Drilling SMART in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


Dan Faggell is a BJJ No Gi Pan Am Champion, a writer for Jiu Jitsu Magazine, Jiu Jirsu Style, and MMA sports mag. The only scholar to earn an Ivy League Master’s Degree in ‘Skill Development for Combat Sports,’ Dan runs a BJJ Drilling aSkill Developmenr Resource site at www.SmartBJJ.com 


Urgency. That’s what it feels like to be at the top, and the best combat athletes in the world know the feeling all too well. When your living and your reputation gravely depend on performance, maximizing your training time becomes an issue to seriously consider.

Now while most of our livelihoods don’t depend on knocking people out, I believe that serious martial artists should make a point to learn from the best.

You might not make as much money as the head of Kellogg, but you can definitely learn something about running a good business from those people. Similarly, you might not be as good at fighting as Joe Lauzon, but you can pick up a thing or two about effective training from a guy of his caliber.

In this article we’ll delve into a few of the most important components of effective combat sport training – through the perspective of some of the best fighters in the game.

Playing to the Strengths of Others – Joe Lauzon and Rafael Lovato Jr.

Joe Lauzon told it to me this way: “When I’m in the training room, I’m playing to everyone’s strengths… and when I’m competing, I’m always aiming to play to my own.” The reason, he explains, is rather simple: the goal of training time is learning, while the goal of competition is victory. As a successful UFC fighter since his early twenties, Joe could probably beat most of his training partners on a day to day basis, but since the goal is not victory, he chooses to fight the strengths of his training partner – whether that be an effective jab, or a dangerous takedown game.       

Rafeal Lovato Jr. is the first American champion of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships. Training in Iowa, Lovato doesn’t have the priveladge of training with many other world class black belts in preparation for his competitions. Hence, playing to the strengths of others is a key training tool in his repertoire. If once of his partners has a great closed guard, he will start from there, or bring himself back to that position time and time again. In doing so, he’s consciously finding challenge and forcing himself to learn – which is the primary goal of training time.


Following through on this strategy starts with identifying the major strengths of your training partners. Once identified, you can now directly challenge these strengths in sparring when you want to increase the challenge of your training sessions. In addition, if you need to work on a particular area of your game – lets say triangle chokes – you can test yourself against the person in your gym with the best triangle defense.

Taking Drilling Seriously – Ben Askren and Andre Galvao

Andre Galvao takes drilling seriously. In fact, to many, he wrote the book on drilling (Drill to Win). Andre consciously drills his favorite and most effective techniques from each position, but also drills the areas that need it most. If he notices some issues with his half guard – he focuses in on those problems, if he’s fighting someone with a strong triangle – he will focus on defending and preventing triangles. By drilling consistently every day he is on the mat, Andre ensures that he’s sharpening up his game as a whole – not jut whatever he learns that day, or whatever position he finds himself in during sparring. Over the course of asking dozens of top level combat athletes “What aspect of training do most competitors neglect?”,‘drilling’ comes back as one of the top responses. Even with this being the case, not all top level competitors have a comprehensive plan for drilling effectively.

Another combat sports star with a heavy emphasis on drilling is Ben AskrenAs a two-time NCAA wrestling champion, Olympian, and undefeated MMA fighter (Bellator), Ben’s drilling habits started in high school and were sharpened thoroughly while wrestling for the University of Missouri. Along with Galvao, Askren believes that most people do “just enough” in their drilling, and rarely do more than go through the motions.

For Ben, each repetition is an opportunity to try a technique with slightly different energy, in a slightly different way – slowly but surely not only refining the movement itself, but gaining insight into the dynamics of the position at work.

Bringing Drilling Into Your Own Game:

Implementing this idea will involve finding specific drilling times and techniques or movements to drill. As with our last skill, the intensity of training will vary depending on the amount of training time and the height of one’s combat sport goals. Determine the positions and techniques that are most important for you to work on (instructor perspective can be crucial here), and then set a regimen of a specific number of reps of each position or technique each week (IE: 20 mount, side mount, and back mount escapes each Monday and Wednesday before class) – ensuring that you go beyond “going through the motions.”

-Dan Faggella

Dan Faggell is a BJJ No Gi Pan Am Champion, a writer for Jiu Jitsu Magazine, Jiu Jirsu Style, and MMA sports mag. The only scholar to earn an Ivy League Master’s Degree in ‘Skill Development for Combat Sports,’ Dan runs a BJJ Drilling aSkill Developmenr Resource site at www.SmartBJJ.com 

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