I often get emails from people wanting to know whether drilling with a grappling dummy will help their jiu-jitsu.
Dummies are expensive items, and people want to make sure the investment will be worth it.
The short answer is no.
In my experience grappling dummies are almost always a waste of time, money, effort and space. So don’t bother. Find another way to train.
At first the idea of getting a dummy and doing some extra drilling with it seems like such a good idea. If can’t make it to class as often as you would like, then maybe spending a bit of extra time repping techniques on a humanoid dummy could make up the difference, right?
When people fork out the cash to buy a dummy they’re initially very excited. They’ve usually got a list of drills they want to do every day on it.
But somehow, a week or two after arriving, their new toy is already lying off to the side of the living room with children’s toys piled on top of it. Then it gets relegated to the back of a closet. And eventually end up in the landfill (I know, I’ve sent several there myself).
This doesn’t just apply to people ordering a dummy for personal use: it applies to jiu-jitsu and MMA schools too. I’ve seen lots of schools with dummies, but 99.9% of the time people just use them as benches to sit on.
I’m not immune from the temptation. As a result I’ve personally worked with about 9 or 10 different commercial grappling and throwing dummies.
This includes dummies built for throws and takedowns, others specifically for training submissions, and others still designed to help you move better on the ground.
And I’ve also hand built 4 different dummies (a choking dummy, a kneebar dummy, and two full-sized human-shaped dummies) from materials including heavy gauge electrical wire, firehose, plastic pipe, duct tape, wood beams, metal springs, carpet, pillows, and pool noodles.
Every time I built one I thought this new toy was going to be a secret weapon. It would sharpen my guard passes, smooth out my armbars, and make my leglocks unstoppable…
But it never worked. Truthfully I probably spent ten times as many hours building these dummies as I did ever training with them. They just never felt real, I always felt silly, and – most importantly – I didn’t notice any carryover to my regular training.
So why didn’t these dummies do it for me?
It’s pretty simple really – they didn’t move.
In a sense the essence of jiu-jitsu is responding to movement with movement. You set up a sweep one way, your opponent reacts, and then you take him over the other way. It’s all about reaction, response, and movement.
Similarly, have you ever tried to drill techniques or transitions with someone who moved really, really awkwardly? Someone who always gave you the wrong reaction, or didn’t respond at all? It’s maddening; almost better not to drill with people like that at all and just go direct to sparring.
Grappling dummies are like that, except that, obviously, you can’t spar with them.
We’re trying to get good at beating people who are good at jiu-jitsu. We need to internalise the movements and reactions that skilled people do so we can respond with our own moments. We don’t want to become experts at beating up less-than-white-belts, or applying armbars to corpses.
You can’t learn to swim on dry land and you can’t improve your bedroom skills by practising on a blow-up doll.
OK, so grappling dummies didn’tt work for me, but I don’t think I’m alone…
In all my years of training, and with all the grapplers I’ve met, I can only think of ONE person who has continued working with a grappling dummy for more than a month or two.
My informal and anecdotal research suggests that there’s only a very small possibility that you’ll keep on training with your dummy after the first flush of enthusiasm.
So don’t waste your money.
If you can’t train as much as you would like then I would suggest that you work on your strength and cardio instead, study BJJ instructionals, and/or focus finding a training partner with whom you can do some additional drilling.
These practices tend to have a much higher ‘stick rate’ than training with a dummy.
If you want more information about those extracurricular training strategies then check out the article I wrote called How to Survive Training Layoffs from Grappling; much of the advice also applies to those people who aren’t able to train as much as they would like.
But if you’re still determined to train with a grappling dummy then I have some suggestions…
First, try building one yourself.
There are various designs online. For example here’s a link to the DIY grappling dummy called the El Jefe that’s fairly inexpensive and doesn’t require specialised tools to build.
Secondly, try before you buy.
Commercial dummies are a pretty hefty investment. Many of them are well made, but typically cost from $500 to $700. Plus a boatload extra for shipping.
You’ll feel stupid if you’re spending that kind of money on something you never end up using. So maybe you know someone who owns one; can you can borrow or rent it for a week? Try drilling with the borrowed dummy 15 minutes a day for an entire week and see if you’re still as enthusiastic about the idea at the end of the week.
I’ve been pretty negative about dummies in this article, but I acknowledge that there are a couple of possible situations where they might possibly might be useful…
Possible Grappling Dummy Exception Number 1
If you’re doing MMA then it’s important to that you have some power behind your punches, both standing and on the ground.
For your standup boxing and kickboxing you’ll use the regular hanging heavy bag to develop your power.
But that won’t work for learning how to land heavy shots in mount, kneemount, sidemount and in the guard.
Fortunately most of your ground and pound skills can be drilled by taking that heavy bag and lying it flat on the floor. Like in this video here:
But if after trying a punching bag you want to take it a little further then maybe consider something like Erik Paulson’s motion master dummy. It’s made with heavy construction and the additional limb-like protrusions allow the training to be a little more realistic.
(Plus Erik is a cool guy and a great teacher.)
Possible Grappling Dummy Exception Number 2
Another exception might be you’re a school owner and your students do a lot of no gi takedowns.
There are so-called throwing dummies (basically punching bags with arms) designed to practice suplexes and other high-amplitude throws. Some people find them useful because you can go full power without a training partner complaining.
Or if you want something more sophisticated then there’s an expensive wall-mounted, spring-loaded dummy primarily designed for high school and collegiate wrestlers called the Adams Takedown Machine.
With it you can hit full power single legs, double legs, high crotches, headlocks, snap downs, and other moves repeatedly.
This dummy is especially useful for all the stuff that’s hard to drill on a real person; just try to find someone who’ll let you practice full power snap downs (which are basically cuffs to the back of the head and neck) more than once…
The downside is that the Adam is a very expensive piece of kit ($2,300 plus shipping USD) so you probably need to run a school to justify the investment…
It’s mounted on a specially reinforced wall in the Grapplearts gym, film studio, and evil schemes lair.
Now I don’t work out with the Adam very often – maybe once every couple of weeks – but I got him for a good price second hand (about $800) and do find him useful so I keep him around.
But generally my answer to whether you should get a grappling dummy is ‘No!’
To reiterate: don’t spend the money on a dummy unless you’ve worked with one before on multiple occasions and found it useful.
If you’re like the majority of people, instead of getting a dummy work on your conditioning, study instructionals, or buy some mats and find someone willing to train in your garage with you.
Just my $0.02!
P.S. If you’ve had an experience with grappling dummies, good or bad, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.