In order to learn the techniques and gain an understanding of jiu-jitsu, practitioners absolutely must spend time rolling. However, there is a trend at many academies to restrict the rolling activities of beginners. Some gyms don’t allow white belts below a certain number of months in or stripes to roll. Others limit with whom they are allowed to roll or what kind of rolling is permissible. While this may initially stunt growth, there can be rhyme and reason to this.
I’ve seen some awful injuries in jiu-jitsu, and many of them have been inflicted on and by beginners. Beginners, you see, don’t know any better. You can tell them to calm down, but they won’t necessarily understand what that entails. A big part of learning jiu-jitsu is to learn the art of calmness, and a beginner will have no clue what that even means. For this reason, some academies don’t let beginners roll at all. They let them begin to understand what calmness in the sense of jiu-jitsu actually means so that they will have a lower risk of injuring themselves or others.
Some gyms pair beginners up with more advanced practitioners. This allows the beginner to see what calmness and control mean, and it allows the more advanced practitioners to practice their techniques on someone who will resist more like the average person would in an altercation. It can be beneficial to both in this way, but ultimately can be limiting as the beginner will not begin to experience success for a while if the more advanced practitioner is stingy with position.
In an interview I did with Pedro Sauer a while back, he likened beginners rolling to a novice driver racing a car:
If 90% will quit in the first year and will leave our doors with just so little time and knowledge, imagine if we could keep all those guys and keep them learning in a safe environment in the beginning, we would have a army of technical guys in a couple years, what good to say if you only train for months and quit? The retention will guarantee quality people, and will build better people on the long run. We are not watering down the art; we are giving an opportunity for people to discover the art long term. Jiu-Jitsu is like a Formula 1 car, how can a normal human learn how to drive a F1? Start with small cars, slower, than a little bigger tires, then bigger engine, than full power, how come in Jiu-Jitsu we try to get a white belt to drive a F1 in their first class? They will crash for sure…
On the other side of things, if you don’t roll, you may be instilling false positives or limiting skill development. If someone comes to jiu-jitsu and wants to roll, your academy may lose prospective students because of their refusal to let beginners roll. It can be a conundrum.
Instructors: do you let your beginners roll? And if yes, do you limit how and with whom they roll?
Advanced students: do you wish things had been different? Were you allowed to roll as a beginner and do you wish you hadn’t been? Or were you not allowed to roll as a beginner and you feel you lost something because of it?
Beginners: how do you feel about waiting to roll? Would you have joined your academy if its rules were different?