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Mark Hatmaker: The Importance of Drilling for Traditional and Mixed Martial Proficiency

Mark Hatmaker: The Importance of Drilling for Traditional and Mixed Martial Proficiency

Drilling is repetition, plain and simple. The very word implies performing a task so often it’s “drilled” into your skull. The word “training” carries the same sort of single-focused connotation — a train gets to its destination by staying on the tracks. It makes no unnecessary side trips; there are no detours. To do anything other than what’s absolutely necessary to stay on track is to literally and metaphorically derail.

Drilling and training are composed of the actual skill work needed to improve the technical expression of the combat art. We should see drilling as separate from conditioning in that conditioning may contain zero apparent correlation with the sport being conditioned for.


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In other words, we may run, lift weights and hit the plyometric box to condition for fight training even though these activities don’t specifically resemble the technical expression of the target sport. We must condition elements outside the physical correlates of our sport. Example: Does anyone really think an NFL lineman gets that large and powerful simply by playing football? No, he must engage in auxiliary sports (running, lifting, etc.) to improve an altogether separate game.

Conversely, drilling, which is all about the technical cultivation of the sport in question, can (and should) contribute to the conditioning effect by shear physical intensity. Pure conditioning and drilling contribute to the conditioning effect, but we should never allow the conditioning effect contributed by drilling alone to stand in for the necessary supplemental work.

A number of roadblocks may prevent us from embracing drilling as it’s meant — and needs — to be. The excuses fall into two broad categories: lack of discipline and lack of mission perspective.

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There are essentially five punches in boxing (jab, cross, hook, uppercut and overhand), yet the sport thrives. All successful boxers work on those five punches for their entire careers without the need for “intellectual novelty.” They’re confident that thousands of reps of those techniques will serve them well — and it does. We’d find it ludicrous to hear of a boxer who threw only a few hundred punches and then decided to go pro.


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That strikes us as absurd because we recognize that the imaginary athlete is missing what his sport is all about. It’s about doing a handful of activities exceptionally well. To do something well, we must be either gifted or exceptionally disciplined.

Genetic exceptionalism is rare, so that leaves the rest of us to cultivate self-discipline.

The second mistake, lack of mission perspective, can afflict even the supremely disciplined. It’s not enough to drill with intensity and mental focus; we must match the drills to the game at hand.

Back to our boxing example: If a fighter recognizes that a lead hook drops most opponents and he works that punch to the exclusion of all others, he’s making a mistake. Yes, the hook may be a dropper, but the jab sets up all else, the cross has a high drop rate, too, and so on. We can immediately see that such a limited strategy is unwise.

By the same token, the combat athlete who invests drilling time in unlikely, or even impossible, scenarios is not much better off than the undisciplined athlete.

Where conditioning may draw on multi-sport activities that bear little resemblance to the target sport, drilling must be fine-tuned to reflect what the sport entails, not what we want it to be, not what we wish it to be, not what we surmise it to be, not what this or that authority says it is but what it actually is. We must scrutinize each drill to see whether it correlates with the game in question — if not, we may be wasting precious conditioning and drilling time.


About the Author:
Mark Hatmaker is a Knoxville, Tennessee-based practitioner of boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu and muay Thai and the founder of Extreme Self-Protection. He is also the author of the best-selling No Holds Barred Fighting series, Boxing Mastery and No Second Chance: A Reality-Based Guide to Self-Defense, as well as a highly regarded coach of professional and amateur fighters, law-enforcement officials and security personnel.

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