Drilling, training and levels of cooperation

I know, I know – been awhile.  Things have been relatively quiet, training wise, and aside from completing my Jeu de la Hache primer notes for CW 2010, I’ve been taking it easy.

Too easy.

Recently, I realised I have been lax in some regards.  This is ok, some things are cyclical and we focus on some things more than others only to return to them later.  This time, however, it relates directly to our training methods.  Lax in what regard?  Keeping folks in line.

Why did this come about?  Frustration.  This frustration stems from observing things in training such as partners going far too fast or hard than the drill intends, resulting in the entire point of the exercise being lost.  Some drills are meant to perfect form, others technique, speed, balance, whatever.  If you’re not doing it as the instructor asks, you’re missing the point entirely and worse – you’re not helping your partner in the least.  Other things are people going off on a tangent with the “but what if I do this?” training paradigm.  Again – not helping anyone, and you’re not doing the drill – as such, you ain’t learnin’ what I’m teachin’.  In the end, I guess I’m just frustrated with myself for not correcting this sooner, and by the realisation it’s my own bloody fault.

Is this a reflection on me?  Possibly.  Either I’m not addressing the skill levels of my students properly, or I’m not being strict enough or clear enough in my instructions.  If it’s the former, well, even advanced students need to go back to basics every once in a while, and if I ask you to do something simple at a slow even pace focusing on fluidity and structure, it’s ‘cause I think you all need it.  Some more than others, granted, but nobody loses from this type of drill.

If it’s the latter, then I need to pull on the choke chain a little harder and/or be clearer in my instructions and desires.  I thought I was, but ah, well.  Perceptions are flawed.

So, we come to the crux of this: drilling, being a good training partner, and levels of cooperation.
Being a good training partner requires sensitivity.  No, not the cry-baby-let-me-know-what-you’re-thinking-share-your-feelings type, but a certain feeling for the skill and comfort levels of your partner.  Is he comfortable falling?  Are you resisting too much?  Are you helping him understand the technique?  And of course, at no time should you be trying to “win” the drill, because then you both lose.

There are several types of drills: slow speed (Guy Windsor defines one a level even lower – “treacle speed,” or “molasses speed” for us Canucks), and full speed.  Slow speed drills can be 1/4 speed, 1/2 speed or almost full speed.  Slow speed drills focus on technique, form, balance and other foundational elements.  Half speed drills are on the road to performing techniques at speed while still having time to see and correct mistakes.  Almost full speed drills allow techniques to be used at something approaching full execution speed, but safely, since full speed techniques can be dangerous for the uninitiated (or even the most advanced practitioner.)

Do the drills at the required speed!  I still see advanced students trying to go faster when I see their footwork going out the window.  Concentrate!

We can further refine our drills with levels of cooperation.  This is where being a good training partner comes into play.  We can pretty much divide this into three levels.  There is the compliant training partner, who simply allows techniques to be applied, acting as a training dummy.  Again, this is where form and proper technique are practised.  We then move into resistive training, whereby the partner offers resistance.  Let me repeat: resistance.  Static resistance, without trying to actively counter.  So, be a good training dummy, just don’t let me move you as easily.  This is where we tweak execution and verify technique is being used rather than just strength, or that the partner’s compliance isn’t facilitating the technique too much.  Finally, we have uncooperative drilling, where the partner is actively trying to counter your attempts with movement or prescribed counters.  This is still a form of drill (no, not free-play), and the instructor may want to prescribe a set of techniques and counters.  Some call this “loose play.”

Finally, there is free play.  Even free play can be limited to a certain subset of techniques, depending on the skill set the instructor wishes to emphasise.  Force and speed are limited only by safety concerns and common sense in free play.  The other person is your friend and training partner, after all.

So, tonight, I give “the speech.”  I have to.  I have become too lax in my approach, and now I must be the bad guy.  Some people will likely recognise themselves, accept it and adjust accordingly.  Others may not, and I will have to correct them.  And still others to whom this doesn’t really apply may feel set upon unfairly.

Oh well, as long as everybody just does the drill