Training in jiu jitsu takes a certain level of repetition and practice to make progress in your overall skill development. There are some camps (think Atos and Andre Galvao) that emphasize ‘drilling’ as the key to getting better while others, like Kit Dale of Checkmat, provide greater emphasis on the sparring aspects of rolling in jiu jitsu. Both have merit, and I believe that both are necessary in order to increase efficiency in training and maximize the time that you put into training on the mat.
The Argument for Drilling
Drilling isn’t something that is new or unique to jiu jitsu. It is existent in just about any endeavor under the sun, sport or otherwise. There’s the Malcom Gladwell theory as highlighted in Outliers: The Story of Success that puts forth the thought that you must spend 10,000 hours of time dedicated to a pursuit in order to reach mastery. It is common knowledge that the more you do something, the better you will get at it. There are some aspects of this idea that transcends the cognitive or decision-making levels of a usual catalyst for physical action. If something is done so many times it will eventually be put into your repertoire of abilities (think John Boyd) that become more autonomic and muscle memory than a process that takes thinking and cognitive effort to cause action. You simply have done the ‘thing’ so many times that it is now a natural response that can react from cues (visual, audible, or physical) without any dedicated effort on your part. It just happens.
Additionally, the repetitive movement allows for more refinement along the way. With physical movements for instance, a careful study of your action can offer a trace of what may not be perfect in your technique. I often advocate for filming yourself in your daily practice, regardless of sport or activity, to offer yourself this benefit. Likewise, drilling technique under the watchful eye of a trained teacher will offer a much fresher perspective than your own potential skew. We all think that we are better than we actually are after all. So, when given the chance, one should pursue instruction from someone who is at a much higher level than our own…a master perhaps. And never forget the idea that practice makes perfect. Or better yet, perfect practice makes perfect.
The Argument for Rolling
Rolling adds an element of creative freedom to the mundane activities of drilling the same movement or activity over and over. It takes away the potential boredom in drilling when replaced with a live, free-flowing, and dangerous opponent who is actively trying to choke you or bend your limbs in the wrong direction. The ‘aliveness’ that is inherent in rolling is also the sole element of jiu jitsu that provides it an advantage over most other martial arts. There are no solo actions (think kata) in rolling; it always requires another training partner. Rolling provides a means by which the practitioner learns intuitively through the various outcomes (success and failure) that come about with the exchange of techniques and attempts at application on an uncooperative and free-flowing opponent.
However, the output of development through rolling may take longer as a result of this intuitive learning process than if just by drilling and practice of a variety of techniques and off-shoot variations. Sure, the freedom of movement and functional training offered by practice against varying degrees of cooperation in rolling will surely enhance your overall jiu jitsu application and abilities. There is a downside, however. Rolling may actually hamper the understanding that would otherwise be provided early in your jiu jitsu journey by simple drills and practice of foundational movements. Put another way, it could amplify and promote the use of inefficient and improper technique vice technique that has been honed over repetitive drilling. Therefore, both drill and rolling should be views as critical in the overall development of your abilities and your potentially for enforcing your will on your opponent.
It is my belief that you must drill fundamental movement early and often. Likewise, as your technique and skill grows, you must begin to apply your technique repertoire against an increasingly less cooperative opponent / training partner. Without this level of honesty in your practice, you will have a false sense of security that will ultimately lead to failure and disappointment. Over time, this will naturally be detrimental to your overall development in jiu jitsu. You must drill, and you must roll. Both are key components to your success.