To drill or not to drill? Kit Dale vs. Gianni Grippo in a technical match over the best training methods

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Gianni Grippo (Photo: Jeffrey Chu Fighter Plus/ instagram @jeffreyschu) against Kit Dale (Photo: Personal archive)

There has always been a debate about how to organize a Jiu-Jitsu class, what the best cross-training is, or how much time to spend on sparring versus technique.

Most recently, Australian black belt Kit Dale has pursued a campaign against drilling–repeating a technique over and over to secure it into “muscle memory.” His quick ride to getting his black belt along with titles at Brazilian Nationals, Abu Dhabi World Pro, Asian Open and more prove that how he approaches training has worked for him.

On the other side of the debate is Marcelo Garcia black belt Gianni Grippo who believes that drilling outside of class will help your overall training and competition results. His multiple world titles coming up in the ranks prove that his tactics are worthwhile as well.

So how much weight should we put on drilling techniques versus sparring and/or live training? Let’s hear more from these two:

Here is Kit’s post about how drilling the same moves over and over will not help you as other methods can. The excerpt:

“One of the things I noticed early early on was that you didn’t have to drill something 100 times to be able to apply it during training. If I understood the basic principles of a movement and winged it, it would usually work. I remember using moves in sparring that I had never practised before and getting them to work. Even ones I had been told were “bad” by the instructor. My reply to him was always the same: “But it works”. I also saw that the most important thing in a movement is not the technique, but the timing. I could do anything, from a cartwheel to backflip over someone’s guard, and if it was done at the right time it would work. Conversely, I could do the most technically sound movement, but miss the timing, and it would fail. Observing these phenomena helped come to the decision to build my game on the foundations of improvisation and key principles, instead of drilled, refined techniques.”

Read the full post here.

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Gianni wrote his own post about “the beauty of drilling” and how it helped him from purple belt and on. The excerpt:

“Now today I feel like my drilling revolves around my training as it helps me stay constantly goal oriented. Drilling 2-3 times a day now I have a different plan for each session. In the mornings I’ll drill from the guard, at night I’ll drill guard passing and in the afternoon sessions I’ll choose either that I feel needs more work at the time. Each session will revolve around one position with 2 or 3 variations and with that I always go into the training with a goal of what I want to try to land. Then with this I feel like it carries well into competition- knowing I have gone over each aspect of a match over and over again gives me the confidence that I can attain my goals in the match at hand. Like I said in my last post about mental preparation- everyone is different. Everyone may have something different that works better for them and maybe drilling doesn’t reap the benefits for some like it has so far for me. But, I truly believe with hours of organized and consistent sessions of drilling specific techniques your game will improve. Don’t believe me, just give it a try (I’m looking at you, Kit.)”

Read the full post here.

Kit responded to Gianni’s post on facebook:

“I love Gianni Grippo.. Nice article.. But to add an opposing point of view.. I will note a few things.. “Drilling until it becomes automatic and you don’t need to think” – This sounds like a good idea against people you can beat easily.. But applying a technique without thinking sounds like a recipe for disaster at the top level.. What if it’s a trap and you just fell into it due to being entrapped by your own muscle memory.. What if this opponent reacts differently or is shaped differently from your training partner.. Unless you have been changing your drilling partners every session which will dilute your tech..

Also you stated you drilled 3 times a day.. How often do you do live training.. Personally I don’t know many people that can train that much. And it seems if you want to take the drilling path you need something not a lot of people have.. Time! You have been training from a very young age if I’m not correct? I started at 22 while working full time and competing in another sport.. I only had time for two sessions a week for the first year..

Drilling was not an option.. Which ended up paying divid ends for me.. 4 years of training.. Averaging 5 sessions a week to black belt.. I guess I learn differently.. But so does everybody.. I believe if you are a good problem solver and strategist.. Like a chess player.. The drilling will kill your creativity.. But if you’re an athlete that has all day to train and isn’t the creative or strategist type then drilling is the answer.. What you think Gianni?”

Gianni’s response:

“Kit, while I understand your reasoning’s, as I always try to look at both sides of the coin I just want to counter a few key points that you brought up. While you say that “drilling until it’s automatic” is a recipe for disaster, I think on the contrary. For example, of course I’m going to drill the basic leg drags until it becomes muscle memory, but once I have that down I also make sure to drill the proper reaction to my opponents defenses/counters. I know there can always be elements of surprise or ways guys can counter so I always make sure to drill based off of my opponents reaction. In this case I would drill the leg drag, my opponent counters and I react to the counter- turning the drill into a series.

Although I still train twice a day around my drilling sessions and my drilling compliments rather than supplements my training, I appreciate my drilling sessions because it gives me the opportunity to make my technique better while preventing the risk of injury. So I’m putting in more mat time with less strenuous activity which leads to less chance of injury. Of course I never suggest not training and only drilling, but I feel it’s important to find a good balance.

Also I feel drilling has only spurred on my creativity. Without repeatedly drilling the same position/same technique there’s no way I’d find ways to branch off and figure out new things. If you saw a new technique from single leg X I did that was posted on BJJ Pix, you’ll see that’s a perfect example of what I’m explaining. I’ve been drilling that entry into the single leg X for a while I started seeing a different technique I could try once my opponent disengages and tries to lean back once in the single leg X. From there I saw that I could take the back.

Finally, yes on most days I do drill three times a day but that is mainly because I have more time to spend on the mats than I did a few years ago (although I still have a year of college left.) I used to drill once a day for an hour four times a week and with that I felt a huge benefit. Like I said in the blog post, drilling those sessions for one year completely changed my game. So to help your game, one session a day will still help a lot, I just do three because I love it so damn much.

p.s. poke me back.”

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After reading both sides, what do you believe is the best way to train Jiu-Jitsu? Have you tried both methods? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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