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Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture
Introducing beginners to contact/spontaneous/alive training, people's favorite drills

Looking for some basic ideas on this, my class has gone from mostly advanced people to more than half beginners, and i'm finding it hard to bridge the gap. Things i have done in the past are akin to really limited scenario based training (here I'll mill punches at you and you do something - with gear), and things like the one-step drill often taught by Rory Miller - without gear. I also have played with very basic push/pull drills, kakie and things like this.

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi Zach,

here are some basic idea's that may be of help.


Kind regards


JWT's picture

Hi Zach

When I used to teach the Heian Kata to beginners this is precisely what I designed the Heian Flow System for: taking static bunkai drills and giving the students the ability to make free choices and interlink between sequences so that they had redundancies and the whole thing could become unpredictable.  The new Pinan Flow System, which is about 80% different in content, is a refined version of that based on the lessons I have learned from lots of pressure testing and with a greater emphasis on clinch work.

These days I only teach the Heian/Pinan forms at seminars and my own students only learn them at Black Belt level as a heritage exercise, so I have a slightly different approach to moving from static to dynamic to alive training.

One of the most important things in my opinion is syllabus integrity.  Your drills have to work together and be able to fit together, so that a slightly off angle or a failure in one static drill gives a position where a response is well trained through another static drill.  

In theory I work my classes with different drills along a 5 phase continuum:

PHASE 1 The basic drill. Slow rehearsal.

PHASE 2 The basic drill (often with verbal aggression preface). Slow progressing to full speed.

PHASE 3 The fluid drill with alternate continuous attacks from two attackers. Medium progressing to full speed.

PHASE 4 The fluid drill with continuous attacks from two attackers and verbal aggression preface. Medium progressing to full speed.

PHASE 5 Alive scenario drill with ‘X’ number of attackers and verbal aggression preface. Scenario training. Unless student is at instructor level all authorised attacks should have been rehearsed at Phase 1 in advance.

Verbal abuse is nice, but not always possible.  I have one class I share with  a room full of teenage fencers - no swearing there! 

As an instructor you can be sneaky with this.  If you know your syllabus well, you'll know which drills form redundancies for failures in others.  So if you drill those drills static, and then get the students to up the speed but work through anything going wrong rather than stopping, you should find that very quickly they adapt to problems and move between drills.  It's sneaky - but it works! :)  

I would add that it can often cause you to rethink drills because if the planned one consustently fails when a less experienced person tries it, but the redundancy works, it's time to step back and think who the training is for, and whether you might do the same if under real pressure and pumped with adrenaline, and perhaps redesign the drill.

Hope that helps

John Titchen

harlan's picture

I know you don't think much of flow drills (or that they are limited), but as a beginner I loved them...and still do. A few drills to work movement, some for applications, etc.

We do a variant on 'Kigihowa' and so much fun. :) http://www.kimowall.com/media-gallery/detail/216/451

deltabluesman's picture

Here is an option for you.  This is one of those drills that is about developing comfort rather than developing self-protection skill.  It seems to carry-over well.

Start one student on the ground.  He is in a closed guard position.  He is not wearing boxing gloves.  The other student is on the top.  He is wearing boxing gloves.  

The bottom student begins with control of the head and the power arm.  You set the clock for three minutes.  Bottom student has to hang on and trap the striker.  The striker wants to get good posture and strike.  You then switch after three minutes.

I like this drill for a ton of reasons.  It exposes students to non-scripted punching.  It lets students realize that they are not going to vaporize instantly when they get hit (so long as they are roughly the same size).  If someone is frightened, they can just clamp down on the guard and try to ride out the storm.  The person on bottom can use the guard to keep his opponent down and take some of the power out of those punches.  

If the guy on the bottom knows anything about grappling, then you can make this a lot better:  guy on bottom tries to submit or sweep, guy on top strikes. 

I think this is particularly good for beginners.  For starters, most beginning martial artists will be very clumsy on the ground and will therefore not hit very hard.  Also, most of them (unless they are athletes already) will be fatigued by the two minute mark (so long as they are really trying).  The fatigue is crucial because then a lot more punches start to land.  This is the idea though:  the striker is exhausted and therefore the receiver does not get hit as hard.  This builds confidence in the receiver and helps dispel the fear of live training.  I personally just use 16 oz boxing gloves, mouthguards, and a groin guard.  You can start coaching them to hit harder as they get tired. 

Legal disclaimer:  you have to exercise caution and you must have expert supervision and both athletes must be fit…

Perhaps this will be of some use to you.  The drill is best for beginners as it might introduce bad habits over the long term (strikers staying on their knees in the guard, the guy on the bottom just trying to hold on, etc.)  But I like it to start off.  You can run several rounds of this until the students are completely exhausted, and then you can stand them up for a boxing round (if they are ready for it). 

Hope that helps…

miket's picture

Heya Zach... This is kind of my progression at present: 1.  Install the basic skill.  I feed, you execute from standing.  the timing of the 'feed' (attack) is static and predictable, like the clicks of a metronome.  The goal here is to get the student to 'install' the basic motor program 2.  Refine the basic skill.  Another round where now the student is focused on 'refining', 'sanding the edges of' and otherwise mechanically habituating the target skill. The best drill I have found here is a basic line drill but that is time intensive, i.. if you have ten people to get through a line you can accomplish this much faster via a couple of rounds of partner rotations. The idea is to give the student 1) lots of reps  against 2)different body types and energies. 2.  Introduce stimulus dscretion via broken rhythm (partner drill).  So now the 'feeder' tries to employ broken rhythm (no feints, just broken timing) to 'trick' the trainee up.  The goal here is to get the student to start to pay attention to the real stimulus, esp. for reactive training like blocks and the like.  i.e. What is the 'tell' (there is always a tell, although it might be discrete).  Foot down, foot forward, shoulder jinks, etc.  What moves first? 3.  Introduce dynamic movement but go back to static timing. 4.  Another round of dynamic movement this time with broken timing.  If you are reviewing a prior skill, you can often start here.  Pressure  is about 'half', trainee should fail  2 times in 10. 5.  Intrdocue connection by 'attaching' the skill to something else, either before it, after it, or both.  For simple trainee's, I have found limiting such attachments to only ONE motion before and/or after is about all a square begineer  can handle. Also for raw beginners, frequently you need to specify what these are, but for intermediate students' you can leave it slightly more open-ended, i.e. "OK, the feeder will now apply ANY one handed frontal grip with pressure PRIOR TO feeding their punch.   Trainee will execute block 'x', then will pick THEIR OWN sensible follow-up strike".  That would be a really rudimentary example.  Obviously,  you can 'attach' more complex attacks before the target mechanic, and you can attach morec complex 'combination' type follow-ups. 6. "Find" the skill in 'live motion' drill  (I call these 'find in flow' drills). So. staying with 'block 'x'' as the example taget motion, now the students begin to 'spar' lightly (if the class is focused on technical learning), or a simple scenario is created (if the class is focused more on tactical application).  But at some spontaneous points during these activities, the 'feeder' breifly reclaims their role in the otherwise free-action and throws in the feed; and the trainee then has to 'find' the target mechanic.  In other words, they are 'given' the opportunity.  But if its an offensive tactic or say a submission or throw instead, it's the trainee's job to 'hunt for' and 'find' or otherwise create the opportunity. When I say 'scenario' here, really I am referring to more of what I sometimes call a 'situation', or a 'situational set-up'.  The distinction being that this is more of a PHYSICAL set-up that forces employment of the target mechanic in lieu of a full-blown scenario. And, when I say 'sparring' here', sometimes this is in a constrained domain. So, the feeder might be limited to free punching, free kicking, holding top, etc. If the free-action IS constrained, often I do another round of 'free sparring' that is more 'all in'.  (See below). 7. Finally, AFTER the skill has been well established technically, a more complex real scenario employing gear, verbal, obstacles, etc. is created to explore the skills tactical USE.  (I.e. this is more of a typical RBSD scenario setup).  The instructor sets up a drill that may encourage the POTENTIAL USE of the taret mechanic (usually by cueing or secretly instructing one of the 'aggressor' role participants).  BUt if the target mechanic DOES NOT come out, that's fine.  That's because th goal here is really OUTCOME ORIENTED, not technique oriented.   If goal is a throw to escape, and the trainee employs a groin kick to escape, that's fine.  Because the goal at this level is to escape, not to regurgitate throw X. Anyway, that i kind of a summary about how I am teeing things up at present.  Hope it helps.