In recent years, there has been an increase in practically minded karate practitioners making use of two-person flow drills to help develop tactile-based skills for close-range altercations. Normally seen in arts such as Wing Chun, Silat and Filipino systems, some Okinawan karate systems also practice kakie (hooking hands) to help develop this area of expertise. These methodologies can run from being rather rudimentary more comprehensive, depending on the style, teacher and aims of the art.
In my dojo, we also practice a series of close-range limb control drills derived directly from Naihanchi Kata, which are used as a core template to express a more free-flowing application of kata bunkai principles. But as with all training methods, they have specific limitations that as mindful practitioners, we must be aware of. Indeed, one of the generic weaknesses in flow drills is the fact that they actually FLOW! I know, a little contradictory, so let me elaborate.
First of all, check out the video below that shows a couple of our isolation drills that help to ingrain some of the integral components from our sixth Naihanchi Limb Control Drill. The aim of these exercises is to develop a heightened sense of flow and rhythm so that these attributes may be incorporated when applied back into the main drill...
Now, as useful (and enjoyable) as these exercises are, a big problem is that they require an artificial adherence to flow in order to help develop the necessary attributes. Thus, when you practice them you can become very addicted to this feeling. In short, these drills tend to encourage what is often an unrealistic exaggeration of limb control in order to achieve what they aim to express.
Of course, in practical terms, if you are 'flowing' then by definition, you are also losing! Flow should only ever occur if your primary combative strategy becomes stifled in any way - in other words...if something's gone wrong. For example, if you opponent presents a barrier that impedes your intended strike path then the attribute of flow would be essential in order to seamlessly negotiate this obstacle so that striking can be resumed. By practising flow drills in training that artificially 'extend' this ability to flow around two, three or four obstacles at a time, then in terms of reality, we'd be in a precarious position at best and not of the dominating mind-set required for self-defence. In application, the core strategy of limb control should always be 'clear to hit'...then hit, hit, hit!
Based on the above, it's vital to include exercises into your regular training that take a more dominating mindset into account, allowing the development of skills to swiftly and decisively break out of the continuation of flow. In my dojo, we call these 'exit drills' and are just as important, if not more so, than the flow drills themselves.
Exit drills work not only to physically break the continuation of flow, but also to break the associated mind-set. They allow you to feel for the appropriate time to exit or to create an appropriate time if one doesn't become apparent. They also allow you to experiment with breaking rhythm and understanding the upshot of doing so. Most importantly, they teach the skill of continuously seeking to create and maintain dominance within your primary strategy. In self-defence, this is supremely important.
Exit drills can be incorporated into your practice in a host of ways. It is the principle of operation that's crucial, not so much the specific method you go about expressing it. My six Naihanchi limb control drills are designed in a way that allows for a seamless flow between them through the use of common reference points. This means that eventually, the technique-based framework itself may be disregarded so that they become more free-flowing and spontaneous. Because of this, we're also conscious to make use of exit drills to break habit.
And what's best to use as exit drills you might ask?...Well, other kata applications of course!
Here's one example of an exit drill we use from our Kihongata Ni (or Gekisai Dai Ichi from Goju), applied at the appropriate time based on the energy given within the 'flowing' limb control drill...
Given the fact that the main objective in self-defence is to maximise safety by using distance and time (rather than to win fights), then the practice of exit drills within these fluid-type of two-person exercises is even more crucial. Add to the mix a real threat of multiple opponents or weapons and you'll come to realise that just like all addictions, the exaggerated practice of flow could become painfully unhealthy if its limitations are not properly understood.
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.