Martial Arts is all about repetition to help build up muscle memory. Drills can be boring, fun, or somewhere in-between. But drills by themselves, do not adequately prepare one for self-defense. However, most people take martials arts for that reason! So why does sensei make us do drills. Not only that, why so many of them?
Rule of One:
When I ask you to get into your horse stance, and punch or block, we normally start with one hand already in position of the move we are going to do. Let’s use a punch for example. The command is usually, “Horse stance, right hand out!”
In a self defense situation, would you really want to start with your punch extended already? What about the return hand, AKA hikite? When we kumite, we don’t bring our hand back to the point. So why do we practice this way? This is where understanding the “why” we do this, and what exactly am I looking for when doing these drills comes into play.
Right from the beginning, I’m checking your stance, is it low enough, are the knees bent? We are about to do hand drills, but there is no reason why your legs can’t participate and get stronger at the same time. Next thing I check is where are your hands? Is your right hand targeting the center of your chest? Is your hikite located just under your ribs, and not on your belt? (This last part is different than the way most people are taught, but that is a discussion for another day.) Is the thumb properly located when making a fist?
Next comes a single punch on each count, the Rule of One. As you are punching, I’m looking at the mechanics and form of your punch. I want to see you being able to punch the same spot in the air, repeatedly. I’m looking for relaxation during the punch, and tensing at the moment of impact. Are you punching with your shoulders or using only your arm? I want to see the body coordination of the hand, elbow, arm, hips, and body. That coordination does not happen overnight. Just think back to when you learned the middle or lower blocks. Watching someone perform them looked easy, until you had to do it yourself!
What this means is during the single counts, I’m checking the overall mechanics of your punch/block. So why so many of them then? It has also been said that to master something, you have to do it correctly 10,000 times. Last quote, I promise, perfect practice makes perfect.
Rule of Two:
If practicing singles is all about the mechanics, does that mean doubling up the count is to get to 10,000 quicker? Nope! Now I’m checking something different. When I call out “Doubles,” I’m checking all the mechanics plus more! I want to see how fast you can retract your arm to the point, which gets us closer to how you would fight. You never want to leave a “gift” out there for someone to grab. Can you still punch to the same spot in air, accuracy? By now, you might also be getting a little winded or tired. Can you push through that?
Doubles is a way to see how badly do you want to improve. Many students will do two punches, but will do it while trying to maintain some energy in the tank for what comes next, and there is always something next! This is wrong way to approach this, if you want to get better, faster, and stronger, you can’t be afraid to drain the tank.
The same goes for exercises, like push-ups. Today you might only be able to achieve ten, but by pushing yourself, tomorrow, maybe it is eleven. That is measurable improvement.
When executed, the drill starts with right hand out, we pull this back fast, and extend the left hand. Then quickly reverse it, ending with the right hand out. The sequence is left-right. Each hand has performed a single punch.
And remember, whenever we do even number of punches/blocks, we have to switch sides, and start the drill with the left hand out.
Rule of Three:
So comes the dreaded “triples” command. This is sensei just straight up messing with tired students now, right? Wrong again! When we did doubles, we had some gas in our tanks, moving to triples, we have even less. And when you get tired, you force your body to “cheat.” You should avoid holding back and still attempt to drain the tank, but more importantly, you should check to see if you are cheating yourself.
Don’t take shortcuts, try to keep the mechanics in place, even when you are tired. I’m a firm believer that it is when your tank is near empty, that you body truly begins the process of mastering the techniques. Because if you are sloppy, it is very evident, don’t quit, you are getting better!
Now take the drill itself, right hand is out. We begin with left-right-left. Notice we ended with a different hand. This really should be doubles, because at this point you are really testing yourself with the last two punches. The first punch is just setting up the following two, and is usually the easiest to perform.
Rule of Five:
Ok, this one I admit, I’m messing with students. Or am I? First, at this point, nothing should be left in the tank to push through with. Yet, clearly, students can still do the punches. Students must have more in the tank! Focus! Don’t forget why you are doing these drills in the first place, when you are tired, you have to use technique, push yourself! The more you push yourself, the better you will become.
There are other factors in play when doing all these drills, but these are the “hidden” ones, that aren’t always obvious. And different sensei look for different things while performing drills. All are valid, we aren’t clones, and important to take it all in.
Now that you know the “why,” what are you going to do differently the next time we are doing drills?