Performing block moves without grips massively improves technique when grips are resumed — by Hilary Bruce
No contact drills are very difficult to do but offer fantastic results quickly. This challenging activity offers a gold mine of information and skills for a team. No contact block drills deliver clear and obvious feedback, help teams define inter pictures, understand individual movements, and increase advanced flying skills.
A no contact block drill involves executing a block without grips between piece partners. As the block progresses, everyone flies in their position, without holding on to their piece partner. The team should be able to see all the intermediate pictures and should always be close enough to their partner that they could pick up grips, even though no contact is maintained. To help with the key, grips are taken on the top of the block by the key person(s) and the bottom of the block by anyone making a catch.
Define inter pictures
By avoiding grips, each individual on the team needs to fly their own body to achieve the inter picture. If a flyer has the wrong or fuzzy conception of what one of these pictures looks like, the picture will fail instantly and obviously. If grips are taken before this picture is understood, it may continue to impair the piece without an obvious indication of what is wrong.
Understanding Individual Moves
In a similar fashion, flying without grips makes teams aware of how their individual moves help or hinder the piece. For example, in Stardian -> Stardian, a common problem is for Tail and Point start their move too soon and move away from where the centers are trying to fly. At best, this causes over-rotation; at worst, it can cause the pieces to fall on each other. With a no contact drill, it is easier for the teammates to see how they need to fly together to achieve the picture.
The start of a no contact Stardian block (Point is red, Outside Center green)
Example, Block 6
In our Stardian example, the Point, for instance, sees the need to anchor in place (even back up a little) to achieve the first inter correctly. Hence he can make the correct move on repeating the block.
The gap between Point & OC shows a problem, Point has moved off the proper line
Point has kept his centerpoint on the correct line and has made the correct picture
Advanced Flying Skills
Because this style of drill is more challenging, it advances the flying skills of each individual. For example, carving backwards around a Donut with three other people, as in Block 2 (Sidebody Donut -> Sideflake Donut), requires each person move exactly in the correct direction. You can’t stay on the merry-go-round without pulling precisely your own weight. Too little and you are run over, too much and you crash through the shape.
Finally, no contact drills allow for more obvious feedback. When grips are taken, it can often be difficult for even professionals to debug a piece gone astray. Without grips, however, imbalances of power, misconceptions of moves, and poor timing stick out, allowing problems to be solved quickly.
Improvement for a large range of skill levels
It would be a mistake to think this technique is only for beginners; even my team professional team SDC Rhythm XP does these drills for our own learning, and with great results. What I have found is that these drills require precise flying that is often not necessary when pieces are attached. For example, it is really difficult for the Cat piece on a Canadian Tee to spin around itself without the push/pull from the Tail. But learning to do so pushes physical skills, reinforces attention to key pictures, and encourages sensitivity to what might help or hurt an attached piece.
To sum up, I have seen these drills transform a team’s understanding and execution of block techniques. They are demanding, but the investment promises huge gains for those patient enough. Give them a try and enjoy the great results!
Examples of no contact block drills
Tips for no contact drills
- Take the key grips on the top of the block. Releasing these grips makes the key easier.
- Take the catch grips on the bottom of the block. This allows for practicing the precision needed to close it.
- Some piece moves, like spinning a Cat or a Sidebody, require the person being spun to pay a bit more attention to their piece partner than normal to maintain shape (as opposed to the other piece). Try to split the attention up so you can see the big picture as much as possible without falling on top of your teammate.
- The amount of power and passivity required will be altered in some cases. For example the centers on Block 21 (Zig Zag -> Marquis) would normally be passive after stepping out. For the block to close, however, they will need to gently fly around. On the other hand, the anchoring action of the Inside Center on Block 11 (Photon -> Photon) will be less physical since the Tail is not exerting any force pulling the Inside Center in the opposite direction.
- For very new teams, it might be wise to have one of the pieces keep grips. Giving some structure keeps part of the images more concrete if the pictures are very new and flying skills are in earlier stages of development.