As a martial arts school, a great deal of our training is to prepare for sport combat. It is important to introduce unpredictability in order to teach students to react in a variety of situations.
Grappleball is a game we invented that has increased rapidly in popularity. There are two teams. Players can take only one step with the ball, after which they must pass or shoot. Goalies get the blaster pads and are the only ones who can hit. Players can grapple any other player at any time for any reason. No one can grapple the goalie, unless they come out of their box. Dog piles are resolved with a jump ball. It is generally played without submissions, but they can be added.
To see example videos with detailed rules, visit the official grappleball Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/grappleball
Paddleball is a game that has been around for a long time and is played in dojangs all over the world. Students divide into teams and try to hit a small ball with the kicking paddles. If there are too many students, consider having two balls and two games going on simultaneously. The balls are generally made of athletic or duct tape which has been crumbled up. This makes them dense enough that people can get a good hit in, but also soft enough that you shouldn’t break anything or hurt anyone.
Games can be played to a certain number of points or for time. Decide beforehand the level of contact involved. It’s nice to wear hogus, and then paddle the people as well. Depending on the age/level/contact aversion of the students, hogus probably aren’t necessary.
One thing we do sometimes when we want people to get more into it is to make a rule that if there are no obnoxious end zone celebrations after a goal, the point gets negated. They should at the very least high five each other with the paddles.
Cliff Edge Game
The cliff edge game encourages a lot of cheering. This will often get to the point where it is hard to hear inside. Make sure that everyone focuses clearly so that there are no missed taps.
Mark off a 3 by 3 meter section of mats, and divide the class into two teams. For some reason, boys vs. girls always works well if there are even numbers. Order each team from smallest to largest (or lowest belt to highest if people are the same size). The two smallest players come out to face each other.
A player can win by submitting their opponent (if allowed), throwing them outside of the ring, or by being the smallest when time is called. As long as one finger is still on the cliff, they are still in. If one player is thrown out but still holding on to the other player, they are still in. You might also consider awarding a win for securing a mount position.
Once a player loses, the next strongest player from their team comes in to face the previous opponent. Thus if one player defeats multiple opponents, he will be a great value for his team. The other team might want to consider a ‘sacrifice’ or trying to fall off the cliff and take the other player with them.
Arm Bar Game
This is a simple game that can be played with any technique that you want your students to work on. It’s usually best to start in the mount, so students won’t waste too much time with standing/takedowns. The only way to win is to do an arm bar on your partner. This will make students good at both the move and the defense.
When students become more advanced, let them do other, related moves as long as it starts with an arm bar. For instance, let them do arm bar and then switch to bicep cutter when the partner defends.
Get to Mount Game
In many sports, the matchups are not direct. In football, both quarterbacks are never on the field at the same time. The quarterback really faces the linebackers and defensive backs. Sometimes in one on one sports, it’s easy to overlook this.
In the get to mount game, one partner starts in the other one’s guard. Either partner can win by getting to the mount and holding it for three seconds. The battle is really between one person’s guard passes and the other person’s guard sweeps.
Because this battle isn’t ‘even,’ try it with people in both positions. It’s also good to let the lower ranking student or smaller kid decide which position he wants to be in.
Variations could include things like seeing who could pull guard first.
King of the Ring
King of the ring is an old game that has been played in schools all over the world. Students line up from smallest to biggest. The first two spar, and whoever is the winner stays in while the loser goes out. The next person comes in. The player’s job is to try and stay in the center for as long as possible without losing. Once one player has made it through everyone, they are the king of the ring.
Here are a few things you should consider. First of all, make sure that the drill is always safe. If one kid is too small, there could be an extra chance of injury. Also, you probably want to have the first point win. Otherwise, a whole match can take too long. Then one person will be really tired and the other students will be cold. Consider modifying rules for stronger players (only use one leg, no head contact, start with one penalty, etc).
In general when sparring in front of the whole class students will go harder and kick with more force, so be sure to take this into account.
There are a number of different variations to this one. The main idea is to have students get pads and prevent others from doing it. Instead of going in a circle like musical chairs, we divide the class up in half and have them go on each side of the dojang. The pads go exactly in the middle. You should have n-2 pads for n students in the class. This ensures that at the end there will be 4 people fighting for 2 pads. The two people who don’t end up with the pads are out, and then remove 2 more pads for the next round. You can use more or less than 2, it just depends on how fast you want the game to go and how many students are in your class.
In the case that two people are fighting over the same pad, you will want to determine who is the winner. We say that if both people are touching it, whoever has the best grappling position is the winner. So while someone can lay down on top of the pad, the other one can get the back mount and win.
If you allow submissions, things become interesting because students need to defend with the same hand that is holding on to the ball/pad. Be careful, especially if there is a wide range in skill levels in the class.
Make a time limit like twenty seconds for each round.
For egg sparring, we have students spar while holding an egg. Opponents win if they can break the egg, while students win if they can make it through the entire round without the egg breaking.
The first time we did this, we had a lot of cleaning to do! Then, we decided to put the egg in a ziplock bag, which made things much easier.
Students can be told that they have to protect the last dinosaur egg, or any other idea you make up. This drill is interesting because they can also work to use the egg to bait their opponents into kicking, in order to set up a counter.
We don’t do this a lot, but we do this on our black belt tests.
Soccer is the world’s most popular game, and chances are good that your students will love it as well. This makes a good warm-up. Combat soccer means that you play soccer as normal, but you up the level of physical contact. Things that would usually be fouls aren’t anymore. However, be sure to spell this out ahead of time! Playing with bare feet makes things much safer, because you don’t have to worry about cleats. You might also wear sparring pads and allow strikes.
Crabwalk wars is a great way to work on strength, endurance, and balance. Kids will love this, especially boys vs. girls. If you play in teams, it will really teach students about protecting their backs and working together.
Students must stay in the crab position. If anything other than their hands and feet touch the ground, then they are out. You can play ‘last man standing’ or teams. If one team is dominant, gradually move people from that team to the other team to make a closer match.
Chicken Fighting / Crane Fighting
Each student has to grab their foot with one hand, and grab their uniform with the other hand. Then, hopping on one leg they must try to knock down players from the other team. There is no switching feet, except between rounds. If they let go of their foot, they are out.
Make sure students don’t hit each other with kicks or punches. They can only jump forward and use their shoulders. However, any charge that is too aggressive can easily be defeated by the target moving to the side.
Use flag sparring when you want to add another element or discourage clinching. Each student wears flags like in flag football. Let them spar as normal, and each flag that the other student gets is worth one head shot (or make up an arbitrary number of points.)
This will help students to think about more than one thing at a time, and also help them take advantage of opponents who are distracted.
I once had someone who was a great student, but who was prone to periods where he would lose his self control during a match. He would apologize afterwards, but it was clear that something happened to him and it stopped him from being in control and stopped him from thinking.
I invented the talking grappling drill to help him. When he was free grappling I would ask him questions such as his birthday, what he ate for breakfast that morning, etc. It forced him to focus on the questions and the match at the same time, which prevented the blind rage from taking over. While it might not work in every case, this drill certainly helped this particular student.
It could also be useful to help students be more ‘reactive’ and spend less time thinking and second guessing themselves during a match.
The circle attack is a classic drill and is probably one of the first combat drills ever invented. Students stand in a circle around one person in the middle. Any one person from the outside can attack. The person in the middle has to defend without knowing where the attack is coming from.
You can have many variations. You can let the attacker use whatever he wants, or you can specify a certain attack.
Sudden victory is a good drill when you want to focus on only one technique of your students, or to train them to defend against a certain technique. The idea is simple. Spar as normal, but as soon as someone hits the specified technique, the match is over and they win. With kids, you can say it is worth like a million points or “One hundred trillion points” (with the Austin Powers body language)
This helps each student to be looking for opportunities. For instance, in Olympic Style Taekwondo they changed head shots to be 3 points. By setting the sudden victory criterion to be any head shot, you will teach students to look for it. Similarly, if an athlete is winning by two points with only a few seconds left, he knows that the opponent will be only looking for headshots. This will help him have experience in this situation and make it easier to defend.
This also works well in case the opponent you are preparing for is well known for a certain move. For instance, 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Servet Tazegul from Turkey has great back kicks, which he will throw from a variety of situations. To prepare to spar him you could have the opponent have sudden victory for back kicks. This will teach the athlete to look for back kicks in any situation.
The drill does not have to be symmetrical, and in many cases this closely simulates sparring. Each person could have their own way to win.
Martial arts is often talked about as being for self-defense, but there is a critical flaw here. In real life, you will often be protecting someone else. For instance, if a father is out with his family and the family is attacked, the attacker will likely go after the smaller and weaker members first. The father has to defend himself as well as his wife and children.
This is rarely practiced. Protection sparring is one drill that can help alleviate this. Most students will find this drill harder than they imagine it to be.
The simplest way is to use a BOB or heavy bag as the target. Sparring proceeds as usual, but the opponent wins if he can attack the target. Each partner can also attack the other.
It’s also possible to have a person be the target. You can let them defend themselves fully or have them just move, or move and also block.
This drill has a number of variations, but it’s important to consider safety. If the people are of varying sizes and skill levels (which is the situation the drill should simulate), you don’t want someone failing the drill to result in an injury to anyone. If the target is the strongest person in the class, letting them fight back makes the drill lose its point. See the 2020 Armor page for a video on this.
Paintfoot sparring is similar to regular sparring, but should be done outside. Students wear a white t-shirt on top of their sparring pads. Each competitor puts globs of paint on their feet. Make sure this is WASHABLE paint. Students spar, and the winner is determined by whoever has the least colored marks on their body. You could also put different paint on the right and left feet, in order to give more points for the non-dominant leg.
Make sure to disallow head contact. The rounds will probably be around 30 seconds or so, as you will need to reapply paint to each person’s feet.
Water Balloon Grappling
You generally want to do this one outside on a hot day. A nearby park is ideal. The basic idea is to fill water balloons and duct tape them to various parts of each opponent’s body. The goal is to pop your partner’s balloons before he pops yours. The person who looses is at least cooled off and refreshed.
For instance, a balloon taped to the back will discourage pulling guard. A balloon taped to the side will pop when that student is thrown. Be creative, and play with the size of the balloons and how much they are filled. Balloons that are fuller will generally pop more easily.
Grapple Duck Goose
One of the problems with most martial arts drills is that they assume that both people agree to fight. In real life, it is often one who wants to and the other who just wants to escape. In grapple duck goose students sit in a circle. They go around and say “duck, duck…..” until they get to one person and say “goose!” The next person in the line has to stop the original person from getting back to their spot, before the other students in the circle count to 10 in Korean (or whatever.)
The reason it’s the next person in line instead of the person that they tagged is because the person who tags will already be past them by the time they can stand up. Making it the next person forces them to go through the opponent and makes it more fair between the two competitors. In regular duck duck goose you are just tagging, which is much easier than grabbing and holding someone.