Detailed Drills: The Gauntlet


I know it’s been a while since we had a “Detailed Drills” post, but things have been pretty crazy with a 6-week old!

So speaking of high-stress situations, let’s look at “The Gauntlet.”

There are a lot of popular variations of the gauntlet drill, but they typically all involve one person starting at one end of the room and walking to the other. In doing so they are forced to walk through two lines of attackers while defending themselves. My preferred way to do this drill is with fewer attackers than there are people in the line. For example if there are 8 people in the line total (2 lines of 4), then I would designate 4 people to be the attackers (without the defender knowing who was picked). When the defender walks past a designated attacker, they must attack!

This uncertainty helps the defender work on their awareness. If every person attacked, the defender could anticipate and deal with each person in order. With the mystery element the drill maintains an important level of stress.

When looking at the gauntlet as a drill, it’s good to break it down by the type of attacks allowed.

The Punch Defense (or One-Step) Gauntlet

In this drill, the defender walks through the gauntlet and several of the people in the lines will attack with a standard right punch. The defender is tasked with blocking and countering each attack, ideally showing a range of knowledge.

This version of the gauntlet is a solid choice for all skill levels because the attack is standardized. Even a student who knows only a single technique can do this drill. The downside is that the punch is more difficult to anticipate than a grab. For this reason, I like to divide it into a beginner and advanced version:

Beginner (KIAI) Version

In this version, the designated attackers will yell and drop to a stance before throwing their punch. This version gives the most warning and will be the easiest for beginners to react to.

Obviously this is very unrealistic as most attackers do not want to warn their target! But, just like the step-and-punch attack, it’s a training tool to get beginners used to blocking a moving weapon. Once someone has more experience, it’s time to move on to…

Advanced (Silent) Version

In this variation on the punch-defense gauntlet, attackers will try to punch the defender without warning them verbally. The defender must walk through the gauntlet and use their peripheral vision, hearing, and other senses to turn towards the direction of the threat and react accordingly. The defender will have to listen to clothing rustling, feet stepping, and any other queue they can perceive.

If you want to be a jerk, AKA really challenge people, then have the non-attackers fidget and make noise. This ambient motion and noise will make it even harder to anticipate the attack. Again, this is for advanced students only. Doing this drill can be potentially very frustrating, as a struggling defender will feel like they’re just being punched in the back of the head repeatedly! Use with caution!

If you want to do the gauntlet with stationary attacks only, try…

The Grab Escape Gauntlet

Just like before, the designated attackers will attack the defender as they walk through. This time, however, they grab (shoulder, wrist, bear hug, etc) instead of punch. This version is beginner friendly as the defender can be grabbed, feel the attack, and react when they’re ready. Even a grab from behind is more easily distinguished and reacted to than a punch from behind.

The nice thing about this drill is that the intensity can be modified easily to match the skill of the defender. White belt walking through? Each grab can be clean, stationary, and reacted to slowly. Black belt’s turn? Shove the defender around and force them to recover their balance and really apply the release technique correctly. If they don’t get the technique right, don’t let go!

Anything Goes Gauntlet

Now we can combine the two! Choose the attackers and let them decide what attack they’ll do: punches, kicks, grabs, anything! This drill is only for very advanced students, and control should be emphasized. Additionally, mixing and matching is a good time to have the attackers yell before each moving attack (punches and kicks) and not yell when performing a stationary attack (grab). This cue will help students their first few times doing this version of the drill.

Stress is a Good Thing

If you always practice knowing what the attack will be, and who will be attacking you, you won’t feel stress. Having stress in class is very important because you will definitely have stress if you have to defend yourself! If you train in an environment that makes you deal with unpredictable attacks, you will be more level-headed when confronted with unpredictable, stressful situations – like being attacked for real!

Progression is Key!

Just like weightlifting, your martial arts training needs to be progressive, that’s why I compiled several variations of this drill today. If you go to the gym for the first time and try to lift 300 pounds, you’ll get hurt and never come back. Conversely if you go to the gym and never increase your resistance, you’ll never progress.

These gauntlet drills work the same way. If you only do the Kiai Punch variation of the drill, you’ll stagnate at that level and never be able to handle the stress of a punch without explicit warning.

If you’ve never used this drill before, I recommend incorporating it one variation at a time, in this order:

Grab Escapes – Low Intensity

Kiai Punches – Plenty of Warning

Grab Escapes – High Intensity

Silent Punches – Challenge your Awareness

Anything Goes with Yells – Easier to React to Strikes

Anything Goes – Use With Caution

So there you have it!

Gauntlet drills are fun, challenging, and a great way to replicate some (but definitely not all) of the stress of a real self-defense situation. Be careful though, as these drills can be overwhelming and the stress can lead to a drop in overall control. Safety should be a top concern when having people participate in the gauntlet drills!

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