What’s With ‘Sensitivity Training’ On The Mat?

Stephan teaching rectangle

There’s just no way around it!  Physical attribute are important in grappling. Some of the most important ones include speed, strength, balance, endurance, and flexibility.

But there’s another physical attribute that’s often overlooked: sensitivity!

By ‘sensitivity’ I mean being able to feel what your opponent is doing just by being in contact with his body. (Eventually you’ll even be able to feel what he’s thinking about doing before he actually does it, honest!)

This sounds very ‘woo-woo’ but physical sensitivity is a 100% concrete thing.

The tried and true method to develop sensitivity is simply to spend more time on the mat.  If you’re working with real-live opponents and dealing with real-live pressure on a regular basis then you will eventually develop sensitivity.

But there are things you can do if you want to speed things up a bit.

For example, try training with your eyes closed.  Specifically, try these three things:

1. First of all, try sparring with your eyes closed.  By relying on feel, rather than vision, your sensitivity and spacial awareness will develop much faster than if you were always using your eyes.   (I often use handicap myself by closing my eyes when I’m sparring with someone who has much less experience than me).

2. You can also do technique repetition drills with your eyes closed.  Here are some relatively simple, but very important, technique repetition drills.  Try them with your eyes closed (just be sure not to impale your partner with your knee during the guard passing drill!).

3. Maybe the most effective way to improve your sensitivity is to do reaction-based drills with your eyes closed.

For example, let’s say that you’re training a defense to the armdrag from butterfly guard… Start with your eyes closed – your training partner will start his attack, but you won’t know whether he’s going to your left or right.

You have a single, specific counter in mind, and as soon as you feel  the attack you respond using that counter, either on your left side or your right side.

By training this way you have to use your sense of touch to make a quick decision about whether to move right or left.

I was using this method of training the other day with my good friend Ritchie Yip and it really helped solidify the arm drag counter we were working on.  So that’s why I’m using this technique as an example.  But of course you don’t have to restrict this drill to armdrag counters…

You could also train the same way to counter any number of initial attack techniques, including:

  • armbars from mount,
  • standing guard passes,
  • omoplatas from guard,
  • controlled takedowns from standing
  • etc.

The important thing is that pick a technique that your partner can from either the right or the left side.

You want to bypass the normal circuit of 1) seeing the attack, 2) thinking about your counter, and then 3) deciding to initiate your defense.

With severely limited options (i.e. right or left) and your eyes closed you feel  the attack and then go directly to your counter.

This is the essence of physical sensitivity.

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