The flinch is the building block of the 5×5 drill. Five flinches, and five attacks. With five variations. One repetition of the drill takes about half an hour for two partners, and the basic drill consists of one hundred and fifty sequences. I can usually teach it to a class in about an hour, two if you really want to get it down. You only have to memorize 10 things to reconstruct the drill. Within those One hundred and fifty sequences lie almost infinite variation.

The five basic flinches are the most common things people do to react to a threatening situation. Since the point of the drill is to help a student build a complete, individual full-spectrum martial art (daily defense all the way to life-and-death stuff) we can stretch out to cover these five instead of only working on what might seem the most important.

It’s an odd image, but I find the best way to teach the flinches is to imagine a child coming at you…with sticky, chocolate covered hands. Faced with such a dire threat, we will usually do one of five things instinctively.

The first thing we might do is to just step back.

The second we might do is put our hands up or out to stop the child.

The third thing we can do is grab the child and redirect them.

The fourth thing we might do is smack the child (I know, maybe not the best analogy, but you will remember this point, won’t you?)

The fifth thing we can do is pick the kid up.

In self defense terms, we break it down a little differently. Assuming someone is trying to punch you, you might:

Slip the punch (first flinch/void/measure)

Block the punch (second flinch/parry/block)

Block the punch and kick their knee out (third flinch/double time)

Punch them first (fourth flinch/single time)

Double-leg takedown (fifth flinch/grapple)

The idea is to practice acting after your first instinctive reaction. The flinch occurs whether you want it to or not, and you can’t really predict which flinch you will use in a particular action. One day someone might punch you, and you step back. Another day you might punch back instead. If you follow the 5×5 drill, once you find yourself having flinched…no matter the situation…you should find yourself in comfortable and familiar territory.

The drill is performed at whatever pace is comfortable for the students. You can go Taiji slow, or pad up and go full-speed full-contact. Doesn’t matter. Given a choice, I think I would do this drill every single day for the rest of my life. It’s just awesome.

And yes, this is only the first part of the explanation. I’ll cover the rest in upcoming posts. We’ll talk about the five attack phases, how to perform the drill…and maybe cover the WMA variation I developed, as well as the five levels of difficulty. I’m happy to think of this as my life’s work…