I recently made a trip to Eugene, Oregon to visit friends and family for New Years. I was itching for a roll and found an open mat at a local academy. My friend and his sister dropped me off at the open mat and returned an hour later to pick me up. As they entered the mat area, they saw me at the bottom half of north-south position, which later became the premise for a number of lewd and homoerotic jokes during the ride home. In addition to being trapped in nort- south position, my friends also witnessed me getting my back taken and tapped repeatedly. At some point, during the car ride home, my friend’s sister asked me a question many people who don’t train must wonder; “Why do you do an activity where you are just getting beat up while smelling somebody’s ball sack?” My only response at the time was “well I didn’t even notice the small of his balls.” Later on, during my plane ride home, I thought of five benefits I gained from rolling with training partners who were better than me.
Don’t Give Up: I was getting manhandled during most of my rolls that day. However, after every tap, I just reset and started rolling again. When I was stuck in mount or side control, I kept working to regain half-guard or escape. Even though I was physically and technically over matched, I still kept pushing myself during the rounds, which helps in improving my own mental toughness during future training sessions.
Learn: There is the old line that goes “there is no losing in BJJ, only winning and learning.” By experiencing tough rolls where you are submitted, you learn your weaknesses and have the opportunity to improve. As a white belt, I was continually getting my back taken and choked out. I finally took a series of private lessons where I went over a list of questions concerning back takes, choke defenses, and escapes. After a few private lessons, I applied what I learned and was better able to protect my neck from chokes and escape back takes.
Work on Conditioning: This is inline with the first point, where it is as much a mental exercise as much as it is a physical one. After getting decimated for several rounds, your body is physically tired and it would be very easy to call it a day. Continually answering the bell round after round on a bad day on the mats will aid in improving both your mental and physical conditioning. It is very easy to feel energized and motivated after doing well in a round, but it is much more difficult to scrape yourself off the mats and do round after round while you are mentally and physically struggling on the mats.
Measure Progress Differently: When I was a new white belt, there was a blue belt who would tap me at a rate of one time per minute. He was just way more stronger, athletic, and technical than I was at the time (and still is). During this physically painful period, I wouldn’t measure my progress rolling against this blue belt by the number of sweeps or guard passes I would execute during this round since I never managed to pull either one off on him. However, I did slowly reduced the number of times I was tapped by him during a five-minute round. It went down from eight to one time over a six-month period. So basically, when you roll with a dominant training partner, there are different metrics you can use to track and measure your progress. In my case, it was an improvement in my ability to defend or stall.
Stay Humbled: Getting worked over on the mats is what keeps you humble. Just when you start feeling like you are on a roll, there will always be somebody better than you on the mats that will remind you of just how much you still have to learn. Most upper belts won’t rough you up like a bully, but they will remind you through their superior technique and tool box that you still have a long way to go in developing your technique, play book, and skills. Just a friendly reminder to keep your progress and growth in perspective and to be kind to the people you are more experienced than on the mats.