Many martial arts utilize tactile sensitivity (the ability to respond to what your opponent is doing based on touch), and train it with a wide variety of drills. Most people think of Chinese martial arts and their push hands, sticky hands, and listening hands drills, while some also think of Okinawan karate’s kakie and kakidi (hooking hands) drills. As you can see in the MMA/BJJ training video, above, though, tactile sensitivity can be very useful for just about any martial art–they just go about it in different ways.
I practice some similar sensitivity/balance drills with the Swiss ball, and have found it to be very helpful for maintaining contact during grappling, and controlling how you use your weight. A similar drill can be done with a hanging heavy bag for trapping and clinching range, as you can see in my video, above. I apologize for the doughy, pasty shirtlessness–garages get uncomfortably warm here in Phoenix during the summer. This training method was inspired by a combination of the Swiss ball training I learned for grappling, this video of Onaga Sensei demonstrating some training methods on a sagi-makiwara, and the video, below, of taiji training in China that shows some training devices in the last third of the video.
All of this is supplemental to working with an actual partner, of course, and can’t replace actual partner work. I do think that it helps improve your partner work, however, and the understanding you develop from both helps you in application. None of these drills are actual fighting techniques. Instead, they develop skills that can aid you in employing your fighting techniques. Over the course of my training (since 2006), I have learned and practiced a fairly wide variety of tactile sensitivity drills for use with a partner. For the past 6 months, or so, I have been working them in a more “freestyle” manner on a pretty regular basis.
This drill is completely unscripted, and while it is meant to develop sensitivity and relaxation, it does not preclude resistance. Both partners are trying to maintain contact with each other’s arms, while trying to strike and lock their partner, while also trying to defend against their partner’s attempts to do the same. Not only does it build a valuable and often overlooked skill, but it’s also quite fun once you get the hang of it. In the video, above, you can see some of this training. My first partner in the video had never done it before, and I was helping him as we went along, while my second partner has done it a handful of times. I’m certainly no expert, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have found this type of training to be very beneficial.