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Teppo Ebi – June 23rd

June 24, 2008

Today is a special post where I’ll address something that always stuck me as odd but never had the chance to talk about it until now.

Yesterday at Teppo Ebi it was a slow session. Understandably so as the day before four members competed in multiple matches. I just had one. I know, I’m a sandbagger. The session turned out to be more of a coaching one where all the blues (myself included where I was coaching Brent) were giving instructions to all the white belts with the occasional mini private lesson.

I’ve never seen that before at Teppo Ebi (then again I’ve only been to there on Mondays, never on Wednesdays) and I’m glad it happened.

One of the white belts that I previously had a difficult time in passing his guard, I suddenly could now pass at will (I also got to his back immediately afterwards). So I dialed my performance down and decided to only give him – and all the other white belts – a hard time. I opted not to fight any submissions unless it was sloppy, so two other white belts I rolled with fought really hard to submit me. Both caught me with an Americana/key lock. After rolling with them I pointed out how they could have submitted me with the other submissions they tried. I think I made their day. Must have been make a white belt happy day at Teppo Ebi.

Now here’s what I wanted to address – the lack of drilling and the overabundance of all out sparring. Or in other words, training to learn vs fighting to win.

Tom Oberhue of Impact Jiu-jitsu fame makes an interesting point in one of his Straight Blast Gym DVDs when it comes to training. He states that a majority of the time training should be spent on learning rather than fighting to win. Sure those tough hard sparring sessions are necessary to validate the techniques, but there’s not much learning going on and without learning there’s no getting better.

I’ll use my experiences here in Japan to illustrate that point.

I’ve observed that the Japanese method of learning when it comes to martial arts (although I suspect there are ties to the educational system and its form of standardized testing) is at the heart of it randori or sparring. (Thanks Jigoro Kano!) A technique is taught, repeated a few times and then applied in a full live manner. I’ve seen and done this when I was in my school’s Judo club. This was the format when I learned Kyokushin Karate at Yushinkai.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this method of training. Basically, this is how it’s done in jiu-jitsu.

However from what I’ve experienced in Japan, the focus on randori is emphasized so much it becomes more of a detriment than it being beneficial. This is true when it comes to the sessions at Teppo Ebi, and most especially ones at Brawl Bros. So much time and energy is placed on sparring alone that even the simple act of drilling is severely overlooked. What’s just as bad is that if there is drilling, it’s static.

In my Judo club, kuzushi and tsukuri (“breaking balance” and “entry”) are sometimes performed on a partner standing still as a ten-count drill over several times.

When I learned Kyokushin Karate, blocks and strikes are performed on partners that also remain in one place (dead pattern drilling) however strikes will actually land from time to time, sometimes with full force.

Of course, there are classes and schools that will be exceptions to the rule, but for the most part this is it. When it comes to sparring/randori, it’s 100% all the time. And if you don’t want to go that hard you stay on the sidelines. Great if you want amazing conditioning and endurance. Does jack for your growth in skill though.

Flat out hardcore sparring sessions are important, but the same can be said for drilling and moderate level sparring or slow rolls, only more so.  I believe the middle ground – that “repeat a few times” part – is far more essentical. But it has to be done right. It should never be static.

That’s why I like SBGi even though I’ve never trained with them or stepped foot in one of their many gyms (closest one to me is in South Korea). I dig what they’re doing, and how they teach and their approach to jiu-jitsu. I get it. I get being “alive”.

With that said, the white belts at Teppo Ebi are going nowhere fast. All of them are tough, no doubt about that. They do learn new techniques, the details of it, body positioning, when to use it and go over it a few times (under five times), but that’s about it.

I wished we, at Teppo Ebi, did more drills. We do have the time for it. White belts need drills. Heck, I need drills.  I’m still crappy.  But it’s the white belts that really need it.  They need a rise in skill level. If they get better, then everyone gets better because it raises everyone’s game.

Going full blast all the time doesn’t really help in the long run. Being able to roll for 45 minutes straight does not refine skill or technique. The only way to improve is to learn more. Fighting to win is not training to learn. And one way to grow and learn is to drill and train effectively.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2008 9:35 pm

    Excellent post. You are definitely on the money. Eddie Bravo’s philosophy is the same, from what I understand. Drilling is super important, until the moves really are second nature. He got it from wrestling, among other things.

    It was one promise I made to myself when I resumed BJJ after this injury. I was going to drill things as much as poss.

    I am too guilty of being shown a technique, half arsedly going through it once or twice with my partner, then sitting and waiting for the next one.

    Now after being shown a technique I want to drill it as many times as possible before the instructor moves on to the next, at varying intensities.

    One thing that we have been doing a lot of lately (or were before I got injured) was drills, which I was really happy about. 20 armbars from guard, 20 from mount, 20 triangles from guard, etc. I really like that, and it is definitely good training.

    We have to train together at some point!

  2. June 25, 2008 10:32 pm

    You’re really into jiu-jitsu when you think twenty reps of a submission sounds sweet. And that does sound oh so good to me… yikes!

    I’ll try to encourage the guys at Teppo Ebi for more drills by just grabbing a white belt and telling him to “Pull guard and gimme 20!”

  3. June 27, 2008 12:35 am

    Alive does things pretty much the same way – drill a move maybe 5-6 times before going onto the next move.

    i think there is a tipping point, though. when i trained at the ralph gracie academy in berkeley, we’d spend 20-30 minutes drilling the same move, and i don’t remember any of the things i learned there, because i find i have a better memory for the ones that i’ve successfully executed during sparring. so while i feel the same way – that the new white belts need to learn how to do a proper armbar from the guard, already – i also think that, at some point, what’s more useful than playing with a class structure is taking responsibility for your own training.

    also, i trained at a SBGi affiliate in norcal for a little while. to a certain extent, i think their philosophy is kind of just taking something that BJJ players already knew and making it sound fancier.

    -pat m.
    mmalife.wordpress.com

  4. June 27, 2008 12:54 am

    I totally agree that we’re all responsible for our own training. That’s why I kinda like garage training jiu-jitsu. I get to train and focus on whatever I want to and don’t have to worry about following the classroom material (if I was in an actual school).

    And that’s exactly what I thought when I heard the term “alive” being used by Matt Thornton. “Isn’t that what I do in BJJ already?” Yeah, it’s fancy wordplay.

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