I’m sure lots of you by now will have heard of the concept of Restriction Training. I’ve written about it and even produced an instructional DVD on the subject.

The whole premise of Restriction Training is to impose some form of limitation on to yourself, and then continue to train your technique.

The reason for doing this is that, it forces you to make better use of what you have left rather than focus on what you have removed or restricted.

The legendary BJJ Instructor, John B Will, told a story in a seminar I attended, about a time when he was rolling (sparring) with an extremely heavy opponent. He was massively outweighed and the opponent’s technique was based primarily around lying on you and smothering you until you gave in.

John was stuck and couldn’t move a thing, except for one foot. The only thing not being squished by his opponent was his foot. And so, instead of focusing and frustrating about all of his limbs that were trapped underneath this goliath, he focused on the one limb he could move and forged a plan on how to make use of that to aid his escape.

(Apologies to John if this story does not resemble the actual story, the passage of time and too many bangs on my head will probably have clouded my memory) 

So, one of the huge benefits of Restriction Training is that it teaches us what we should really focus on in times of hardship or limitation. Don’t dwell on what you can’t do, focus on what you can.

Right. That’s the motivational stuff out of the way, now back to the physical benefits of Restriction and a couple of new suggestions you might want to consider including in your own training.

Isolation Training or “Chunking” is a form of Restriction training performed in many sports and arts, particularly by those at the highest of levels.

To perform a technique to your absolute best requires a deep understanding of the technique, and the best way to do that is to break it down into lots of smaller elements.

So, for example, if a front kick requires me to have good posture and balance during the technique, then I could isolate this element and form training methods that allow me to only focus on Posture or Balance.

A kick itself could be broken down into many smaller stages, such as; raise your knee; thrust your foot forwards whilst extending your hips; recover the foot back whilst under control and balance; place your foot down.

Each stage can be separated, isolated and trained independently.

Much like learning the first 3 bars of a piece of music, once you have them ingrained, you move onto the next 3 bars. Only when you have all segments of the piece of music learned, do you put them together and play the full song. It’s a tried and tested method of accelerated learning, proven by some of the great musicians of our time.

But here’s the thing…

Whatever sections of a technique you choose to isolate, make sure it matches exactly how it will look in the overall finished movement.

There is no point isolating part of a kick, but training it in a way that has a different shape, speed, or body position than when it is put back together as a full kick.

You’ll simply be learning movements that don’t resemble reality. It would be like removing a piece from a jigsaw to polish it, but changing it’s shape to a degree that means it won’t fit back together again.

When I look at some demonstrations of Pre-Emptive Striking techniques, it’s quite evident that the style has morphed into one of “how to hit pads as hard as we can”, but which no longer resembles anything that would be used against an attacker in a real situation. We have to be very careful that our training and testing methods replicate what our original objective was, rather than allowing the test case to change the test.

Otherwise, we eventually just learn to use the equipment well, just like we might train to pass exams rather than learning the subject itself.

How many of you can remember learning to drive or did you actually just learn to pass your driving test – and then had to really learn to drive once you had your license?

As an engineer, we spend a huge portion of our time testing the performance, the strength, the durability, and the function of components on an individual basis.

The intention is that, if the component meets all test criteria, then it will perform satisfactorily when it is assembled into the complete vehicle.

So we isolate the individual component and test it in a way that exactly resembles the environment and the external forces that it will see when it is pieced together with all of its other surrounding parts.

The test has to match reality; otherwise the test is not worthwhile.

At the same time, we cannot allow the component to dictate the test or change the way we test it – which is what I see happening when people apply restriction to their training or when they isolate small elements of a technique.

Another form of restriction is to force yourself to slow down. My instructor Terry Barnett explains how mistakes can be hidden with speed, and so we must all slow things down in order to expose areas of weakness, poor understanding or errors in technique.

A classic example is one of my own. When I demonstrate a left hook to a compliant partner at slow speed, I often hold my hand, palm facing down. And yet when I punch with power, I prefer to punch with palm facing towards me.

So my challenge is to perform the technique in exactly the same way, whether it’s slow or fast.


I guess to sum up, I’d say the following:-

  • Decide what your goal is in your training, and then make sure all elements are working towards that same goal.
  • When you warm up, include drills that match techniques in your art.
  • When you shadow box, make it as close to a spar with an imaginary opponent as you can get – not just throwing punches into the air.
  • When you hit pads, make sure the padholder is sparring you and not just standing with static targets on his hands.
  • Even when you demonstrate technique, do it with the same motion and mechanics as you do when you perform it for real.

FYI – I’m still working on all of the above myself!

When you work inside restriction, make sure this aids your overall technique. And pay close attention not to modify each small section of movement to such a degree that they will no longer fit when you piece them all back together again.

Stay Safe and Have Fun

Al x

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