Being Good At Jiu-Jitsu Means Finding Challenges In “Easy” Rolls

Flickr/Creative Commons: Lótus Club Jiu-Jitsu SNEC

One of the most common lamentations I hear from white belts and smaller grapplers is that they believe they aren’t challenging their teammates enough. Feeling like a “rest round” is never fun, and it’s understandable that you may feel that way if you’re rolling with someone who capitalizes on their size, strength, or experience advantage to submit or smash you over and over again until time runs out.

Ironically, though, as you get better at jiu-jitsu, you should be able to get more challenging, productive rolls out of your time with smaller or less experienced teammates.

If this seems counterintuitive to you, think about what your jiu-jitsu was like when you first started. You probably had no idea what you were doing, and the only two options available in your newbie brain were “submit” and “don’t get submitted.” You didn’t have an arsenal of techniques available to you at the time, so you probably relied on whatever advantages you did have, which probably included all your strength.

As you progress in BJJ, you learn that good technique is usually more effective and efficient than expending all your energy trying to force an Americana from closed guard. For a while, it’ll probably feel good to dominate all the new students because, hey, there was a time not so long ago when you weren’t able to tap out anyone. Unfortunately, many students then fall into the mental trap of believing that those new students can’t offer them productive rolls.

Getting good at jiu-jitsu doesn’t just mean crushing everyone with the techniques you’re good at — it also means being able to identify weaker areas in your game. And while the upper belts in your gym may immediately shut down the techniques that challenge you, newer and smaller students are perfect for testing out new techniques or solutions to your weak spots.

If you try a new technique during a roll with an upper belt, they may already know how to shut down your freshly learned move, making it difficult to determine whether or not you’re actually doing it right. This, of course, adds a whole additional layer of challenges to a technique that isn’t cemented into your body and brain. If you try it out with a newer student, though, you can practice the move against full resistance, but against someone whose defense against the technique is probably more evenly matched to your own experience with that particular move.

Of course, this mentality doesn’t just benefit you. Developing your weak points with “easier” teammates also gives them the opportunity to have a productive roll. While, yes, it can be motivating and uniquely challenging to roll with someone who can shut down your every move and submit you every ten seconds, having completely one-sided training sessions all the time doesn’t allow your disadvantaged teammate to practice their own skills. By equalizing the roll a bit, you and your training partners can have productive rolls no matter what size or rank either of you may be.

Maybe protecting your ego is your only concern, and if so, then sure, continue dominating the teammates you know you can easily dominate. But if you truly want to improve your jiu-jitsu, you owe it to yourself and your training partners to risk tapping out for the sake of a challenge.


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