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Michael Rust
Michael Rust's picture
Flow Drills

Hi Everbody,

I just want to gather different opinions on flow drills. I've heard it mentioned that you just become really good at the drill or you don't really develop solid basics from doing this type of training. So what are the benefits of doing them ? Why should we do them at all ?

Below is a flow drill video from Koryu Uchinadi where they appear to be a core part of their training. They look crisp, fast and very impressive. They also seem to cover every aspect of combat with several drills covering; Ground Fighting, Kicks, Punches, Locks , Throws ect.

However, does this prove the point that you just become good at the drill ? Where should this type of training fit in ?  Would love to hear people's view.


Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi Michael,

firstly thanks for showing the video. Drills should follow each kata and grade etc to give the student a real understanding of Kata, Bunkai and Combat. The benefits of doing such drills is that it teaches you to keep going untill your enemy is destroyed if the one strike one knockout is ineffective.

Why should we do them at all? well we simply dont have to, its a personal choice and wheather it is already in your syllabus or thinking of introducing such drills.

I dont think one just becomes good at a drill, it teaches and builds good staminar for real combat. Most fights lasts about 60 seconds, but a good well trained martial artist should be able to end the fight a lot quicker if one has to, however, this is easier said than done

Hope this is of some help,

Kind regards.


Tau's picture

This why I developed great respect for the Filipino Martial Arts. Assuing you do Kihon. How many rep's can you fit it before you run out of space? How many can you do? Filipino drills such as Hubud (which Iain demonstrates in Bunkai from Heian Godan) are incredible in how many rep's you can do in a very short space of time.

Students need to know that they are doing a drill and that it's teaching a technique or series of techniques and/or a principle. The drill is not self defence, of course. It's a teaching method, and a bloody good one in my view.

chris rose
chris rose's picture

Hi Michael,

      I watched the video several times. The first time through it looked very impressive. on susequent viewings it looked more and more flawed. I noticed several places where one party appeared to be waiting for a reaction or a specific attack, most notably the roundhouse punch that is blocked almost before it is thrown. Don't get me wrong, both guys look to be very able bodied and dedicated fighters.  And without knowing the context of what they are trying to accomplish I can't and won't say what they are doing is wrong.  My point is that flow drills tend to condition you to giving the other guy his turn. In my class I teach drills that "flow" only one way. Now we do take into account what the likely (and sometimes unlikely) counters would be and deal with them accordingly, but the whole conflict never lasts more than 15 seconds. The type of techniques and counters that the video shows would be covered in some types of our sparring drills but never in a predetermined and flowing pattern.  Anyway thats just my opinion, I hope it helps.

Chris Rose

shoshinkanuk's picture

I would say the only 'flaw' IMO is the length and complexity of the drill shown- good martial artists, good techniques, great commitment to it etc.

For me, shorter, fight ending drills are the way to go.

Matt Perlingiero
Matt Perlingiero's picture

Flow-drills can easily degrade into "now your turn", but if you keep in mind that this isn't an exchange as in "This is how you fight someone" but as "This will end the fight, rather than start over, let's pretend it didn't," ad nauseam.  The principle is flow, and it should be studied as such, not truly as a string of techniques.  If they are practiced without learning how to actually flow outside the drill, then they are pretty much useless and prove the point your naysayers make.  It all comes down to mind-set.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I don't like them really, unless they involve some level of spontaneity, in which case they can be useful for learning types of physical transtion.

Pre arranged "flow bunkai" that involves lots of moves though usually go south quickly, there are exceptions like Taira Senseis stuff, but still long chains are not my cup of tea, and I don't really see a purpose to them outside of being aesthetically pleasing.

I have learned  "flow" stuff  from Ian's seminar and DvDs - the Beyond BUnkai one is particularly good in terms of flow, lots of similar drills and principles from Kris Wilder, and from Rory MIllers stuff (probably other places too that i'm not thinking of) in each case though, "flow" seems to actually be a moving target, not a set of stuff that you can "do" over and over again. It will be different every time you do it.  You don't need a set pattern for them, though you might start from there, and the more it becomes about a correct pattern, the less it actually demonstrates "flow", and the more it just becomes about producing the correct pattern.

Ben Ryder
Ben Ryder's picture

The video has gone, however as someone who practices the drills can I explain how they 'fit' in?

There are a series of two person drills such as this one that form part of the fundamental syllabus, each addressing the application of punches, kicks, blocks, stances and strikes. The purpose of the drills is to increase familiarity and technical competence with each constituent part and the continuous exercise; as familiarty increases so too does the level of resistance and aggression. The drills are a template, which by definition allows variations to be made whilst still having a 'template' to refer to. By practicing the drill in a continuous flow it allows the technical competence to be tested with an increasing heart rate and as a result will allow the development of more complex motor skills at a higher heart rate (similar rate to spontaneous attack); the constituent parts are practiced individually too so that an outcome is sought.

These drills are supported by tegumi exercises (such as hubud), contextual based two person drills that act as a catalogue of defensive themes (joint locks, strangulations, escapes/counters, throws, takedowns, ground work, cavity/anatomical structure seizing etc), pad/bag/conditioning and riai kumite (free sparring at any range).

We actively practice the drills as a template, remembering that the drill sequence is of secondary importance to the lesson it contains by exploring it fully. The drill in isolation is inflexible and does not reflect the organic nature of the training associated with it.

jeffc's picture

I think flow drills are an excellent method of learning, as long as their limitations are realised and addressed in other drills.  I suppose one negative aspect of a flow drill is that you are training your techniques to fail.  By that, I mean for instance, you go to strike the neck, the defender blocks, you counter and control the head and look to perform an outer reaping throw and the partner steps out of it, you have failed to connect the neck strike, failed to complete the throw etc.  This is just an example and I know that techniques, particularly throws, don't always have to be taken to the end point in order to practice them effectively.  However, if you do just rely on flow drills then you engineer a level of compliance with your partner and never actually practice some techniques to be able to apply them effectively. 

Like all training methods, they have a flaw and the flaw must be recognised and counter-balanced with another training method to make an effective and complete martial artist, which I am sure is something you do in your training, Ben.  I do personally love flow drills and we regularly train in them, but I don't think they can be used on their own. 

jeffc's picture

There was a brilliant quote on this subject from Iain at the seminar in Swindon this weekend.  It went "Flow is the effective management of failure."  

Not every technique will succeed and we need to know how to move on when a particular move fails, but we also need to know how to make each technique effective so that the likelihood of it failing is significantly reduced. 

Jeff Capstick

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

jeffc wrote:
There was a brilliant quote on this subject from Iain at the seminar in Swindon this weekend.  It went "Flow is the effective management of failure."

I'm pleased that line struck a cord :-)

All the best,