My friends down at Springfield FMA posted the above video on their Facebook group. The title is a little hyperbolic. In the video, the instructor adds the qualifier “as they are currently practiced.” This is an important part of the thought that the instructor is trying to convey. The flow drill is not the final destination in the learning process. It is helpful but it is not the end state. Two points worth noting in the video – Intent and Targeting. During the drill, it is helpful to consider what is the purpose, the intent, of the motions. Are you trying to hit your training partners hand? Stab them? Punch them? If you don’t know, ask your teacher. That is what the instructor is there for. Second, what are you targeting in the drill? In Counterpoint Tactical Systems, we insist that our training partners target accurately. For example, when throwing a jab at the head, it is important that the punch be aimed directly at the face. Sometimes, a new student will aim the punch over the shoulder or a bit low. It’s a polite but wrong thing to do. If my training partner is accurately targeting, my response will be accurate as well. As this video correctly states, we should be mindful of intent and targeting while learning and drilling the drill.
To begin to unpack the statements the instructors is making, we should ask what does he mean by the phrase ‘do not work’? Work for what? This question is important because it refers back to the intent of the drill. What is the purpose of the drill? For example, the purpose of the Pangamot drill in CTS is to teach empty hand vs. stick principles and set a foundation for more advanced skills. This is a valid purpose but note that the statement focuses on skills for new students. Does that mean the drill doesn’t work for more advanced students? No, it just means that the purpose of the drill changes for advanced skill sets. The beginner is working on footwork, timing, angle recognition, basic counter striking, and basic disarms. For the advanced student, the drill acts like a laboratory structure. Other skills can be – and should be – brought into the drill to expand it. For example, adding in stand-up grappling material or material from the Assault Set. As a learning tool, the drills work. As a system for incorporating muscle memory, the drills work. As actual fight scenarios, the drills don’t work. As a method to integrate all of your skills into a complete system, the drills don’t work. We’ve defined one intent for the drill, but we’ve also defined other intents where the drills fail. So, the question becomes if the drills don’t work, what is next?
The answer is a simple one. Forget the drill and play. In the Filipino Martial Arts, there exists the concept of play. As it has been taught to me, playing is where the student puts together all his/her learned skills. It is where the practitioners drop the rules of the drill and have fun. It is harder to describe the concept of play because it is so vast a concept. Sparring is part of play, attribute training is part of play, position recognition is part of play, combining drills is part of play, and creativity is part of play. For example, what if we’re involved in stick vs. stick sparring and one student disarms the other, do you stop and say good job? Maybe, or maybe the play becomes empty hand vs. stick play, where one of the new goals is to disarm and make it empty hand vs. empty hand. Or maybe we’re working with a student who is having trouble incorporating his jab. We play with the focus on working the jab in with other skill sets. Play is an area where students can make mistakes as long as we learn from those mistakes. It can teach us that when we do make a mistake, the fight is not over. In a self defense situation, a mistake doesn’t mean reset and start over. You have to keep fighting, and play is the time to learn that tenacity.
It’s easy to see that without the drills, play would a sloppy way to teach the new student. I’m sure it could be done by better instructors than me. It just doesn’t seem as efficient for the new student to begin learning this way. Play is invaluable for the advanced student though. So, I think it’s important to view the drills as a single part of the continuum of learning. It is not the goal of learning, it is simply another tool like sparring.
During the first seminar I attended with Master Zach Whitson in Springfield, MO, he said the phrase “learn the drill, drill the drill, and forget the drill.” I don’t remember the exact quote, but it has always stuck with me. (In a comment on the above video, Mike Miller of Springfield FMA also pointed out that phrase.) It is a short, sweet descriptor of effective training methodology. The nature of the phrase dictates that progression is part of the drill. It’s easy to get stuck in the drill the drill phase. I know this first hand. I am a perfectionist, and I have to be cognizant of when learning/drilling the drilling turns into perfecting the drill. We must move past the perfecting the drill portion into forgetting the drill. We have to incorporate the skills and attributes the drill helped us refine into play where we apply all we have learned.
Again, it comes down to intent. What is the purpose of the drill? What am I trying to learn? Why am I trying to learn it? As the instructor in the video says, we did not enter the martial arts to become “drill masters.” Our purpose isn’t to be perfect at drilling. Our purpose is to have self defense skills that are applicable in the real world. So, go ahead and learn that drill. Work that drill, but, also, remember to forget the drill and play.