The concept of using “flow drills” in the practice of the gentle art is not a new concept. I’ve been hearing the word “flow” thrown around in BJJ circles since I started my BJJ journey back in the mid to late 90’s. The word flow brings into mind synonyms like smooth, graceful, effortless (by the way, all things that BJJ never feels like at the beginning). Every student can recall the echo of an instructor beating the drum of “come on man…relax…flow!” So what exactly does it mean to flow? Some may think of flowing as grappling half speed or maybe not really trying to actively submit your opponent but to focus more on movement. Most of us use “flow grappling” as perhaps a way to warmup or to safely navigate around an injury. The problem I have had with trying to “flow roll” with others is that you need the perfect person to work with. They need to be able to relax and move just the right way. Otherwise it quickly feels awkward and clunky or turns into a full speed grappling match. As a teacher and natural “tinkerer” I am always looking for ways to better myself and my students Jiu-Jitsu training. The question for me has always been how do you get students to relax and flow with their partner?
Recently I began working on trying to bridge this gap. I started to create what I call a “cyclical flow”. Cyclical is a pretty cool word that means reoccurring or occurring in cycles. A cyclical flow drill is a series of moves that follow a general framework but are not anchored to just one or two moves, or specific patterns. So a cyclical flow drill might look something like this: Leg sweep takedown, knee on belly, mount, opponent pushes off to escape, you defend mount, upa escape, you end up in guard, they stand – you perform the double ankle sweep, bull fighter pass, knee on the belly (the drill repeats itself continuously). (see video below) As you can see, the drill runs in a continuous circle. Now that’s the basic iteration of this drill.
The second stage is to “flip the drill”. Flipping simply means that during the drill you can change from offense to defense at any time. For example: using the cyclical flow drill above we could flip it when the partner stands in your guard, instead of doing the double ankle sweep your partners takes a step back and does a bull fighter pass and passes to knee on the belly and now assumes the offensive role during the drill. This is great because it makes the drill less predictable and allows both students to actively participate in the drill without stopping. In most schools, this is how you learn: You go to class and you learn a move and you practice it on a partner. If you drill the move, your partner lays there while you practice it and then they do the same thing. Then you take those same moves and try to make them work against a resisting (sometimes crazy) partner during live grappling. What I love about cyclical flow drills is that it can act as a bridge between the practice of a move and live grappling – but never of course replacing live grappling.
To clarify, stage one is the practice of a cyclical flow with one person acting as offense and one defense. Stage two we spontaneously “flip” the drill during practice at any given interval.
Stage three we begin to connect additional cyclical flow drills during the practice of a drill. By attaching additional flow drills you can practice 20, 30 or more moves in one drill. When you enter stage three (cyclical free flowing) you want to start the drill at a moderate speed and increase your speed as the drill progresses. By the time the drill ends you should be navigating at full speed. As you improve your speed and accuracy you can begin to add what I refer to as “road blocks” and “left turns”. For example: a road block might be that when you mount, instead of letting your partner flip you over, you go to the arm-bar from the mount which forces your opponent to perform an arm-bar escape. Remember, the rules of a stage three cyclical free flowing is for continuous, non-stop movement that always follows the general framework of the drill while allowing for spontaneity. If you add roadblocks the goal is to always find your way back to the framework of the drill. Additional challenges you can add are: pass the guard on your weak side, employ your submissions from your weak side, etc. Remember, you are only limited by your own creativity. The goal of the drill is to chain several moves together that work in a cyclical fashion. This drill is great for speed, timing, muscle memory, cardio, etc. In this blog I have given two examples of cyclical flow drills that I like, but you can create your own based on your own skill sets. If you have additional questions, please comment below. And as always, Happy Training!