The art and skill of drilling is often an undervalued practice. Which would you rather? Know three moves and be able to use each with deadly precision and perfection or have a repertoire of three hundred moves which you can't recall or execute under pressure?
Simply running through a move over and over again isn't enough. You need to practice with the details and running order as perfect as you can manage, precision and, when you're familiar enough with it, resistance. I also strongly recommend drilling with different partners. Testing the flexibility of a move against different heights, weights, builds and levels of experience is invaluable.
Tip: Quite often inexperience makes lower grades a much more challenging opponent.
Our perfection level drops under pressure. For example, if we learn something at 80% effectiveness and perfection in class, we might only pull off 55 - 65% in the street. That's why it looks pretty in the dojo and ugly in reality. Therefore it makes sense to give ourselves the biggest advantage possible and train at 100% in the dojo when we have the chance and opportunity to do so.
So, what are we looking for when we drill? I hesitate to say 'muscle memory', I think it more appropriate to deem it 'subconscious familiarity'. Ju Jitsu is, by nature, adaptable. Even if the technique remains the same, the way your body executes it on different sized and skilled people will vary slightly, maybe even a lot. Only when we really understand a move are we able to effectively adapt it under pressure.
We want the technique to become an instinctive reaction to an indicator, whether it's an obvious indicator or a very subtle one. This helps us react correctly and quickly. Become comfortable sensing and feeling for shifts and changes in balance, weight ratio and leverage - from both yourself and your opponent. Don't forget, an indicator may feel different coming from different people so once again it's important to get the partner variety.
Once you've wrapped your subconscious around a technique it becomes ingrained. This frees up your mind up to look outside the immediate sphere of activity, enabling you to watch out for counters, unexpected action and opportunities.
You might hear myself and other more experienced martial artists (IE, the ones that have been drilling stuff for years) refer to live situations as happening in slow motion. Particularly when answering questions about staying calm under pressure, detachment or having fast reactions. This doesn't mean that we do the technique slowly, it just means that our subconscious is dealing with the live action, allowing our conscious mind to look out and plan for what is going to happen next.
So, in conclusion. Even a gifted student needs to practice and all responsible Instructors will make you drill. Don't scoff or complain when your Instructor asks to you repeat a move you've done before or a move you have decided you're happy with: they are only giving you the tool to do the job and making sure it's sharp. Take every precious second you can to ingrain a technique into your mind - that last run through could mean the difference between silver and gold or life and death.
For more information on Drilling watch out for my next article on 'Visualisation'.