Passivity on the Mat / Flickr Creative Commons

Reader questions keep us going at Jiu Jitsu Times.  They help us give back to the community that supports us.

We recently received this question from one of our readers:

“I am curious how to become more aggressive or proactive during my training. I tend to accept the position and let my training partners work instead of defending or preventing them from gaining the position. I have always been pretty laid back and non-confrontational, so how do I either change that or adjust my game to compensate?”

I will do my best to answer this question drawing from my own perspective and experience.

For starters, it depends on where you are in the hierarchy of jiu jitsu, are you a beginner or have you been training for a while?  It also depends on what you want to do with your jiu jitsu.  Most competitors are NOT passive at all, and if you want to use your jiu jitsu for self defense, passivity could mean injury or death.  If however you are just doing jiu jitsu as a fun activity to stay in shape, you do whatever you want with it.

Beginners should be passive at first, if you don’t know what to do, it’s better to do less and learn more, than do more and piss your training partners off by being a spazz.  Classically, white belts/beginners are seen as likely to be spazzy and dangerous to roll with.  By dangerous I mean they flail, hit you with their elbows and knees etc.  Remember, in jiu jitsu slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

If you intend on competing, you have to be able to turn it up as needed.  Best advice I can give you is to find a training partner that you trust, talk to them in advance and go balls out when you roll with them.  Push yourself to your limits and see what you are actually capable of doing.

Passivity is not necessarily a bad thing.  Remember, jiu jitsu is intended to be usable by anyone of any physical makeup, including people who are smaller and weaker.  Passivity is acceptable as long as it is coupled with strong technique and positional awareness.  Being laid back and lazy can be disorienting to opponents, and if you are smart and time things correctly you can appear to be very fast and very aggressive while really you are just beating people to the punch.  Working on your timing through flow rolling and drilling is a good way to turn passivity into a strength rather than a weakness.

Letting training partners work instead of defending or preventing them from gaining position is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be a great training method, but you should also work on positional control and dominance.  If you intend on competing or using your jiu jitsu for self defense, you need to understand and have a mastery over position.

To answer the reader’s question precisely: to change your passivity you need to go through the paces, you need to learn how to be aggressive, develop that killer instinct and learn when to insist on position or when to accept a bad position and improve upon it.  One thing I do if I feel like being passive but don’t want to give up position is I find positions where I can be passive but still dangerous, like closed guard!  If you prefer being passive, either learn to use it to offset aggression or learn to use timing to deal with its negative effects.

Hope this helps!

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo ( NottaRookie, YM ( discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap ( discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


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