Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Lamont, you big dummy!"

How to Make Your Own Grappling Dummy:

I just started taking this Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) class and it's hard enough just to remember people's names let alone all the techniques. In Kung Fu, we learned by repetition, but in this BJJ class, it's a different technique each time I go in. Often when I come home I want to practice the moves a few more times to fully ingrain them in my mind, or even to just to try the moves from the left instead of the right. Kathleen has proven to be an extremely unwilling practice partner and Mojo is somewhat willing - he knows it's some kind of game and he purrs - but he just does not have the right dimensions, plus he only weighs 12 lbs.

So I looked around online and found that there are a number of options for grappling dummies, but they're all pretty expensive. One of the popular ones is the Submission Master for $565, but it has no joints or bones, it's just a big Gumby. There is also the Bubba Dummy for $560, which has bones and joints, and I would probably go with this one if I were going to buy one. But being a cheap-ass and an avid handy man, I decided to make my own.

Here's a couple articles/posts that I found useful to give me some ideas of how to build my dummy.

How To Make A Grappling Dummy 2 by Aptdwler

PVC Grappling Dummy with PVC by Callisto77

El Jefe by -EnD oF liNe?!-

Now here's how I built mine:


  • 3 rolls duct tape

  • 4 hinges

  • 24 nuts & 24 bolts (for the hinges)

  • 2 nuts & 2 bolts (for the elbow joints)

  • 12 feet of electric wire

  • 1 2" x 10' white PVC

  • 1 1.5" x 10' grey electrical PVC (I used this because it was thicker and cheaper)

  • some scraps of wood (2x4 & 1x4)

  • some nails and wood screws

  • rope

  • pool noodle

  • old sheets & clothes

First I made the legs, since they are the most basic - 2 pieces of PVC with a simple hing. I put some foam pipe insulation inside initially because I was concerned about the padding getting bunched up when the leg extended. (I later found some knee/elbow pads at the Dollar Store that worked brilliantly). Then I attached the wooden foot with a zip tie and some electric wire, then taped it. I later smoothed the edges off the foot. Also, I used bolts to attach the hinges, but I think that the screws that came with them would work just as well.

The arms have a very realistic elbow joint. I cut a slot on the upper forearm and attached it loosely with a bolt to the lower forearm (which is a separate piece) to allow for a 180˚ twist and then attached the hing at the elbow. Sorry I didn't get a close up of the elbow joint - it was the most innovative thing I did and I forgot to take a photo! Instead, I animated it in 3D so you can see how it works.

I tried stapling the fingers on, but that was no good - I ended up using roofing nails and doubled up on the wire on the wrists to avoid the hands from twisting too far.

Next I made the spine. I cut the 2" PVC into 4" pieces with a 30˚ angle on every other end to simulate a more realistic spine shape and to allow it to flex. The pool noodle fit perfectly inside and I tied small lengths of rope in between the vertebrae and ran some wire thru the center of the noodle.

For the hips and shoulders, I used a dremmel to carve out some of the PVC so I could inset the adjoining pipe/bone, then screwed and taped them. I doubled up the wires connecting the hips and shoulders and made sure to put them on the front since I don't want them to bend backward too much.

For the head, I used a router to cut a groove into a piece of 2x4 and fastened the wire from the spine to this. (I should have doubled up on the wire for the neck - it's too floppy right now). Then I just nailed and taped more pieces of scrap wood to form the rest of the head and taped on some pieces of foam.

The skeleton is complete - YES!

Now to put some meat on his bones...

First I finished taping everything up and cut off the tops of some of the bolts and then put on the knee and elbow pads, then proceeded to use old sheets and clothing to tape to the frame. I prepared separate bundles for each lung, the stomach and for each glute. I think it's a good idea to make the chest and abdominal areas separately to he can fold a little in the middle when bending forward.

Then I just put some clothes on him and used an old bath robe as his gi. Evidently Lamont (the dummy) is a blue belt... I guess it's always good to train with someone more advanced, right?

The dummy ended up weighing about 45-50 lbs and the joints, movement and dimensions are very realistic. He has been very useful for drilling so far. One thing that I may add is a bungee cord on the inside of the arms and legs (like the Submission Master has)... other than that, I'm very happy with what I've got and it didn't cost very much and was really fun to build (maybe 15-20 hours all together).

I think Mojo is happy to have someone to take a nap on the couch with and is probably relieved to not be my grappling partner :)

If you're building your own dummy and have questions, just post a comment and I'll get back to you.


UPDATE 4/24/09

The dummy was working OK... but I pulled the spine out of the pelvis, so I had to redo that connection. While I was at it, I heavily re-enforced the shoulders, spine, and hip joints by adding more electic conduits and extra duct tape. The problem with the spine was that the dummy would just flop around too easily, and was too hard to keep upright. I think you want to make the dummy so that it is able to sit up on its own, so you can practice guard attacks.


Anonymous said...

Matt, I'm blown away. You continue to amaze me.

Dr B said...


HomeImprovementNinja said...

I'm gonna make one of these in a week or two. Thanks.

MattWilsonMD said...

Cool, i hope it works out. Let me know if you have any ?s

Anonymous said...

Looks great! Thanks for linking to my page, I added your site there as well. I like the hinge idea a lot. If El Jefe ever breaks on me, I am going to use that.


Unknown said...

How is this design holding up? I'm thinking of trying sort of a hybrid pvc and heavy gauge (2 AWG, perhaps doubled) wire skeleton. How are the hinges holding up? My idea is to create a simplified version of your pvc skeleton and run lighter gauge wire through it with loose zip ties so that it can move inside the pipe to a degree. This should allow for a rigid skeleton that will also hold poses. Anything you'd do differently in retrospect? Thanks.

MattWilsonMD said...

Hey Snarkout, the hinges have held up great - no problems! And it seems to me that a 2 AWG wire would be great. As you may have read here, one of my challenges was making the dummy stiff enough so that it could sit up on it's own. Doubling the wire might be good, cuz my dummy ended up being way heavier that I thought it would.

I'd love to see/hear about your dummy when it's done!

Unknown said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for taking the time to photograph and post directions. It is greatly appreciated. Couple of questions for you,

1-Can you weigh the dummy and tell me how much weighs.

2-My 8th grade Son wants to practice his wrestling freestyle throws, are you familiar with a Suplay, Japanese whizzer, etc. Do you think "Lamont" would stand up to throws like this?

MattWilsonMD said...

Hi Paul,

1) i don't have a scale, but my best estimate is 40-50 lbs. You could make it heavier by adding more clothes or maybe by using wooden dowels instead of plastic pvc. I imagine you would want closer to 90lbs, so could fill the pvc w/ rocks?

2) I don't think that my dummy would stand up to those throws w/o some modification. The joints I built were for practicing controlled joint manipulation. For your purposes, I would probably skip the hinges and just do more/thicker conduit and extra duct tape.

If you do build a dummy, I'd love to see it! Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Firstly I want to say thank you fot putting this very helpful guide on the internet.
I was just wondering if I would be able to practise some Judo takedowns on this dummy? If not how could I alter it so it would be suitable?
Many thanks

MattWilsonMD said...

Anonymous Judo player, I think you will face the same challenges as Paul from above. I imagine that you will need to make the dummy stiffer and heavier than my example. Since you're not really worried about joint manipulation, you could just build the skeleton from wood, maybe w/ hinges, maybe not, then just pad the hell out of it w/ clothes or carpet padding, then wrap it like crazy w/ duct tape to give it a good stiffness. And maybe you could sister the limbs w/ some metal pipes (from the plumbing isle) would be good for extra weight. Good luck, lemme know how it turns out if you build one! :D

Anonymous said...

Hi I was just wondering how you managed to put the hinges on the PVC pipes as when I screw them in the pipes either crack or the hole becomes so loose that the screws simply fall out.
Thank you

MattWilsonMD said...

Ah, good question. I pre-drilled the holes and then used nuts and bolts. There were a couple areas, tho, where I could not use bolts, cuz i couldn't reach inside far enough to secure the nut, so I just pre-drilled a small hole and used wood screws. Then just duct tape on top of the hinge and it should be plenty strong.

Anonymous said...

Matt, my dummy is 50% done. Spent half day yesterday constructing it from wood, hinges, metal clothes hanger, wiring nails and duct tape, newspaper and bubble wrap. Will post the link so your reader would have options if they want to use PVC or wood. Thanks for the wonderful idea. cheers


MattWilsonMD said...

Dan, make sure you take pix! I'd love to see your process :D

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt, I had to redo everything because the arm joint I made from wires snap after only a couple of days grapping, so this time I had to make sure that everything worked perfectly and would not require another redo. I will post the first one I did as well as the improved version. I also made some adjustments as the torso and arms were too long for me during grapping. Will post asap. cheers


Anonymous said...

Hey, here's the link to my dummy creation! cheers

btw, what belt are you now in BJJ? Do you watch DVDs of Roy Dean and the Gracies?


Anonymous said...

Again, not a good idea to use hinges on joint when the dummy is quite heavy. The knees and hips of my dummy were distorted and the hinges all broke so I had to redo again (for the 3rd time) and replaced all except the elbow with eye hooks. Now my dummy can even be used for Judo throws, but joints quite don't stay in one position! lol!

Oh well, I guess will have to give this to someone in need and create another dummy using cables and pvc just like yours. cheers

Anonymous said...

Hi, all in all how much did it cost you to buy all the materials for this dummy? Wonderful job. Thanks!

MattWilsonMD said...

Sorry, I really don't know how much I spent. Many of the materials I already had in my shop and all the used clothing came from a neighbor who was on their way to Goodwill. The thing that would be most expensive, tho, would be the electric Romex wires. You may want to look at other (non-copper) materials. Not sure exactly what, I guess you'd have to browse around the hardware store.

Duct tape is probably the cheapest and most useful thing I used.

Cheers, and share pix if you build one!

Anonymous said...

Mat, what sort of MA are you doing now, still BJJ? I see in yahoo! that you're doing Judo now? Did you try Muay Thai as you previously asked in Yahoo! ?

Btw, how's your dummy holding on?



MattWilsonMD said...

Hey Dan,

I think you've found a different Matt Wilson on Yahoo. But, fyi, I was actually planning on going into Muay Thai this winter. (My current MA is home repair jitsu and cycle fu).

Anonymous said...

hey matt im trying to make a dummy right now and im wondering how to make the arms a little stiffer for gaurd attacks and armbars from mount?

MattWilsonMD said...

For stiffer arms, I would just use more electric conduit and more duct tape.

Another way that you could go would be to use bungie chords, or some sort of elastic tubing, and hook it onto the bicep and forearm like this dummy has:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this great step-by-step procedure of making a grappling dummy. I've started purchasing some of the materials that you've mentioned. I'd like to ask your opinion if i could use smaller sizes of PVC pipes (1.5" and 1.0") instead of the 2.0" and 1.5"? i'm 5'6" tall and weigh seems that using 2.0" and 1.5" PVC pipes is quite big for my frame..or would you prefer that i still use the 2.0" and 1.5"? thanks!

MattWilsonMD said...

I think I would still stick with the the thicker pipes, they are more sturdy and the thickness will hold the screws and bolts better. Plus the bigger/thicker piping will also weigh more, which is good for making the dummy feel more real.

Let me know how it turns out for you - I'd love to see it!

Anonymous said...

Bailing wire is a good alternative instead of electrical wiring and you may be able to find scrap. Uses in industrial sites for bailing cardboard and in rural settings for hay.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Matt, I am looking to make one of my own, too. I have an old Halloween skeleton I am thinking of adding weight to. The joints pop out real easy is the problem and they would have to be fixed. It is also made of plastic, so not too sturdy. But the form is already there. Someone suggested sand to me for adding weight. I have to figure out how to make joints still and found your site. Thanks for the great ideas.

MattWilsonMD said...

I would not add sand. Eventually that sand will start to spill out. I found that the weight of the clothes alone was enough. I would not want my dummy to be any heavier than it is now. It gets to be quite a workout constantly repositioning the thing and hauling it in and out of the house!

Anonymous said...

Your idea of making this dummy is great. Ive been starting to make this dummy following the instructions. But im kinda stuck so hope you can give some pointers. So far ive created both the legs, 1 arm, spine. But i wonder how you create so the arm can rotate(like a human arm) also can the hips/ pelvis rotate or how did you create the pelvis and shoulders?

Anyway for the great idea and hope ill get some tips


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting all of this. I'm about to build another grappling dummy and will definitely incorporate some of your ideas. I especially like what you did with the forearm rotation, and the spine.
Thanks again!

Arvydas said...

Great grappling dummy! The last time I thinking to make something like that, realistic as your. Thank you for share. I got great ideas from you! Thanks;)