The following grappling drills can be done with a partner. In some drills the partner is simply there to function as a recipient of the exercise. In those cases a large ball can be substituted for a partner if you are working alone. In other cases you and your partner will interact in some way. In those drills both of you are either alternating in execution of the drill or performing two separate and concurrent drills.
In discussing these drills we will designate one training partner as Person A, and the other training partner as Person B. This is simply to make it clear which partner is being referenced in the written discussion.
Person A kneels on the floor, pulling the knees forward, tucking the head down and using the arms to cradle his or her neck from behind. This is a variant of the turtle position which is used to minimize the ways in which an opponent might be able to gain access to your limbs, head, or core. Person A will remain stationary for the duration of this exercise.
Person B stands near the head of Person A and then leans forward until his or her chest rests on the arched back of Person A. Person B is supported only by his or her chest and feet. Person B now spins a full 360° about his or her chest. Going to the right Person B will move about Person A by passing that person’s left side, feet, and right side in sequence, ultimately returning to the original position near the head.
Now reverse direction and spin a full 360° going to the left. Alternate between the right and left sides several times. Now switch positions with your partner and continue the exercise.
The primary purpose of this drill is to work on rotational speed, balance, and dexterity. As variants you might elect to move only a prescribed number of degrees to the left and right. For example, moving only 90° might allow you to suddenly push, pull, or twist an unbalanced person. Rotating 135° will give you access to the person’s legs, torso, arms, and neck. Try different angles of rotation to see what advantage and disadvantages result from the final position.
A useful and insightful variation of this drill is for Person A to perform a sit out movement once Person B has completed a full 360° rotation. Continuing his or her movement Person A turns over until her or she is on top, forcing Person B into the turtle position. Now Person A spins around until he or she is positioned near the head of person B. Now Person B performs the sit out and regains the top position. Alternate the sit out and spin directions each time you move to the top position.
As you gain experience see how you might employ your hands or leg positions to check or constrain any movements by the person in turtle position. You might also begin to notice how weight transitions by the person on top cause corresponding changes in the center of gravity by the person on the bottom. Is there a way to take advantage of these minor changes? As you and your partner become more accomplished you can practice ways to deal with someone who performs a hip out movement or other escape or controlling maneuver while the person on top is in motion.
Side Roll Leg Insertion Drill
This drill is also commonly called a Tornado Roll, Person A stands with legs apart (a shallow Kiba Dachi will do) and Person B sits on the floor next to the left leg of Person A. Person B should have his or her left leg on the floor but wrapped around Person A’s left leg. The two people will be generally facing one another, but this is not a specific requirement.
Person B now initiates a side shoulder roll beginning with the left shoulder. This roll causes Person B to roll directly in front of and below Person A. As the roll progresses the Person B first uses his or her hand (either hand) to grab the standing person’s opposite leg to help control movement and distance, and then inserts his or her right leg in and behind Person A’s right leg. This must be done during the roll and not after. At the completion of the roll the Person B should have his or her right leg on the floor and encircling Person A’s right leg. Now roll to the right to initiate the drill on the opposite site. Perform the exercise several times and then switch roles with your partner.
Leg Drag Drill
Person A stands in Heiko Dachi or a similar standing posture. Person B rests with his or her back on the floor and both legs raised and pressed into the front hips of Person A. This is a typical floor guard position for Person B. Person A will now attempt to get passed this guard and gain access to Person B’s torso, arms, and head.
This is accomplished by Person A pressing his or hips directly forward (toward local octagon angle 1) in a hip thrust. This causes a future potential void between the hips of Person A, and the feet of Person B. Person A immediately retracts his or her hips slightly while concurrently grasping the right leg of Person B. Person A now rotates his or her hips in a clockwise motion so that Person B’s right leg is pulled toward the center line of Person A. This action is partly a rotation of center and partly an inward pull on Person B’s leg. Person A now steps forward with his or her left leg to move toward the right side of Person B.
Practice the drill on both sides (passing toward the left and right side of Person B). Then switch roles with your partner. This is an extremely common technique for moving around this type of leg guard. You will want to be quite accomplished at this skill. Try it when Person B has his or her legs in various positions. Perhaps higher on the torso, lower on the legs, or in some form of triangle lock. You will encounter all off these (and more) variations when you begin grappling.
While resting on his or her back, Person A raises his or her legs slightly. Person B sits on his or her shins facing Person A from below. Person B has both arms on Person A’s chest from between Person A’s legs.
Person A grabs each of Person B’s hands and then pulls Person B’s right hand forward while currently pushing Person B’s left hand until it is trapped against Person B’s chest. Simultaneously Person A raises his or her legs to form a triangle lock that encircles Person B’s head, right arm, and right shoulder. Release the lock and then apply it to the opposite side. Repeat several times and then trade positions with your partner.
This drill begins from the same starting position as the previous Triangle Drill. Person A grabs the left arm of Person B and pulls the arm inward. At the same time Person A performs a hip up and subsequently rotates on his or her hips until their left leg rises up and outside of Person B’s left shoulder. Person A now lowers his or her left leg to press down on Person B’s shoulder from behind. Person A then sits up, securely trapping Person B’s arm under the left leg. Be careful initially, this motion can generate a good deal of force. It is best to practice this skill so that you release the grip on Person B’s arm before the leg comes over the arm. That lessons the likelihood of injury. Now reverse the direction of movement to return to the original position and perform the drill on the opposite side. After several iterations reverse roles with Uke.
This movement is very similar to the Ashi Sankaku Garami that is sometimes used in Judo.
Switching your position from one side of your opponent to the other is the focus of this drill. Person A lays flat on his or her back with feet together on the floor. His or her arms are spread out at 90° to the torso (spread wide). Person B sits on his or her knees directly to the left of Person A and slightly above Person A’s hips. Person B now shifts his or her weight so that his or her right knee can be raised just enough to place it in the abdomen of Person A. Person B now shifts his or her weight to place weight on the right knee. Movement continues further to the right of Person A until the left knee can be placed into the abdomen of person B. Usually there is a brief moment when neither knee is in contact with the abdomen as this transition takes place (though ideally you would want to keep weight on Person B’s abdomen as much and as long as possible). Person A should now place his or her right leg wide of Person B to prevent a rolling counter movement and then slide his or her left knee onto the floor beside Person B. Now reverse the direction of movement and return to the right side of Person B. Perform this exercise multiple times and then change roles with Uke.
A disadvantage of this drill is that brief moment when a knee is not pressing down on your partner. A slightly different version of this drill is to place both knees on your partner’s stomach during the transitional period. This keeps pressure on the opponent’s abdomen, but it too has its limitations. During the period when both knees are on the abdomen you are susceptible to a rolling motion by your partner which you will find difficult to resist, particularly if your training partner is able to restrict the movement of either of your legs. Every movement comes with its own risks and rewards.
Part of the benefits for this level of training is gaining an appreciation for where a given movement might be beneficial and when it might represent a significant risk. No two situations are the same. A movement might be well suited to one circumstance but completely inappropriate in another. As you train you will develop a sense for these situations, just as you have developed a sense for appropriate movements in many standup situations.
Guard Transition Drill
This drill is related to the Leg Drag Drill. It begins in basically the same manner and fully incorporates the leg drag drill. Person B performs the leg pass drill, moving to the left and toward Person A’s head. Person A uses his or her left foot to contact Person B’s right hip, pressing into the hip in such a manner that Person B can rotate on the floor until both legs can again press into the hips of Person B. The drill is then performed on the opposite side. After performing several repetitions change roles with your Uke.
Bridge Transition Drill
Person A will lay on his or her back with knees bent and arms outstretched. Person B will then sit on his or her knees near the left hips of Person A and use the left arm to reach over and grab the outside of Person A’s right leg just above the knee. Person B will now lower his or her head to the mat adjacent to the lower ribs of Person A. Person B presses upward with his or her legs to initiate a somersault, allow his or her shoulders to roll over the torso of Person A.
Person B will then land with both feet on the floor. At this stage Person B will be aligned at roughly 90° to the torso of Person A. Person B will now roll to his or her right and use his or her right hand to grasp the outside of Person A’s left leg and pull until Person B can establish a kneeling position near the right hip of Person A.
Now initiate the bridge transition from the right side of Person A. Do these transitions several times before switching roles with the other person.
This is another side switch method that helps ensure Person A does not raise his or her torso during the transition. Because of the extra movement necessary to regain a sound position against Person A after the rolling portion of the drill, this particular exercise has limitations. However, the bridging portion of the transition is used quite often to escape, apply pressure, or gain a surprise change in position against an opponent. Like all drills, this one suffers from a lack of realism, but the movements are nonetheless useful and employed quite often when grappling.
Jumping Transition Drill
A slightly modified version of the Bridge Transition Drill is the Jumping Transition Drill. This drill starts in an identical fashion to the Bridge Transition Drill, but midway through the roll you twist to the right so that you land on your knees adjacent to Person A’s hips. This is a little faster and easier to do. But it eliminates the bridging aspect of the movement which is also a key skill to develop. You will want to be able to do both versions of this type of transition with equal skill.
Person A rests on the floor in a typical guard position with his or her feet on the hips of upright Person B. Person B grabs both pant legs of Person A just above the knees. Person B then retracts his or her hips slightly as both of Person A’s legs are pulled to the side and back. Concurrent with this motion Person B advances toward the right side of Person A, ultimately coming to rest with the right knee on Person A’s abdomen and the left leg set wide to resist a potential rolling counter movement from Person A.
The drill gets its name from the similarity to the way a bull fighter moves his cape when the bull charges. This is the general movement used when pulling Person A’s legs back to the side just prior to the advancement and knee placement. Perform the drill on both sides several times before switching positions with your partner.
Sprawl drills are used to provide a means of dealing with someone who is attempting to target your legs while you are standing. A common initial attack is to come in low and grab one or both of your legs to initiate a throw or takedown. Sprawl drills provide a method for avoiding a dedicated attempt to grab your legs.
There are several different ways in which this drill can be initiated, but the main technique remains the same. Person A initiates some form of initial action to suggest an attempt to take one of your legs. Person B responds by throwing both legs back and away from Person A and subsequently landing on one hip and both hands. Person B then quickly scrambles back to his or her feet to perform another iteration of the drill.
Here are three common ways in which the drill can be choreographed. In the first, Person A simply drops and temporarily touches one hand to the mat. If it is the right hand, then Person B sprawls such that the right hip lands on the mat. If it is the left hand, then Person B sprawls such that the left hip lands on the mat.
In the second method, Person A reaches forward and taps Person B on the knee. Person B attempts to avoid these taps. If tapped on the left knee, Person B sprawls and lands on the left hip. If tapped on the right knee, Person B sprawls and lands on the right hip.
The third version requires a good deal of jockeying for position between the two partners. Person A moves about as though trying to target one of the legs of Person B. Person A then randomly claps his or her hands as Person B adopts various positions and stances. Upon hearing the clap, Person B falls on the most appropriate and expedient hip at the moment. Both partners need to resist the temptation to clap thirty times in a minute. Make the claps random and keyed to positional changes by Partner B.
Turtle Escape Drills
This is a series of drills focusing on ways in which you might escape from the turtle position. The method you elect to use will depend very much upon where your partner is located relative to your position and how your partner has placed his or her arms and legs. It also depends a good deal on where your partner has distributed his or her weight.
Side Roll Escape
Person A adopts the turtle position while Person B is located near Person A’s left rib cage. Person B rests on the right knee with a left post leg to brace against a potential roll or push in that direction. Person B places his or her right hand over the torso of Person A and places the right hand on Person A’s abdomen or chest. Person B is now in a position from which they could apply a choke around the neck of Person A.
To prevent the choke Person A will place his or her left hand along the left side of his or her neck and firmly grasp the collar of the Gi while keeping the head down and on the floor. This places a firm obstruction in the path of a potential choke from the left arm of Person B.
To initiate the escape Person A uses his or her right arm to grasp the Gi on the right arm of Person B (or alternately uses the inside of his or her elbow to hook over the top of Person B’s right elbow). Concurrent with a successful grab, Person A extends his or her left leg in order to press the left hip upward. Person A lowers his or her right shoulder to the mat to initiate the roll. Person B will roll over and end up on his or her back under the back of Person A. Person A will then reach with his or her left hand and grasp the left leg of Person B, enabling Person A to roll to his or her left and into a side mount facing Person B. Using a Hip Switch will facilitate this last body rotation.
Forward Roll Escape
If Person A is in a turtle position and the weight from Person B is up near the shoulder area of Person A, then Person A may be able to do a forward roll to perform an escape. If Person B has the left leg posted, and is resting on the right knee with both arms wrapped around the shoulders and or head, then Person A will raise up on both feet and lower the right shoulder to initiate a forward roll. Person B will roll over the top, landing on his or her back. Person A will end up with his or her back on the chest of Person B. Person A should immediately twist to establish a side mount position.
Turtle to Guard Escape
This escape might be used if the Side Roll Escape initially fails. If Person B does not move when the side roll is initiated, then the side roll should be immediately abandoned. Now, reach the right arm back to grab the right pant leg of Person B to root this leg in its current position. Person A will now twist (Hip Switch) under Person B until Person A is on his or her back. Person A should wrap his or her legs around the waist of Person B to establish a traditional guard position.
Hip Switch Escape
Beginning from the same position as described in the Side Roll Escape, Person A will reach back with his or her right hand and grab the left pant leg of Person B. Person A now lowers his or her left shoulder to the mat and concurrently performs a Hip Switch to facilitate turning onto his or her back. Person A will then pull his or her head up so that the back of the head rests against the back of Person B. This forces Person B’s left shoulder to the mat, allowing Person A to now turn and grasp Person B, who is on his or her left side, from behind.
Be careful when executing this escape because the left arm of Person B will likely become trapped under the left shoulder of Person A (an intended outcome of this type of escape). In a competition Person A would likely try to twist the body of Person B in such a manner as to place additional pressure on the trapped arm, but in this drill the arm should be protected from damage.