There is an old saying that goes something like this; How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We understand this to mean breaking down seemingly insurmountable tasks into manageable portions. This works well for big projects however, this also works really well for smaller tasks.
For our purposes I want to talk about something we use In Wrestling, Judo, and Brazilian Jiujitsu practice that is usually referred to as micro-drilling. A component of drilling that focuses on one segment of the overall movement. Micro-drilling involves some honest assessment on our part. We have to look at our weak areas in a movement and develop a drill to bring that area up to speed. Particularly if we have been involved in the lifestyle long enough to be in the advanced category, finding ways to improve can be challenging. (Which isn’t to say micro-drilling is only for the advanced athlete). Some of us can make that assessment on our own while others of us need a coach’s eye to assist us. One example from my own experience would be a Judo throw known as Kosoto Gari. I just couldn’t seem to nail this one even when I thought I was doing everything right. I broke it down into micro-drills, working just the footwork to set it up, working just the reap, working the upper body control, then putting it all back together. Only to still not be able to hit Kosoto Gari on a high level resisting opponent. Finally in frustration I asked my Judo coach Thomas O’Shaughnessy for help. Master Thomas immediately assessed my technique, told me everything was on point except an issue in my grip, and created a micro-drill so I could put in a few hundred repetitions on correct technique to make my Kosoto Gari a viable technique in my arsenal. My point in sharing that story is that even though I have decades of training and practice as well as coaching experience which enabled me to micro-drill each element to a high enough level that an 8th Dan Judo Black Belt would say my technique was very good… There were still areas where I needed my coach’s eye to help me through a plateau. I just wanted to put that out there before we move further into micro-drilling.
Let’s use an example from stick fighting. We know from stick fighting that the weapon bearing arm is the gatekeeper. We will never crack our opponent’s skull if we can’t get past their weapon bearing arm. We might get past it but there is a toll on that road, and the toll is taking shots from their weapon. An approach with some merit is to attack the weapon bearing arm, it’s closer, they have to put that arm within our reach if they hope to hit us so we know at some point, we will get our shot. Here is a simple micro-drill that we have used within the Straight Blast Gym for decades to isolate the act of hitting the weapon bearing arm. Have your training partner wear a heavy boxing glove on his weapon bearing hand. You are going to be armed with a soft stick to avoid causing injury to your training partner. The first ten rounds are going to be focused on only hitting the inside of your training partners hand. Not the forearm, or any other area, just the inside of the hand so if he’s gripping a stick that would be the thumb and fingers. Ten rounds, he will feed a forehand shot and you will hit the inside of the hand. Incorporate movement however, limit the angle or shot you are defending to a forehand shot. After ten rounds of that now do ten rounds of targeting the back side of the hand. Your training partner will fire a backhand shot at you and you will work on hitting the back or top side of the hand. Your only task is to hit the back of their hand while moving. Avoid adding any additional tasks, this is a micro-drill focused only on this element. That is a twenty round workout focused on hitting the weapon bearing hand. This type of micro-drilling helped my stick fighting and impact weapon skill immensely. I did and do this with every aspect of that skill, focusing on hitting the lead leg or isolating an element of footwork. If it is a weak area, I drag it into the sunlight and put some focused work on it until it is no longer weak.
When working on impact or edged weapon skills I find Iron Maiden to be a superb training aid.
Another example of micro-drilling would be in our firearms work. Say I analyze match or practice video and I see my time to the holster and out of the holster are rocking. No issues there but once I start to mount the pistol I’m not getting the sights up into my eye line quickly enough. If I can focus on that step I could shave some time off my presentation. Once I establish an efficient path for the pistol to travel that gets the pistol into my visual plane faster than I was doing it, I will now focus on and practice only that movement for a few hundred repetitions. I’ll video the movement using Coaches Eye or use the slo-mo feature on my iPhone or Youtube to slow it down and analyze my movement to make sure I’m taking the same path every time or correct my movement to a more efficient path. This might mean only working on movement starting where I get both hands on the pistol to the point where I first pick up the sights, and repeating that for a hundred repetitions or so until that movement is burned in. It is only a movement of approximately twelve inches however, that is why this type of practice is referred to as micro-drilling.
With micro-drilling we are breaking down a technique into components, then into sub-components searching for any rough areas that need to be polished. This polishing might only yield a 1% improvement in our overall skill set but with enough of those 1% improvements over the course of a training lifetime, we will see significant overall improvements and that is the objective. Particularly at higher skill levels where incremental improvements is the only way improvements seem to manifest. In the beginning stages of our training we see large chunks of improvement however, over time those leaps and chunks slow. Micro-drilling is the way to make those incremental, almost immeasurable improvements as well as keeping us mentally engaged in the challenge of finding that area for a 1% improvement.