coach may call out “lift!”, “push – pull!”, “tripod!”, in any random order, and every few seconds. This forces students to transition from one type of pressure to the next very quickly.
We have found that we can get a room full of new BJJ people passing the guard really well, in a very short period of time using a drill like ‘guard surfing’.
Using a technique by technique method of teaching, learning to pass the guard well can take some students Years. In addition, people often find themselves caught in a rut where they may be trying to force the same type of pass over and over, and as a consequence they get shut down. This can be very frustrating for some. This is where a call out drill, such as guard surfing becomes a really useful tool. It gets students out of the habit of forcing a particular kind of pass, it gets them flowing, moving from one pressure into the next. And since each call out represents a different type of pressure with your hips, it teaches students the single most important skill you can develop as a good guard passer, the ability to switch your hips in flow/timing with your opponents movements.
For the clinch we have a similar drill. Yes, we call it ‘clinch surfing’. The concept is the same, getting the students to switch smoothly between different positions and grips in the clinch. The drill works the same, the coach has a series of different call outs, and the students transition between them during the round. A simple example would be a two call out drill, lets say single neck tie and double neck tie. These two commands can be called out at random times during a round, which helps teach the students the timing and transitional skills between these two crucial clinch positions.
For the transitional drilling we do for martial arts in Portland, these are essential.
With stand up we can do the same thing. A very simple stand up call out drill would be the run – counter – clinch drill. This is a drill our MMA competition team boxing coach (Brian Walsh) uses quite often in team practice. One side is designated red, and one blue. Red responds to the call outs. When he yells “run”, red uses footwork to evade the charge of blue, and stay off the cage. When he yells “counter”, red boxes with blue. And when he yells “clinch”, red looks to tie blue up against the cage. As simple as this is, it remains an important type of drill to add into the mix. It helps keep the athletes from freezing up and not moving. It gets them alternating between boxing, moving, and clinching up with their opponent, all within the same round. Something we want all our fighters to be able to do.
4- Re – set drills:
Re-set drills are drills that focus on a particular position, or moment.
Using BJJ as an example, one side might start in an upright butterfly guard with a single underhook. When the coach yells “go”, one side tries to sweep or work whatever set of movements was introduced in class that day, while the other side defends. The key to a re-set drill is that once the rolling moves away from the particular position being worked (in this case an upright butterfly guard), you re-set and start again. This allows you to focus on one particular moment within a given match.
Using clinch, you might start with an underhook and look to take down your partner from there. Your given a few seconds to work as your partner looks to counter the underhook and takedowns. The moment the coach yells “re-set” you stop and start again in that perfect underhook position. Another example would be starting half way into a double leg takedown, and the other person starting half way into the sprawl. When the Coach yells “go” the two wrestle from there, perhaps to isolate turning the corner for the shooting person, or finishing the sprawl for the sprawling person. When the coach yells “re-set” everyone stops immediately and re-starts in that same position.
With stand up, a simple example of a re-set drill is having one person start against the cage (or in the corner), and the other side looks to keep them there using footwork and strikes, once the person gets out they continue to box until the coach yells “re-set”. Then both athletes start again in the same spot.
There are two ways to do re-set drills. The first is to have the whole class start at the same time, and have the coach call out “go”, and “re-set”, when you want the class to start again at the designated position. The second is to have the athletes re-set themselves. Quite often I will start re-set drills by doing the first few rounds together as a group, so that everyone gets the picture about re-starting immediately once we veer away from the position we were working from; and after those first couple times I will have the students re-set on their own.
Re-set drills become really useful when you are working more transitory positions.
For example, when working escape from crossides an objective based drill is an easy solution. One side tries to hold, one side escapes, when you escape start again. But with something like a sweep from butterfly guard, the isolation or drilling stage can be a bit tougher to figure out because once the other person starts to pass, that initial butterfly position may morph into something else very quickly. This is where a re-set drill can be a really helpful addition to your drill options.
One of the other questions I am frequently asked is how to apply alive drills to things like specific submissions. Positional drilling is quite easy to sort out, but how about drilling an arm lock, or a triangle? The answer is that I usually work my way backwards when isolating particular submissions; it is the starting at the end method.
In other words I may do a round of re-set drills, starting with the triangle almost completely locked in. The next set of rounds work with a starting position a little further back, and we progress to the initial submission entry.
By starting the first few rounds with the submission almost finished, you create an environment of success, and then work backwards from there. I have found that this method often leads to students being able to pull of a new submission on the first day it’s taught.
For all these situations that arise when training martial arts in Portland, and more, re-set drills can be extremely helpful.
5- Pocket drills:
Pocket drills are drills that focus on a particular distance, or range.
Using BJJ as an example, you may have introduced a series of two or three sweeps for when your opponent is standing in your guard. Now its drill time, and a pocket drill is a great solution. One side essentially hangs out at the range in which the bottom person’s sweeps are available, their only objective is to keep base, keep standing. The other side gets to work cycling back and forth between their sweeps.
Using clinch a pocket drill could be as simple as working for head position, and throwing hands (unattached strikes in the clinch). This forces the athletes to learn to work within that pocket of space/distance. Corner drills are also good examples of this type of drill (see FJKD series #1 for examples).
There was a great stand up pocket drill that was posted recently on BJ Penn’s website. One side would stand feet planted, and every few seconds a new boxer would step into a certain range, in this case it was close enough to hit with a jab/cross without stepping. Both athletes threw light shots, worked slipping, accuracy, composure, etc. This is a good example of a nice pocket drill. As a new boxer would cycle in every 15 seconds or so and one side stayed in, it was also an excellent endurance drill.
Obviously it should go without saying that in a fight you don’t want to stand feet planted and bang, anymore then you want to stay in a corner, not getting out. Footwork is the main component we work with our athletes when it comes to striking. But that stated, there are still moments in time where these ranges exist in fights, and pocket drills are excellent tools for isolating those moments and helping athletes get over their apprehension at working from these distances. They help with timing, composure, combinations, everything.
Drill Type – Helps Isolate:
1- Objective – A Goal
2- Isolation – A Movement/ Technique
3- Call Out – A Transition
4- Re-set – A Position
5- Pocket – A Range/ Distance
Now that you have all the options for drilling, there really should be no set of movements or techniques that you teach in an introduction stage that cannot immediately be translated into an almost infinite amount of fully “Alive” drills.
That crucial drilling stage should always exist in class between your introduction stage, and your sparring. There is no movement “too deadly”, or “too advanced” to not be put into an Alive drill format. And it’s in the drill stage that students are given the space and time to develop that ever important element of timing for the particular lesson taught in class.
As I mentioned previously in terms of time, if we are using a 60 minute class for a rough example, then approximately 15 minutes or so would be devoted to the introduction stage. During that stage students practice the move without resistance, communicate with each other, ask questions, and make sure they understand the basic how’s and why’s of its structure. Your job as a coach at this stage is to help make sure everyone in class gets what it is you are offering.
The second stage, or isolation stage is the drill time. And this will take the large bulk of class. Again using the hour long class example, the drill stage would usually take up at least half that time, or 30 minutes. During this stage students are encouraged to be quiet.
Verbal communications is discouraged for a number of different reasons:
– It is distracting, drill time is the time to allow the body to work..
– It can used as a tactic by students who are too lazy or out of shape as a means of evading the workout.
– Its not only okay to be unsuccessful sometimes during drills, its required.If you are successful 100% of the time, then you are not working against enough resistance. So there is no reason to stop and have a conversation mid drill about why something is failing. That will occur post drill time.
When it comes to martial arts in Portland, the students at our acadmey know that when the music turns on, and the stop watch or timer gets going, it’s time to be quiet and drill. I encourage each student to help their partner by correcting mistakes physically, not verbally. That means that if your partner is having real trouble with a particular drill, you ease up a bit. Once you see they have it, you then reverse the process and turn it up a bit.
This brings us to one of the most important points as it relates to Alive drilling.
All Alive drilling should incorporate progressive resistance.
The key word there is ‘progressive’.
Above: UFC Legend Forrest Griffin, after breaking his shoulder during an MMA fight in South Africa, where he was cornered by SBG Founder Matt Thornton.
One thing I often say prior to working drills at my seminars is that if you are working with your partner, and you are a purple belt and they are a white belt, and you completely shut them down during the entire drill, then you are a dick. This usually gets a bit of a laugh, but it’s a solid point.
You want to create a culture in your gym where athletes learn how to work with each other. Having a drill partner who just falls over and allows you to score every time, sucks. Likewise, having a drill partner who dominates you to such a degree that you are completely unable to work the material, also sucks. Both are really pointless. What we want to do is create an environment where all the students learn how to ratchet up or down the resistance they are giving during a drill, without having to stop and have a conversation about it.
There are a couple ways you can help facilitate this habit as a coach:
1- You can make sure you talk about it in class, prior to starting the drill.
Let it be known from the top down that when it comes to drill time, if any one particular athlete shuts all the beginners down nobody on the mat is going to think their cool for doing so. Being a great training partner is a skill you have to work at, and part of that is being conscious of the level of resistance you are giving.
2- You can make sure you designate who the “coach” is prior to every drill.
What I mean by that is I make sure before every drill period that all the students know who the drill is designed primarily to help. IE: if we worked escapes from bottom in class that day, then the top person is the coach. If the bottom person escapes two or three times in a row, ratchet up the intensity more. If they can’t get out at all, ease up just a bit. Likewise, if we were working holding top in class, then the bottom person is the coach. If you escape easily, slow down a bit. If you are having trouble, raise the intensity.
By designating who the coach is during a drill, you are by proxy assigning one of the two people involved the role of controlling the tempo, pace, and level of resistance during the drill. And that can make a huge difference.
3- You can match people yourself.
Some times the resistance levels match up naturally and both parties can go 100% with each other. For example, two blue belts that are both about the same level and size. If you as the coach notice a match up during drill phase that is not working out so well, one side may be completely outclassed, then matching up training partners yourself (who works with who) may help.
One note of caution here, if you have a student who you find yourself having to re-match frequently because he or she has a hard time adjusting intensity levels, it may be worth taking the time to have a conversation with them about this. Not everyone gets it if you don’t.
As an example of this, there was a brown belt at another school in my area that was fairly notorious for not playing nice with others. He had on multiple occasions, hurt out of town guests by slapping on fast submissions, leg lock, etc, not giving them time to tap. I went so far as to have a conversation with the gym owner about this guy, and although they were fully aware of the issue, they kept him on board. Why? Because he was a brown belt, and a good body for the upper belts to roll with.
Of course this eventually turned around and bit them on the ass, the brown belt left their gym to do his own thing, and for a brief time had a small gym filled with a group of his own perpetually semi-crippled students.
My point here is pretty simple, people like that are not worth having on your mat.
One of your main responsibilities as coach is the health and safety of the people on your floor. Keeping someone around because they may be relatively “good”, even though they risk injury to others, is not acceptable. And in the long run it will always backfire on you.
In terms of progressive resistance, I am not going to pretend to know what the exact percentage of success to failure produces the best results in terms of developing a certain skill set. I would be skeptical of anyone who did claim to know something like that.
However, I will say that in time, most athletes learn to feel when they are drilling well and getting the proper resistance. You will know.
– Make sure everyone is using progressive resistance. Conversation about this topic, designating the coach for the round, and matching people up can all help facilitate this.
– Keep everyone working throughout the round. The time for conversations and questions is now over. Everyone can evaluate the movements and ask questions again after the drill period has ended.
– As a coach one of your top priorities is the safety of the people on your mat. So keep your eyes and ears open, and pay attention to what is occurring during the drills.
Since the drill stage is the bulk of the class, a typical class will have the students doing multiple rounds. And often times I will have them rotate partners as well. There is no right or wrong answer in terms of the exact time (minutes) used per round. In a regular group class I want them to get a good workout, and leave having learned something about the Art. In a competition team practice the objectives are different, the intensity is greatly increased, and I will be pushing the athletes much harder. So as a coach you have to look at the group you are working with and assess what the amount of rounds, and time per each round that should be used. Different groups have different needs.
Once we have finished the drill stage, it’s time to move into the final section of the ‘I’ method, the integration phrase.
The Integration phase
The integration phase is the context phase.
You have taken a part of the game out and worked on in, and now it is time to put it back into the big picture of whatever you are working on in that class, BJJ, MMA, self defense, etc.
For BJJ this is relatively simple, it’s the roll time we have at the end of class. Sometimes I may have the students start from a particular spot, i.e.: if we were working escapes from bottom that day, one side might start on bottom and they wrestle to submission from there. Sometimes we will start from the knees, and sometimes we will start standing.
It should be noted that all competitions start standing, and as such it’s important we do that in the gym as well.
However, like most BJJ gyms we also start from the knees sometimes also. The reason for this is simply longevity. Wrestling from standing 20 times a class, day in and day out, can start to break down your body. Starting on the knees allows us to roll daily with far less impact. That stated, if I see two students putting up a ten minute fight from the knees I usually just tell them just to stand up. Since we work from the knees so we can focus on our groundwork, it makes far more sense to just have one side start in a specific position or pull guard. Fighting hard from the knees for more then a few seconds is silly.
In Boxing or MMA classes, the integration phase can sometimes be a bit trickier when you are working with a group of brand new students. One of the great advantages of BJJ is the fact that you can roll live on day one. Not everyone will be comfortable enough to box or spar MMA on day one. This is true even under the most gentle and welcoming of conditions. So in those circumstances, you may simply extend the drill phase through to the end of class.
However, even in these cases it is still worth taking the last few minutes to explain or demonstrate to students how the material they worked fits into the big picture of that particular game. All of this will vary quite a bit depending on the types of clients you have, their objectives, and the focus of the particular gym.
The last point I will make about the integration phase is that it is almost always a good idea to leave at least a few minutes at the end of every class for an open question and answer period. By open I mean students should free to ask any question, even if it doesn’t pertain to the lesson taught that day.
My favorite questions are always the ones I don’t have an immediate answer to. This provides a chance for everyone to grow. But even if you do have a snappy answer ready, it is always better to engage the student who is asking the question in a conversation. Give them a chance to problem solve, think critically, and potentially discover the solution on their own. This is sometimes known as the “inquiry method” of teaching, or the Socratic method. And it is another topic I am sure I will devote an entire article to sometime in the future. Studies have shown that students who discover answers on their own (perhaps with your guidance, or leading questions) tend to retain those answers at a much higher rate, as opposed to simply being ‘told’ or shown the answer, without having to work or think for it at all.
The worst possible coaching method is quite often a direct answer to a direct question.
Part of the job a great teacher or coach has is helping his/her students to learn how to learn. One of my major goals as a BJJ coach is to make myself (as their coach) less and less necessary. A great coach should be like a great butler, there when you really need them, but working unseen in the background the rest of the time.
So that’s the basics of the ‘I’ method. To re-cap:
1- Use little to no resistance when introducing the move.
2- Encourage verbal communication between training partners.
3- Make sure the movement can be done properly without resistance before proceeding to the drill stage, which for us (SBGi) always incorporates resistance.
4- Stick the fundamentals of the delivery system being taught.
5- Introduce the movements in the order in which they occur in an Alive roll.
6- Remember the habits you want your students to develop, and emphasize these points by organizing the order in which you introduce the material, and the amount of time you spend on each piece.
7- Don’t create problems for your students before they arise naturally on the mat.
8- Observe and listen to the conversations on the mat to make sure everyone is getting it.
9- End with a question and answer period for anyone who still may have a question about the material you just introduced.
Notes for the Isolation (drilling) phase:
The five types of drills:
Drill Type – Helps Isolate:
1- Objective – A Goal
2- Isolation – A Movement/ Technique
3- Call Out – A Transition
4- Re-set – A Position
5- Pocket – A Range/ Distance
1- Make sure everyone is using progressive resistance. Explaining what progressive resistance means before the drill starts, designating the coach for the round, and matching people up can all help facilitate this.
2 – Keep everyone working throughout the round.The time for conversations and questions is now over. Everyone can evaluate the movements and ask questions again after the drill period has ended.
3 – As a coach one of your top priorities is the safety of the people on your mat. So keep your eyes and ears open, and pay attention to what is occurring during the drills.
1- Give time at the end of the class for the students to roll, or spar.
2- Use this period to put the material you worked in class back into the context of the overall game you are playing. And take the time to go through that context.
3- Leave a short period at the end of class for a general question and answer period where students feel free to ask any questions they may have. And encourage critical thinking, and problem solving.
The Posture – Pressure – Possibilities model:
The last drilling concept I will talk about is a newer method of organizing a class that was created by one of the Portland Gym coaches, Cane Prevost. We call this method the Posture, Pressure, Possibilities model, and it is pretty fantastic in its simplicity.
Here is a post that Cane made in our member’s forum, Cane teaches martial arts in Portland at the SBG academy http://www.straightblastgym.com/ where he explains in detail this Coaching model:
“I always use the I method exclusively in my classes. I’ll never teach anything in class that students don’t get to try against resistance that same class. I’ve always done that. What I’m doing differently now is that I almost never start with techniques anymore.
I found that it works way better if I build a foundation first. My teaching progression for most classes now is posture then pressure then objective/purpose. In that order.
If I have a particular technique I want to introduce I’ll first find the posture and work that separate from the technique. Then once everyone is good with the posture I’ll add pressure. I try to do an isolation round of sparring for each part.
Once everyone is able to work good posture and pressure I’ll begin to add objective/purpose which for me is often expressed in a technique. That way they don’t learn a technique in a vacuum. They have a foundation to hang it on. I found that doing it this way I get way more students able to use the technique when I isolate it in sparring than I used to. The difference has been remarkable.Here’s an example from this week to illustrate-I wanted to teach some escapes from back mount when top guy has hooks in. Where I started was posture. I showed them how to ball up and protect the neck. The top guy got a harness without hooks and the bottom guy just worked on posture. Once everyone could posture properly I isolated it by having the top guy hold the harness and roll them around a bit. All the bottom guy had to do was keep the ball. After the isolation round I corrected posture a bit and showed them a simple way to remove a hook if the top guy got one in. Then we isolated again. This time the top guy was trying to get both hooks in. If the top guy got both hooks in he “won” and they’d go back to neutral and start over. The bottom guy was just supposed to remove the hooks as they got in and resume the ball.I then went back to isolation stage. I could have taught an escape technique here but I wanted to break it down more and introduce a pressure first. I had them roll onto their side, still in a ball. The top guy has both hooks in. After they roll onto their side I had them remove the bottom hook and sit on the leg, still in posture. No escape yet. I didn’t prioritize which side they rolled to even though there definitely is a better side when the top guy has harness. I didn’t want to give too much detail. I often found that if I give too much detail right off the bat students get lost in the details and lose the technique. Anyway, I isolated again. This time the top guy started with both hooks in and harness.
The bottom guy was supposed to roll to one side and remove the bottom hook and sit on it. I told them to not go farther into the escape yet. I wanted them to stop there.Finally I went back to intro stage and showed the escape from back. I showed them how to slump to prevent the RNC. I showed them how to trap the bottom arm in the harness and to fall to that side. I showed them how to remove the hook and drive their inside shoulder to the mat and use the ground to peel their opponent off their backs. They picked up the technique easily because the isolation we had been doing earlier contained most of the movements for the technique already. They understood the technique because they had a posture and pressure to hang it on. I went to isolation stage and had them escape from back mount when the top guy had hooks and harness. Every single person was pulling it off or making serious threats with it right away.It’s a lot of prep work to show one technique but I can see the results. I know that more people will retain it too.
More importantly the class is taught in a progressive way with the most important stuff first. That way students can turn off their brains when they get full and still leave with useful info. Beginners will remember the posture. Students with more experience may not remember the technique but they will remember the posture and some pressure and they’ll be able to pose a threat with those. More experienced students will remember it all. That’s been my solution to teaching to a mixed room of new beginners to advanced students. I’ll actually tell students in class “OK, I already taught all the important stuff, you don’t have to remember anything from here on out.” I learned that from a beginner. He told me that’s what he did anyway because he just couldn’t retain it all. Other beginners have told me how helpful it is to know they don’t have to try to remember it all. When they come to my classes they know all they really have to know is that first thing I show them. Anything more than that is just gravy. In any case everyone is able to leave with a piece that works for them and everyone improved their back game regardless of experience. Even those who knew everything I showed got better from all the isolation sparring.Sorry for the length. I hope this makes some sense to somebody?
I’m a teacher by trade and I get as excited about teaching bjj as I do training it. Of course it goes without saying that I invented none of this but stole it from lots of good coaches I know including Matt.
Stage 1- In this stage we start with posture. Students learn where to put their arms and legs etc. in relation to their opponents. They practice in intro stage a bit.Then they isolate it. Usually this means either trying to keep the posture against resistance or trying to get to the posture. If they are doing cross sides bottom for example, I’d have them work on just getting to the posture from a bad position. If they are working cross sides top I’d have them work on keeping it.
Stage 2- Here I’d introduce some pressures from the posture. This could be shoulder of justice from top, or push and pull from guard bottom, or upa etc. Next, they’d isolate again using the pressure. I’d have them work against resistance with the only goal to apply the pressure while maintaining posture. The partner’s goal would be to break their posture.
Stage 3- Here I’d introduce the purpose/objective. This is where you actually pass the guard, or pull off the sub, or escape from bottom etc. Once they have the technique I’d isolate again with the objective in mind. Most times when I do this I’ll do one round with them trying to use the technique I taught and one round where they can use whatever they want.What I like is that beginners usually will remember stage 1 stuff. More advanced students will get stage 2 and sometimes 3. The teaching progression is most important stuff first. That way they can shut off their brains when full.
– Cane Prevost”
“Cane wanted to let you know that all my classes use a version of your above description. I break my classes into the following categories:
-Posture within the position
-Pressure within the posture
-Potential within the pressure
Rarely do my classes involve subs they generally deal with establishing position or escaping/surviving. Each class builds on the previous class which allows for a review at the start of each class aiding in the retention of material and also helping students who missed a class.
– Travis Davison”
I was recently in Sweden where I watched John Kavanagh teach a class on countering spider guard (feet in biceps with gi variation). He used the 3-P model, and rather then showing a technique-by-technique set of counters, he demonstrated a posture you want to immediately try and get into should your opponent start to play this kind of guard. Students then went through various rounds of drilling where one side worked the guard, and the other attempted to get to posture. The posture itself effectively killed this type of guard, and the possibilities that flowed off of it where almost limitless. By keeping it simple and focusing on posture, not only did John get everyone better rapidly, he also gave them plenty of room to explore their own games/variations that flowed from this.
The 3-P model is an example of our curriculum continuing to evolve. And it’s also a good example of how this type of evolution inevitably leads to greater simplicity and an increased understanding of the delivery system itself.
I was recently training with my coach Chris Haueter, and as we were working from crossides he noticed that I was using my chest in an area where most people will use their hip. The reason for it is pretty simple, I am 6’8” tall, so there are some BJJ moves that I may do a bit differently to accommodate my size. The real point though, is that this is really the case with everyone. All of us have different bodies, attributes, and most importantly, temperaments. All of these different qualities lead to each of us playing a different “style”.
This is one of many reasons why we focus on fundamentals at SBGi, as it gives the most creative freedom for each athlete to go through this important process of learning how to make the material work for them. While at the same time preserving the core technology of the delivery system itself.
But it is also an example of reverse engineering a style.
You can watch any BJJ athlete roll, see the way they play the game, and work backwards from there as a means to try and shut down their game. Some athletes are really good at this, and they can use it to help themselves or their athletes compete in MMA, or BJJ. Randy Couture is quite good at this, and I have listened to him break down other fighter’s games (in terms of what would be needed to stop them) with fairly accurate and precise detail. Not all competitors have this capability.
That stated, one of the best ways to develop this skill, is to really go in depth in terms of “why” BJJ works the way it does. If you understand the ‘why’ part, then you will also understand how someone else is able to do what they do.
This brings us back around again to the basic physics of how BJJ works, it’s fundamentals, and part of the reason we do things the way we do. It is so we can pass this information on to the next generation; those who will take all of it, and build upon it. In the process they will be taking the Art further then it was before. Further then I could. And that is the true objective of any sincere teacher, or coach.
My main objective is to produce people who understand and do BJJ better then I ever have. That is what I am here for.
Sometimes the steps we take to help ensure our own students are better then we were can seem a bit odd to an outsider. For example, the names we use. When we see a particular movement that is often overlooked, but is in fact really crucial to the game, we often name it. Naming something tends to help students remember it. The “Shoulder of Justice” is a great example of this. It is by all accounts just a cross face from top. And yet, when done correctly it can have drastic effects on your opponent’s position. So although the name may indeed be in good fun, there is also a reason to the rhyme.
Finally there is that piece about posture again. When you are reverse engineering another athlete’s style, the best place to start is often posture. Posture is both the beginning, and in many ways the end of fighting knowledge (stand up, clinch and ground).
For example, if you have an athlete that is really good at working butterfly hook sweeps from guard, it does not therefore mean that the best thing to do is drill counters to butterfly hook sweeps. Instead, try looking at the basic posture the athlete sets him/herself into prior to achieving the sweep. I can promise you that the athlete is good at the sweep, because they are good at acquiring that posture. If you can learn to recognize, and then break down that posture, you can shut down their sweeps.
It’s going to the root of the problem, as opposed to the branches.
As a coach creating drills for his athletes, keep this simple point in mind. If you work consistently from the root of the delivery system, from the postures, then you will rapidly accelerate the learning curve of your student’s performance as well as their big picture understanding of the game.
Some notes on reverse engineering a game:
1- What posture does a move work from?
2- Why does it require that posture?
3- What posture can be used to counter it?
4- How can we drill this counter?
5- How does this translate into my own game?
On a last note I will address a final few questions I get asked about drilling.
The first is, how does this change when training for a competition?
I am planning on writing another article in the future that will go in depth into the subject of competition; a topic that is not as simple as many people tend to think. In the meantime I will say that we divide competition up two ways at my Gym. There is MMA, and then there is BJJ, or submission grappling (no-gi).
With MMA we have very strict guidelines and training standards that we hold to. These are in place primarily for the well being and safety of the fighters themselves. I will go into depth on this topic in the future, but the main thing is that I never wanted to have a Gym where people feel pressured to fight. I don’t want to be in a facility where, should a young athletic person walk in, everyone immediately starts to ask them “when is your fight?” We have a very good Pro/Am Team at my Gym right now. And a large part of that is due to the standards we keep. All of which helps to maintain a healthy atmosphere for everyone.
With BJJ it is a bit different. I have no issue suggesting everyone try at one point or another some form of public grappling competition. My experience over the last Twelve Years has been that it is a positive thing for almost everyone who tries it. And we will sometimes even encourage students with less then 6 Months of training to give it a shot, assuming it is something that sounds fun to them. I myself competed in gi and no gi, as a blue, purple, and brown belt. It is a learning experience no doubt.
Over the Years I have always done both gi, and no-gi. I have worn a gi consistently since I started BJJ in the early 90’s. I have also done a lot of no-gi over the Years. The ratio for each would vary from Year to Year, but in general I would always do at least a little of each every week. Both have benefits, and both have defaults. As I tell all my upper belts, just do both. And regards drilling, the concepts are all the same.
If I could end on any single point, it would be this. As a coach your main job is to help students get better at the Art. Your intention to help your students is something that can’t be faked. And it’s a sick philosophical paradigm if you try and fake it!
It’s never about fake it until you make it. It’s about being ‘real’. No more, no less. You have to care about your students. If you don’t, let them know. And let them move on to a place where they do fit in. Sincerity is the cornerstone to it all.
You have to reach the place where you understand that everyone needs to follow their own bliss, and that will be different for every-body.
That stated, if you are sincere then you will find yourself surrounded by people who you not only care about, but who care about you. And that is something no bank account can buy. Those that have ever seen a SBG gathering post fight (usually in some dark Chinese restaurant) know exactly what I am talking about. It’s not something that can be bought.
We are here to help you reach your own personal goals.
And we look forward to working with you.
If you want to tryo out Portland’s oldest and most prestitigious practical Martial Arts academy, you can, for 45 DAYS FREE, but, we are so convinced that you will discover what our members already know, that nobody can offer you the value that SBG Portland does, we do something absolutely unheard of in our industry.