Photo Credit: Pasion (sic) Project

I want to talk about a subject most people don’t understand. It is the key to success, in any endeavor. It takes no talent, minimal IQ or EQ, all it takes is relentlessness.

I have been teaching martial arts since 1982. My typical student, about 90% of students, would show up for class twice a week and do nothing in between. This necessitated going over material for review and slow progress.

The students who progressed the fastest were not the natural athletes or even the brilliant thinkers. They were the ones who worked on the material on “their time”.  They worked the basics more than the average student.

The real high achievers obsessed with grinding out a movement. They performed rep after rep until it was grooved into their nervous system. THIS is the secret to elite performance. Find ways to get reps in. Most people will not do this, they get bored, they feel they “have it” after 10 reps, they keep glancing at the clock in anticipation of the “fun” part of class…the sparring.

A story Ron Balicki and I often tell is about a time we were training in my wooden floor, Chicago, apartment. We were grinders. I threw Ron, onto the hardwood floor, probably 50 times. Enough to have a neighbor knock on my door and yell at us to stop throwing around a “medicine ball”!

We all like instant gratification, I like it too. It’s nice to want something and get it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen with skill development. With BJJ, fighting, and shooting, I constantly see students checking their basics. I could see the wheels turning in their heads; “foot goes here, grab this…what comes next”?  Even advanced students miss or skip over important steps in a technique, under pressure.

Our skilled opponents will immediately take advantage of our technique lapses and errors.

Our goal is to make fundamental movements and concepts automatic and then refine and maintain those fundamentals.

New BJJ students often ask me “how do I get better”, my answer is always “mat time”. There is a linear progression between mat time and skill level.  Same goes with shooting: dry fire. This has to be consistent practice, hence, the GRIND.

The grinding has to happen with every endeavor we are involved with, if we want to obtain more than a casual level of skill. The more you grind technique, the better you become.

When I was learning to interrogate suspects, I had the uniform troopers call back to Investigations when they made minor drug arrests. I would go up to the processing room and conduct a 15-20 minute interrogation, no stress, if I got the person to confess, it’s all good; if not, no big deal. I learned a ton during these sessions. Mostly, how to perform the mechanical aspects of interrogation by rote so I could evaluate suspects responses and body language. It also helped to lower my nervousness. Interrogation became routine. New detectives get flustered and constantly check questions or are thinking about what to ask instead of evaluating the suspect and his/her answers. The only way to overcome this is to train – grind – do it alot.

Most, if not all, shooting errors occur because of a breakdown in fundamentals, sight alignment, sight picture, grip, and trigger press. Literally the things we learn in shooting class number 1. We see students in “advanced” classes making consistent errors with fundamentals.

Reping fundamentals is not fun, it is not cool, but fundamentals are called fundamentals for a reason. Fundamentals need to be ingrained prior to building advanced skills. Fundamentals also need to be maintained and refined throughout your career.

Fundamentals need to be practiced with no pressure and then they need to be performed under gradually increasing amounts of training pressure and stress. Ultimately, the training should progress to exposure to “real world” testing. In an ideal world, this real world exposure would begin gradually, sometimes this is not possible but it is preferable.

When my drug unit was training a new agent for dynamic search warrant service, we would always put him or her on perimeter until we had a chance to evaluate them under stress and they had a chance to acclimate to the perceived chaos, noise, and potential danger of a search warrant service. They would then progress to the back of the entry team. With enough real world reps, constructive feedback via brutally honest debriefings, and training designed to work on weak fundamentals the agent would progress to the front of the line.

Here’s the easy roadmap to excellence in any endeavor:


  1. Obtain expert technique instruction. Ask questions and receive feedback until you understand the technique enough to break it into component pieces.
  2. Breakdown your endeavor to it’s basic fundamentals and component pieces.
  3. Commit to a specific number of reps of the fundamentals or components of the fundamentals, every day. Link this daily practice to an already established habit, if possible.
  4. Practice daily, no breaks.
  5. Be focused and relentless with your practice. Don’t let concentration wander.
  6. At first, practice the technique slowly, with no pressure.  Over time build speed and pressure.
  7. Obtain feedback from coaches, experts, or visual feedback from video recording.
  8. Ruthlessly evaluate technique, progress, and feedback and attack weaknesses.
  9. Repeat the above practice…forever.


Clearly, when we are integrating a new technique, we should laser focus on all of the elements of that technique and grind technique work. High performers will grind out hundreds of reps daily while learning a new technique; fewer reps when maintaining a skill.

Grinding takes no talent above the ability to overcome boredom. If you don’t have time to focus a training session on drilling, just get 15 reps in a day.  15 reps a day equals 105 reps a week, 420 reps a month, and 5040 reps a year.

Elite performance is linked to your ability to grind away day after day, year after year.

1 Comment

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One response to “THE GRIND

  1. Reblogged this on The Obsession Engine and commented:
    Great thoughts from my coach and friend. Since I can usually only get to jits 2x wk without it impacting my work and home life, I need to start drilling. That’s going to be a little tough without partners but there are a lot of drills I can and should be doing, including basic shrimping and bridging.

    Liked by 1 person

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