Nov 12

3 strategies for making drilling more effective and enjoyable

Drilling is boring.

At a certain point you will mentally check out, unless your external motivation is so strong that you can push through the tedium. Why does it HAVE to be tedious though?

The answer is that it doesn’t.

There are variables that you can change about your training method to not only make drilling more effective but also more enjoyable. We’re going to go over three of them in this post, and let’s start with listing them:

  1. Spread drilling out into smaller chunks that can be easily absorbed.
  2. Break down technique into its individual pieces and drill those in diverse applications.
  3. Create a chain of interconnected techniques that loop continuously.

Spaced Drilling

Drilling for long periods is no different than cramming for a test. It may seem effective in the short term but it’s merely an illusion. When you sit down and absorb great quantities of information, it’s like grabbing handfuls of food and stuffing your face at a feast. It might seem like you can take in a lot, but that’s all coming right back out.

It’s better to space out learning.

For example, I once conducted an experiment. The goal was to learn a six part drilling sequence for passing the half guard in the shortest amount of time possible. So after classes, I drilled the whole sequence once daily for a period of roughly two weeks.

The result was that the mechanics of every movement became cemented in my long term memory. Also if I had continued, there is no doubt that the improvements would have continued as well.

The whole process of forgetting and recalling is crucial for learning, and that’s why teaching is so effective as a learning method.

That experiment is something that you can do as well. All you have to do is:

  • Choose anything that you really want to learn.
  • Create a mindmap or notes listing its core elements.
  • Review your notes thoroughly then forget about it for a few days.
  • Drill it without review and notice any issues that arise.
  • Review afterward and then repeat the process in a few days.

That’s a system for learning anything. Apply it to your training and take note of the results. Also if you have more time, really diversify your training by creating concurrent projects. The fewer common links between each project, the better it will be for you in the long term.

I also recommend Make It Stick and How We Learn, if you’re interested in delving deeper into counter-intuitive learning strategies that work.

Rearranging the Puzzle

If you look at jiu-jitsu as an intricate web filled with countless interconnections, you notice that there are different levels of depth. On one level, you can look at how positions to connect to each other. Then on another level, you can find links between different techniques.

We’re going to go deeper than that.

What we’re looking at is how individual components within a technique can be associated to entirely different techniques, and we’re start off with an example.

3 Methods of Making Drilling More Effective and Enjoyable

This is a basic breakdown of the movements, concepts, and grips involved in one technique. Now let’s assume that you can do everything right but there is a weak link in the chain. You have to really work to do the granby roll right, and it isn’t as smooth or as quick as you would like it to be.

There are two things that you can do in that situation to improve:

  1. You can drill that specific movement by itself.
  2. You can find techniques that you already know that also use that movement. Then work on those in addition to the first technique.

Granby Roll Drilling Web Example

That second option is a method of disguising repetition. It’s also how most people learn jiu-jitsu on an unconscious level, but you would get more benefit from making the process a conscious effort.

Another way to think about this is that you are using techniques as mnemonic devices to reinforce and learn each component on a deeper level. It’s a method you can use to interweave your own unique web of knowledge.

Chain Drilling

Chain drills are a sequence of techniques that loop continuously, but there are two conditions that must be met in order to create a good one.

First, there has to be more than one technique in the loop, and second, the positions must switch after each full iteration. For example, if you’re on bottom of closed guard, you will sweep to mount, your partner will then escape to closed guard. That is an iteration, and once it ends, the positions are switched.

You can take this idea and go wild with it. That’s exactly what I did after I learned it from one of Nic Gregoriades’s videos.

Creating chain drills will force you recall knowledge that seemed forgotten, and it will make the connections between techniques real for you. Then incorporating them in your training will disguise repetition, and it will make drilling something that you can stay mentally engaged in for a longer period of time.

Those are the main benefits, and that’s why I have been incorporating them in my classes whenever possible.

Below are some examples of a few that I’ve used. Feel free to use them.

Closed Guard Chain Drilling Web

There are five chain drills here. The only one that may be confusing from the visual representation is that last one. It links to the first four to offer you the choice of different combinations to finish the last links in the chain.

For example, let’s say that this sequence of events happened:

  • You threatened with a legit triangle from closed guard.
  • Your partner stacked you, killed your hips, and then slowly rotated into a pressure pass.
  • You escaped back to closed guard.

From that, point you can link up to any of the other four chain drills because they all follow the same progression. All four are sweeps to mount and then escapes from mounts.

Grapplethon Outline and Drilling Web

Wrightson Seminar Outline and Drilling Web

The fun really starts when you increase the number of techniques in the chain. Right now, the longest chain I have is six techniques, but you can easily exceed that number. And as the techniques in the chain increase, the drill moves closer to simulating a tightly controlled roll that can be repeated many times.


Drilling can be fun, and it can be effective. That’s possible, and you can accomplish it by spacing out learning, focusing on individual components, and drilling techniques in chains.

Go wild with it.

Also if you love the art and want to discuss it, join us at Creative Jiu-jitsu and on Facebook.