When I was a blue belt, I was struggling with what I call “blue belt syndrome”. Blue belt syndrome is what Bruce Lee called SDA, which stands for Straight Direct Attack.
From my guard, I would attack my opponent with an arm bar and hang on to it for life or death. If I finished the arm bar, great! If not, there was no plan B. One of the black belts at my school suggested I start doing “flow drills.”
Increasing your sensitivity to your opponent’s movement is critical to defeating your opponent in competition. A high level of sensitivity increases your timing for sweeps and passes, and develops quicker reflexes. So how do you develop a high level of sensitivity and learn to automatically chain techniques? Flow Drills. Flow drills help you increase your sensitivity, chain attacks together, and eliminate SDA from your BJJ. They are commonly divided into two categories, 1) Without Grips or Submissions, and 2) Catch and Release.
Without Grips or Submissions
In this type of flow drill, you and your training partner will roll lightly, without any grips and will never try for submissions. The goal of this type of flow drill is to move constantly with no hesitation and at a consistent pace. Never stop or rest in one position, always try to move to the next position in the hierarchy. For example; if you are flowing and end up in closed guard, immediately open your guard and attempt a sweep.
The goal of this type of flow drill is to constantly change position and interact with your training partner. As you practice this type of flow drill you will find that you and your training partner are leading the flow then following it. It’s common in this type of flow drill that you find yourself performing two or three offensive moves in a row, and then two or three defensive moves in a row. One important to remember is it’s not competitive but 100% cooperative.
Leave your ego in the parking lot and work with your partner. It’s very important to have a good training partner that understands the goal of the flow drill. To make a good flow drill, it’s an equal partnership of give and take or it won’t work.
This type of flow drill greatly increases your sensitivity, timing and cardio.
Catch and Release
The second way of doing a flow drill is the Catch and Release drill. This flow drill is the same type of drill, except this time you will add grips and some submission techniques. But, do not force a submission. Let your training partner fall into them and then immediately release the submission so he can escape.
Again do not stop for one moment. The goal is to constantly move (like the previous exercise), trying to use as much of your partner’s momentum as possible and flow with his techniques.
Here is a link to a Gracie Barra YouTube video demonstrating a basic catch and release flow drill - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYh5p-bEnfY
Notice how the Gracie Barra black belts are rolling lightly and at a slow easy pace. This type of drill is one of the best exercises you can do to improve your sensitivity and improve your cardio.
The second benefit of the Catch and Release is you begin to chain techniques together. Your mind is forced to think of the next technique available.
When I do flow drills I find that me and my training partner laugh a lot, and the training session flies by. Enjoy these drills, be creative and try crazy combinations that you wouldn’t normally try when you roll competitively. And as always have fun.
I’ll see you on the mat!
Wayne Spinola is an instructor at Open Guard BJJ, Kickboxing, and Self Defense Classes in Apex, NC.