Monday, April 23, 2007

The Roundabout – It’s A Riot!

Sometimes a twist on an old drill yields interesting results. This drill is something I came up with recently in a class. Originally dubbed “the riot drill” or the “barroom brawl”, we now mostly use the term “roundabout” to describe the process itself.

Often when people drill techniques, they pair up and take turns feeding strikes to each other. If there is an odd person out, as happens in class, this can turn into a threesome, feeding strikes to each other in a circle.

Sometimes we turn this into a game where we might feed back randomly to either partner. This gets closer to the “roundabout” but we are still dynamically locked in one-to-one with a partner and giving ourselves time to complete techniques. In most drills the pattern is to automatically engage the person who just attacked us, but the attack you just neutralized might not be your most immediate priority if another is coming in. In a brawl or riot one might have multiple opponents swinging away freely from any direction.

One solution, commonly seen in Aikido randori, is to direct the first opponent into the path of any successive attackers, solving two problems at once (finishing the first while engaging the second).

Back in the 70’s the BKF had a drill where everyone in the room would fight everyone else at random, a training exercise specifically for surviving such a melee. I’ve been in riot situations where everything was chaos. Who is nearby can change by the second as the surging mass of a crowd moves individuals in its current.

This drew my attention to the idea of how to train for randomness. The roundabout drill seems a way to introduce this factor into training by manipulating the variables of speed and direction. Getting to the details, the new idea works like this –

In a three person circle:

Person A feeds a strike to Person B.
Person B gets a single block/parry/deflection …..
But instead of counter-striking back at A, he throws that strike at Person C!
Person C then takes that incoming blow and counter-strikes towards A, etc.

It’s a bit like playing “telephone” where a message goes around a circle. More people can be added but too many will slow the drill, negating much of its value. If there are more than five participants, I suggest breaking up into smaller groups.

It sounds easy, but here’s the nitty-gritty. When we trade techniques such as in lock-and-block or numerado, the timing is several beats or moves in the counter, then maybe even a timing break to reset before a strike is returned; we have time to see the pattern creating the next incoming attack.

In counter-for-counter sparring or sumbrada, it’s pretty much one-for-one continuous rhythm. Either a counterattack is a logical outcome of a defensive position or it is not. In either case we can learn to either anticipate or follow the intentions of our opponent.

In the roundabout, the strike you just fed is coming back on the third beat, which is faster than what we experience in most normal technique exchange, and much less predictable than the rhythm of counter-for-counter. Coming from a different direction, however, and off an angle unrelated to the strike you threw just a second ago, you must quickly reorient and adapt from one person to the other.

This can accelerate going around a circle, and the speed it acquires plus the redirection of attention raise the difficulty factor significantly. Doing this in a continuous direction creates different challenges from a typical two-on-one type of drill, because each person has to maintain the same kind of focus and attention.

Giving a single counter to our attacker before turning to hit the next person can slow the pace of the drill, but the biggest challenge is to defend, turn and strike. If nothing else, this forces us to break and reexamine our ingrained responses in a new way.

Finally, changing directions is important because it reverses our left-right feeds and receives. As the drill emphasizes immediate responses, we tend to receive an attack with the side closest that person, and attack on our opposite side. This affects where our movement is open and how we reach across our body.

Drills can get hypnotic, which is good for building neuromuscular memory, but sometimes when people go into flow trance their conscious mind tends to check out. Redirecting attention rapidly from one opponent to the next helps break tunnel vision and broadens the scope of our potential reactions. If we stop trying to control everything and just watch and monitor the direction things unfold, we have a better chance of keeping a clear mind. That “one mind” is important because mental conflicts cause glitches that break our flow.

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