You’re drilling wrong: John Danaher’s surprising approach to drilling in jiu jitsu

You’re drilling wrong: John Danaher’s surprising approach to drilling in jiu jitsu

This topic is a sensitive one. There are people who do not believe in drilling techniques (Kit Dale for instance) and there are people who drill endlessly in order to sharpen their technique , drilling being in favor of sparring.

When analysing this topic first we must remember that every person is unique.  In our case, people don’t all learn the same. There are people who can learn very fast just by watching a technique, there are people who can just play it out in their minds over and over and learn it, there are people who have to feel the technique being done on themselves in order to learn it and also there are people who need some or all of the above.

In an episode of the Lex Fridman Podcast, jiu-jitsu coach John Danaher discussed the importance and methodology of drilling in jiu-jitsu training, particularly for his elite team,New Wave Jiu-Jitsu.

1. Redefining Drilling

Danaher emphasizes a need to redefine what is understood by ‘drilling’. He states, “Ultimately, any movement in the gym that doesn’t improve the skills you already have or build new skills is a waste of time… The majority of what passes for drilling in most training halls will not make you better.”

2. Focus on Mechanics, Not Numbers

He criticizes the common practice of repetitive drilling for a set number of times. “The moment you say to someone, ‘I want you to do this 100 times,’ what are they really thinking about? Volume… The point is skill acquisition.”

3. Progressive Resistance in Drilling

Danaher stresses the importance of gradually increasing resistance in drilling, drawing a parallel with weightlifting: “Just as the weightlifter doesn’t start with 500 pounds but begins with the bar and over time builds the skills, so too, that judo gatame that you’re working on today is feeble and pathetic but five years from now you’ll win a world championship with it.”

4. Diminishing Returns of Drilling

He warns about the diminishing returns of drilling the same technique repetitively. “Once you get to a certain skill level, if you just keep hammering on the same thing in the same fashion for the same amount of time, you stop getting better.”

5. The Importance of a Good Drilling Partner

Danaher highlights the importance of having a good partner in drilling, likening it to a dance. “When good people drill, it’s like watching good people dance; they move in unison and complement each other’s movement.”

6. Personalization of Training

Recognizing individual differences, Danaher notes, “I don’t do the same thing for all athletes; everyone’s got a different personality… Like Nikki Rod, I can only hold his attention for two minutes at a time, and Gordon Ryan, five hours.”

7. Drilling vs. Sparring

In training sessions, Danaher balances drilling and sparring. He states, “If I run a two and a half hour class, you can expect an hour and a half of it to be drilling… But the way in which we drill is not your standard method of drilling.”