50/50 Exercises and their Place in MBC Flow Drills

During a recent seminar in Michigan, I had the pleasure of working with a number of high-level MBC practitioners and instructors. This “Instructor Development Workshop” was an outstanding opportunity for me to get feedback from other MBC teachers regarding their experiences and the challenges they face in getting their students to understand and master MBC and CBC skills.

One great question I received had to do with the place of “50/50 drills” in the MBC learning progression and teaching methodology. Since it was a question that resonated with the group, I thought it would be great fodder for a post.

As you probably know, MBC’s training methodology includes a number (basically 15) of reflex training drills or, as they’re commonly known in the Filipino martial arts (FMA), “flow drills.” Some of these drills are borrowed directly from the FMA, most are modified versions of traditional drills (changed to support MBC methodology), and some are MBC-specific creations. In the FMA, there are many variations of these drills and practitioners often spend more time arguing the virtues of their preferred version than appreciating the deeper value of the training method.

MBC’s approach to flow drills is “Drills give you repetition; transitions give you reflex.” In other words, a specific drill isolates and refines specific skills. Taken too far, however, and the drill becomes the end in itself and you get stuck in a hamster wheel. Add a transition to another drill—or at least a spontaneous variation within the drill—and now you have a worthwhile pattern and an unpredictable element that keeps you on your toes. That’s what develops useful reflexes.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to replace one of the standard Defensive Responses in the “rote” version of the drill with a different one. For example, in the Six-Count Drill (known in some other systems as “Small Box”) the pattern of angles is 1-4-overhead-1-4-overhead. In the rote version, the defense against the 1 is a “meet”—a cut and check with the live hand—followed by an angle 4 counter. That angle 4 is defended by your partner with a “push-pull crossada”—checking and pushing forward with the left palm while cutting down and back with the knife.

If you analyze these movements, you’ll find that they are very efficient and follow the principle of “the shortest distance between two points.” If you attack with the angle 1 and your partner responds with a meet, your knife hand is stopped dead long before it reaches his centerline. When your partner counters with an angle 4 to your exposed lower right quadrant, the most natural and efficient thing to do is to check his incoming arm and cut straight down. Per the drill, you would then cycle your knife hand up, much like the piston arm on a locomotive, and attack with an overhead strike.

Now imagine that instead of a meet, your partner responds to your angle 1 attack with a crossada—cutting your wrist while simultaneously slapping your hand with his left hand to amp up the cut. Done properly, his crossada will force your knife hand (your right hand) to swing across your centerlines to your left. This leaves your zone 4—your lower right quadrant—wide open. When he attacks it with an angle 4, your most logical and natural response is to “ride” the motion of your right hand, circle it down and to your right and execute a meet, cutting and then checking with your left hand. Trying to pull your hand back across your centerline to position it for the aforementioned push-pull crossada is awkward, impractical, and far too slow. As such, you flow with the motion imparted by your partner’s crossada of your angle 1 and do a meet against his angle 4 instead.

In addition to providing variations in the drill that allow for the expression of other techniques (i.e. a crossada defense instead of a meet) and promoting the development of spontaneous reflex against unexpected events, this training method has another important benefit: it teaches you to respond in the most direct, efficient way from wherever your hands happen to be. You may not realize that this is happening, but it is and your skills will benefit greatly from it.

So what does all this have to do with the “50/50 Drill?” Well, in the “old days” of MBC, I taught every conceivable variation of each drill to give concrete examples of the variations. For example, for the Six-Count Drill, we’d start with the standard: Meet—push-pull crossada—roof block (aka “opening” crossada). Then we’d do crossada—meet—roof block. Then, ideally, students would grasp the concept and the goal of being fluid and spontaneous and would change back and forth between the two. The key word there is “ideally.” Many students could not grasp the concept behind the two different versions of the drill and tried to treat them as two different drills—missing the entire point in a stunningly effective way.

Based on that teaching challenge, I developed the 50/50 Drill. I had a student throw an angle 1 at me and I’d do the meet, followed by the angle 4, which he would dutifully counter with a push-pull crossada. We would isolate these two movements only and do them multiple times. Then, we’d stop and change gears. When he threw the angle 1, I would crossada it, making sure to slap his knife hand far across his centerline. When I threw my angle 4, he would learn to “ride” the motion, curving the path of his knife hand down and to his right to yield a meet for my angle 4. Again, we’d do this many times, isolating the 1—4 sequence over and over. Finally, in the midst of the crossada—meet pattern, I would change gears and do a meet. Invariably, he wouldn’t miss a beat and would cut straight down, checking my knife hand with a push-pull crossada. After doing it perfectly, he would then stop, wide eyed and ask me what just happened. I would explain that he just demonstrated perfect spontaneous reflex. Eventually he’d believe me and would understand the concept.

In simple terms, when he threw the angle 1, he had a 50/50 chance that I would do a meet—and a 50/50 chance that I would do a crossada. He knew exactly what to do for both of those possibilities and had practiced both enough to do them well. He just had to allow himself to respond as he’d been trained.

In hindsight, the term 50/50 “drill” was a poor choice of words, since it seems to equate it to the other full-fledged drills. In reality, it’s more of an “exercise” that allows you to isolate a specific aspect within a drill to understand it thoroughly before you attempt it within the context of the drill.

This same concept also applies to the angle 3—angle 2 section of Sumbrada, Punyo Sumbrada, and the Serrada Drill. To see that in action and understand it more clearly, watch Martial Blade Concepts Volume 3. To see it in agonizing detail, watch Advanced Fighting Folders. Although the latter video has been superseded by the MBC Volume 3, it does offer the redeeming quality that it provides overhead views of the drills. Mastering Fighting Folders also does this for MBC’s reverse-grip skills. If you have them, take advantage of that view of the drills to see the mechanics from an overhead perspective. For some people, seeing the drills in this way makes it easier to relate left and right sides and may make learning them easier. Once you understand the movements, focus on MBC Volume 3 and MBC Volume 5 for up-to-date explanations of the drills and, more importantly, their relationship to practical defensive applications and targeting. In that respect, the older videos are obsolete.

As long as I continue to learn and evolve, so will MBC and my ability to teach it more clearly and efficiently. The “50/50 Exercises” are examples of that evolution. I hope this helps you understand and appreciate their place in the system.

Stay safe,


P.S. Thanks to MBC instructors Bryan McKean and Keith Jennings for their questions during the recent instructors’ workshop. Your insights keep me sharp and really help promote the continued evolution of the MBC system–not to mention inspiring blog posts!

Michael Janich