Randori, or free practice, is an invaluable tool in the martial arts. It is one of the best ways to measure your progress in the martial arts.
Randori could also be defined as unscripted or spontaneous attack and defense. In our dojo, you stand in the middle of a circle of fellow students. When it begins, one student attacks, you defend. Then the next student attacks and you defend and so on. What makes this unique is that the fellow students choose the attacks. You don't know what's coming. It is here that randori stands out from other practice.
The key is to react right away to each attack, to just do something. It is here that we discover what we have truly absorbed in our training. This can be quite an eye opener.
At first it seems that your technique goes out the window. It's not always a pretty sight. Then again, neither is real combat. You may have learned dozens of defenses against, say a punch or choke, but in the clinch only one or two seem to be there for you. This is actually o.k. The mark of progress is that something was available right away.
You may also find that try as you might not to, you seem to revert back to a few of the same defenses. This is also fine. This means that in a real attack, you will react, not freeze up or hesitate as you search your memory banks for a technique.
Randori should be started slowly and speed up as time goes on and confidence grows. Control is essential as adrenaline does seem to flow for many. The Sensei or senior students need to make sure that the defender is staying in control. After all, in Jiu Jitsu, if you put too much into a technique, bones get broken and people get hurt.
Randori can also be broken down into different pieces. For newer students, randori can be limited to grabs, or punches, or just kicks. As time goes on and experience increases, you can speed it up and open it to any attack.
Randori can be very stressful for some, especially newer students but is one of the best tools for them to gauge their progress.
As you progress, you'll find you have more and more spontaneous reactions to attacks. You don't think about it, you just react.
This state of no-mindedness is called Mushin in Japanese and it is a state we should all strive to attain. When the mind is empty, it is free to respond instantly to any attack.
We should all try to include randori in our training.