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Even the most dedicated martial artist, one that attends classes regularly, will still spend a great deal of their time practicing alone. I have heard the statistic for a long time now that 80% of martial arts practice is done alone. That statistic likely comes from the old 80/20 rule which seems to be universal, and from my own experience, it sounds about right to me.

So how do you make the most of your solo practice time? While practicing with invisible and imagined opponents is one way to do it, using practice tools will make your time more productive for building your skills. My first teacher was a wealth of information regarding making and using practice tools to build technique, and he was also the best martial artist I have ever seen, so I figure the two go together.

Improve Martial Arts with a Sphere and Staff

Martial Arts with a Sphere and Staff
Martial Arts with a Sphere and Staff
Martial Arts with a Sphere and Staff
Martial Arts with a Sphere and Staff

I have used a variety of tools to practice various martial arts skills, but lately I have zeroed in on just two: A staff and a sphere. With these two items, you can practice a wide variety of skills regardless of the art you study. There are a variety of drills you can practice, and undoubtedly you will come up with more than the ones provided here.

Both the staff and sphere are relatively inexpensive to obtain and use. You can use any long piece of wood for the staff, or get a staff from a martial arts supply store. My first staff was an old wooden curtain rod, so don’t be concerned about using some top of the line item. I use a medicine ball for the sphere. There are various weights and sizes to choose from. I recommend starting with a small, light medicine ball at first, and then you can always go heavier and/or larger if you want to. Let’s take each tool one at a time and you will see some examples of how they can be used.

The Staff

Martial Arts with a Sphere and Staff

The staff is a good stand-in for the human body and for particular limbs. I use the staff for practicing throws, leg locks, and figure four hand positioning. It is important when using the staff to remember what you are trying to accomplish, and try to make the drill as realistic as possible.

Figure Four

Using the staff for practicing figure four hand positioning is a great way to improve your speed and technique for grappling. Applying any figure four grip, without fumbling with your hands, can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. Try this drill:

  • Use your left hand to hold the staff and your right hand to go around the staff and grab the wrist of your left hand.
  • Rotate the staff and do the same on the other side
  • Do this drill back and forth, slowly building speed, for one minute

Leg Locks

  • Lay on the floor, and hook the staff under your armpit, with your right arm
  • Roll to your left side and throw your right leg or knee over
  • Do the same on both sides for one minute
  • Use different hand and leg combinations to practice different locks

Drill for hip throws

This drill requires that you don’t cheat with your hands, but rather focus on getting the staff on your hip, and using it to throw. Imagine the staff is a person, and remember that your hands assist with the throw, but you can’t execute the entire hip throw only using your hands; otherwise it will defeat the purpose. You want to train everything to work together.

  • Hold the staff in your right hand to keep it steady and in position.
  • Practice the hip throw by using your hip to throw with minimal use of your arms
  • Do this on both sides for one minute
  • As a suggestion, you can alternate grips to simulate a variety of hip throws

The Sphere

Martial Arts with a Sphere and Staff

For the sphere I like to use a medicine ball. Be careful about the weight though. The first one I used was too heavy for the exercises. I have found that a lighter one works a little better for me. Start light, you can always go heavier. The important point to remember is that the sphere is used to keep your hands close to the center of your body, to your power zone. It is also a way for you to be able to feel the direction of the energy and motion you are practicing. Try these simple exercises:

Hands, Hips and Elbow

This is a great drill for uppercut punches. It can be altered to fit any type of punching. The goal is to unite the body and hands for maximum efficiency.

  • Stand in a horse stance or a fighting stance and hold the sphere in front of your body
  • Think of your hips, elbows and hands as being linked so that you can slowly rotate the sphere and make a circles in front of your body with everything working together
  • The exercise should look like you are making figure 8’s with the sphere in front of your chest by using your hips
  • You can rotate the sphere or thrust it forward to simulate other punches
  • You can incorporate a variety of stepping patterns as well. Try forward half steps first

Moving with the Sphere

This drill is for building awareness of your center as you move.

  • Hold the sphere in the center of your body, and freely rotate it as you move
  • Step in a variety of patterns as you move, but always keep the sphere in your center or close to center
  • Because the sphere has weight it will be uncomfortable to let the sphere too far out of your center, which will train an awareness of keeping your hands in front of you
  • This drill is beneficial for a variety of striking and grappling arts

Remember that the point of using these tools and doing these drills is to improve your skill and ability so that you will be more effective when you work with a partner. Solo practice is a component of your martial arts, but it does not negate or minimize the fact that you need to practice with a partner as well. I encourage you to use your creativity with these tools, and see if there is a particular drill that you can come up with to improve your own technique in a given area. Practice the drills assiduously to make the most of your solo practice and take your martial arts to the next level.

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