The first-to-ten drill is a fairly straight forward drill; two combatants fight a sequence of rounds, and the first person to win ten times (total) wins the drill. Simos are ignored. This sounds like regular sparring, but there is an important difference. In regular sparring, you should not be seeking to win; you should be seeking to improve. That means you are testing your opponent to see if your reads match their actions, you are trying out new shots or new setups to increase your repertoire, you are practicing shots you haven’t perfected, and you are, in general, performing actions that challenge you and increase your skill instead of performing actions that make you most likely to win. In this drill, you are trying specifically to win, putting out your best effort and choosing the options that are most likely to make you win.
This drill is an excellent tool for overcoming tournament anxiety. Generally, poor performance in a tournament results from succumbing to “nerves.” A fighter will focus so much on the importance of winning that he will lose focus, over-analyze his attacks, play overly safe, and otherwise fight in a different manner, and in inferior manner, than he normally fights. This drill provides the pressure of tracked wins with a defined end goal in a competitive environment and allows a fighter to grow comfortable in such situations. To accomplish this goal, the drill is best used sparingly, as a capstone at the end of a sparring session, so that the competitive nature of the drill is heightened.
The First-to-Ten drill also has the benefit of pushing both fighters to maximum effort, because it has both a winner and a limited timespan. It is easier to push yourself when you can see the finish line. It’s a good thing to do when both fighters are flagging and getting ready to take a break; it drives you to put in a last burst of effort and has the side benefit of getting in extra rounds of fighting with your opponent.
This drill also provides an excellent barometer for your progress. It is common for fighter to come away from a sparring session with a very vague, and often overly optimistic, sense of how they’ve done. Actually counting fights lets you determine an actual win ratio, and the competitive part ensures you’re both putting in your best effort instead of trying out new, less polished skills.
The final feature that makes me like this drill so much is that it is a good way for up-and-coming fighters to get noticed. If you go 8:10 against a warlord, he’s going to remember you. If you beat him, he’s going to seek you out at the next event for a rematch. Putting concrete numbers in your opponent’s mind about your performance and his makes you, and your encounter, more memorable.