We all know you can’t get better at BJJ without training partners. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve when you’re not at training. Watching instructionals and competition footage as well as practicing solo drills can all help you get better off the mat.
Speaking of solo drills, in the past decade or so, there’s been a new entry in the market to make solo drills, well, a bit less solo. I am talking of course about grappling dummies.
No, we are not talking about a brand new white belt. The best way to describe grappling dummies would be a human sized punching bag that has sprouted a head and four limbs.
Because of the nature of grappling where we directly attack the limbs and neck, grappling dummies were created to be sort of a ‘punching bag for grapplers’.
Here are some facts about grappling dummies:
Depending on the weight and type of dummy, you can use them for submission practice, throwing practice, or ground and pound training.
However, many people have called the usefulness of grappling dummies into question.
Let’s take a look at some scenarios where investing in a Jiu Jitsu dummy may prove useful.
There are many of us who wish we could spend more time on the mats choking our teammates.
Unfortunately, life has that annoying tendency of getting in the way of our desire for more mat time. No wonder obsessive instructional watching and shrimping on your living room carpet is so popular!
If you can’t spend as much time on the mats as you would like, then investing in a Jiu Jitsu dummy to drill on at home can be a great investment. It will really expand the solo drill options at your disposal.
While the ratio has been improving in recent years, BJJ classes are still predominantly male. The main reason cited for this is the extremely close physical contact that is necessary for grappling.
Look into an average Muay Thai class and it’s probably closer to an even split. Many women come to a free trial class at the gym and never come back.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to acclimatize people to dealing with that level of (often sweaty) physical contact.
Even basic day 1 moves such as the collar choke from closed guard or the armbar from mount require a high level of physical contact.
Grappling dummies can be a way to mitigate this. If you have first time newbies who are visibly uncomfortable, have them drill with a training dummy instead of a live partner.
You may increase the new student retention rate with this practice.
Of course, no study has been done measuring the effectiveness of this student retention technique. But if it does work, then the investment in the training dummy will more than pay for itself.
There’s almost always an odd man out at the gym when students pair off at the academy. While they can always work in during specific technique work, it may be a problem during the warm-up drills section.
Having a grappling dummy would be a great option for said student to warm up with armbars, triangles etc. on the dummy.
High intensity conditioning training is a staple at many academies’ competition classes. One popular option is circuit training.
A dummy may be useful in such classes as it can be a station where the competitors can rep out submissions without ‘wasting’ the time of another competitor.
We believe in providing a balanced perspective here on this site, so now let’s take a look at why many grapplers feel that grappling dummies are a waste of time and money.
No matter how anatomically correct a mma dummy is or how many different limb positions and configurations available, it is still nothing like a live training partner.
We all know that even a slight change of our opponent’s limb positioning may require us to adjust accordingly.
Even when we are doing partner static drills, no two reps are ever exactly the same. This forces us to make micro-adjustments with every rep of the same technique.
This constant adjustment is a huge part of what allows us to adapt and adjust during a live situation. A mma dummy simply cannot replicate this.
Here’s what Stephan Kesting has to say on drilling technique on grappling dummies:
“Have you ever tried to drill techniques or transitions with someone who moved really, really awkwardly? Someone who always gave you the wrong reaction, or didn’t respond at all? It’s maddening; almost better not to drill with people like that at all and just go direct to sparring.
Grappling dummies are like that, except that, obviously, you can’t spar with them.
We’re trying to get good at beating people who are good at jiu-jitsu. We need to internalize the movements and reactions that skilled people do so we can respond with our own moments. We don’t want to become experts at beating up less-than-white-belts, or applying armbars to corpses.
You can’t learn to swim on dry land and you can’t improve your bedroom skills by practicing on a blow-up doll.”
Continuing from the point above, if grappling dummies are unrealistic then we are only internalizing poor body mechanics and techniques by drilling with them.
We all know how hard it is to get rid of poor techniques (just think back to the wrestler in your class who can’t stop himself from giving up his back). Drilling done wrong is worse than no drilling at all.
Grappling dummies are heavy, not just in weight, but on your wallet too. At the low end they may set you back about $200 and at the high end they go all the way up to $600 or more. And that’s not including the hefty shipping costs.
A simple balance ball will cost you less than $30 and is a great tool for drilling movement transitions and balance.
Jeff Glover has credited stability ball work for a lot of his movement and transitional skills. He uses them for practicing both top and bottom positions and movements.
Perhaps you have read the case for and against grappling dummies and are still leaning towards getting one. If so, here are the three most popular options on the market.
Celebrita MMA Grappling Dummy
Combat Sports Grappling Dummy
Ring to Cage Grappling Dummy
The Celebrita MMA Dummy comes in various models. You can choose from a canvas material or leather construction. In terms of weight, you can also select from about 49lbs all the way up to 121lbs!
The sizes also vary from 40” to 70”. The lower heights (40” to 47”) are designed to be used for kids while the heights from 59” to 70” are for adults.
Finally, you can also select whether you wish for the dummy to arrive filled or unfilled. If you wish to fill it yourself, the manufacturer recommends recycled textile cuttings or raw cotton.
As you can see from the image, the dummy comes in a kneeling posture. This makes the Celebrita MMA Dummy ideal for drilling submissions from the guard or back control (dummy placed upright), against the turtle position (dummy placed facedown), and from top position (dummy placed on back).
The limbs have about a 45 degree range of flexibility, varying depending on the filling.
The Combat Sports Dummy is a versatile dummy that can be used for throws, takedowns, submissions, and strikes. However, this versatility comes at price.
It is definitely more limited when it comes to practicing strictly ground-based grappling moves.
On the ground, the dummy can really only be positioned flat on its back and hence can really only be used to drill moves from the top position.
Construction-wise, this dummy is made out of durable polyester covered in a layer of vinyl. It comes filled, although you can select from varying weights from 70lbs up to 140lbs. The height of the dummy varies slightly depending on the weight, and ranges from about 5’5” to 5’10”.
The arms of the dummy are slightly flexible but the limb positions are fixed. Note that this dummy cannot stand on its own; you will need to lean it against a wall for practicing takedown drills.
The Ring to Cage Jiu Jitsu dummy is made out of a heavy duty nylon material, which the manufacturers note is ‘military grade’. It comes unfilled, so you will have to fill it yourself.
There are two sizes available: Kids and Adults. The Kids sized dummy stands 4’6” tall and weighs about 35lbs once filled. The Adults sized dummy stands 6’ tall and weighs about 75lbs filled.
The dummy’s limb position can be manipulated to be either kneeling or sitting as the lower limbs can bend at the ‘knee’. This makes this dummy suitable for drilling attacks from the guard, back, top, and against the turtle position.
And because the dummy has ‘feet’ you can drill your leg locks and foot locks as well!
The submissions you would be able to drill on a dummy are fairly limited to the ‘basic’ ones, with armbars, triangles, kimuras, and rear naked chokes being the primary options.
Nevertheless, despite this limited range, you will be able to bust out hundreds of reps of these submissions out without having a complaining training partner. There is no way you would be able to drill these submissions solo without the use of a Jiu Jitsu dummy.
Grappling dummies also allow you to drill positions and transitions that are simply not possible on a balance ball.
Common warmup drills such as guard passing, back takes, and positional movements transitioning into submissions are all possible.
Check out a demonstration of the positional, transitional, and submission drills on the Celebrita MMA Dummy below.
Everyone is familiar with the experience of squeezing on a choke with everything they’ve got and gassing their limbs out, without getting the tap.
With a dummy, you will be able to practice your isometric endurance on certain submission holds such as rear naked chokes and triangles.
This is one area where having a training dummy is even better than having an actual training partner; you can squeeze as hard and as long as you want with no worries about your partner passing out!
Even with crash mats (which many gyms do not have), very few people enjoy being on the receiving end of throw after throw after throw.
That’s why even in judo they drill uchikomis, the throw entries, more frequently than the actual throws themselves.
A training dummy solves this problem; every rep can be a full force throw and you can even practice landing on the dummy with the throw.
The debate over grappling dummies is far from settled. Some people swear by them, while others think of them as even more useless than a blow up doll.
It is unlikely that this debate will ever be settled given the wide variations in types of grappling dummies.
Ultimately, grappling dummies are most suitable for gym owners and dedicated practitioners who do a lot of solo drilling at home.
For gym owners, not all students have to find benefit from a training dummy, even if only a minority find it useful, it might still prove a good investment.
For practitioners who do a lot of solo drilling at home however, I suggest actually testing out a grappling dummy before going ahead and purchasing a brand new one.
If you don’t have the opportunity to test one out, consider purchasing a second hand Jiu Jitsu dummy as your ‘first’ dummy. This is just to see if you find it useful for drilling and if you can actually muster the enthusiasm to use it consistently.
Comment below if you have any questions!