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. A cyclical flow drill follows an offense / defense counter format or can be a ‘free flow’ where one chooses based on their partners movements, etc.
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. 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.