This is a detailed article on using flow drills in jiu jitsu written by the excellent, french black-belt, Alexis de Bretagne.

Flow drill is in my opinion one of the best exercise to improve your jiu-jitsu. Many people talk about it but generally only a few of them know exactly what it is, how to do it and how to benefit from this exercise. Also it’s not as easy as it seems.

So what exactly is a flow drill ?

First we should take a look at the dictionary definitions of these two words so we can have a better idea. The dictionary description itself gives a good idea of the concept.

Flow” :

“move freely from place to place, to move freely from one place to another in large numbers or amounts in a steady unbroken stream.”
– “move steadily and continuously in a current or stream”
– “motion characteristic of fluids (liquids or gases)”
Another good way to describe “flow” in this context is also to refer to hip-hop music, “flow” is “a rappers ability to vocalize a rhythmic yet complex string rhymes that fit together in a logical and seamless manner”.

Drill” :

No real need to describe this one, a drill is an exercise. But once again if you look into dictionaries you found interesting variations.
– “military; training by repetition : a type of military training, particularly in marching maneuvers and weapons handling, that involves the constant repetition of a set pattern of movements or tasks.
education; repeated exercise : a sequence of tasks, exercises, or words repeated over and over until they can be performed faultlessly, as used in teaching military skills, languages, or basic arithmetic.
safety routine; a sequence of actions practiced repeatedly so that people know what to do in an emergency to ensure their safety”

So basically flow drill is way to roll in a relax manner and in a constant motion. No submission, not strength at all. Both partners need to focus on their own movements and on their partner’s movements. Try to keep moving all the time.

To start your training in flow drill you can do a ‘positional flow drill’. It means that you don’t even go for any submissions. You and your partner just move from one position to another, sweep, roll, shrimp, escape … be creative. You will find yourself in positions you have never been before, you will discover new combinations, new transitions from one position to another.

Once you feel comfortable with that, you can add some submission attempts. But remember : just submission attempts, don’t make your partner tap. If you secure an armbar, let you partner escape, this is the key of this exercise.
Once you have reach a dominant position you have to establish your position just for a few seconds and then move to something else. If you partner tries an escape and is doing it well, let him do it, try to see how you can move to another position to counter his moves and reach another good position. Now if you set up an attack and your partner doesn’t begin to escape, go for it – perhaps your partner wants to work on his defense in that particular situation and see how he can defend. And off course it’s also an opportunity for you to see how he defends and how you can switch for another attack.

So like you see, it’s very important to have a good training partner that understand very well the flow drill principles. To make a good flow drill it’s 50/50, both partners have to play the game or it won’t work. When both do it well, they can benefit from each other, and even more, because as certain holistic theories say : “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (a.k.a. 1+1=3).

Flow drill is also a very good way to work on specific things (like focus on your breathing for example). Sometimes when sparring at the academy it’s hard to focus on want you want to do. A lot of us tend to be too much into the fight and we start losing our objective… So doing a flow drill could be the right opportunity to focus on something you specifically want to work on.

If not done already, read Nicolas’ articles on Jiujitsubrotherhood : “Coordinate movements and breathing”, “Control your breathing” and “Grapple from the core”. Flow drill is the perfect tool you need to practice these concepts, and then when you feel comfortable with them during the drill you can start applying them in a normal sparring situation.

Another advantage of this exercise is that you can do very long sessions, because if you do it well you are not using too much energy. It’s also adaptable to when you are back from an injury or just too tired to have a normal sparring session.

There are many different variations on the flow drill for jiu jitsu.

Here are two small videos to illustrate it, a gi flow drill and a no gi flow drill. It was few years ago when I asked my teacher to do a flow drill with me for the first time. That was our first flow drill ever. It’s not so good (sometimes too much strength and you will even see me tap, don’t do that…lol) but it can gives you an idea on what it looks like.