It’s Your Responsibility To Train With The Student Who Has No One To Roll With

Photo Source: Issys Calderon Photography/ Instagram

Live-rolling is a crucial (and fun!) element of jiu-jitsu training. In an ideal rolling session or open mat, you’ll get the chance to train with people who are lighter, heavier, better, and worse than you are.

Those of us who have been training for a while are comfortable with the routine: you search for a partner, lock eyes with a teammate and give her “The Look” (you know the one I’m talking about), and hurry over to her to begin right as the clock starts. Roll, rinse, repeat.

However, not everyone is so accustomed to this environment as you are, and their training suffers as a result. Think white belts, new academy members, or just students who are uncomfortable with being the one to call someone over. These guys and girls often end up sitting unnoticed in the corner while everyone else continues on as normal. They want to roll, they just don’t know how to go about it.

For someone who’s been training for a while, that anxiety might seem ridiculous. But for that person in that moment, it would seem crazier not to be nervous about speaking up. Try to think back to when you first started and saw all those awesome athletes going at it when you yourself didn’t even know what a kimura was. It would have felt weird. You figured you had nothing to bring to the table, that any time someone rolled with you was out of pity rather than an actual desire to practice with you. Why would she pick you when she had her pick of other badass athletes she could roll with instead?

When you combine this with the fact that some gyms mandate that only higher ranks can call over lower ranks, it’s no wonder that so many beginners avoid open mat. Why would you participate in something that left you feeling downright unwanted?

Women are also frequently left out when everyone starts rolling. Oftentimes, there are only one or two female students in a given training session, and if they aren’t yet comfortable with that dynamic, they’ll probably feel extremely out of place. If they’re one of the lower ranked students in the class, they not only have that working against them, but also the fact that many men disregard women as valid training partners. When you’re completely outnumbered, new, and feel like everyone around you sees you as a joke, approaching someone to wrestle with you can be more than intimidating.

Obviously, this fear goes away with time and experience, just like many of the challenges we face in jiu-jitsu. For a very long time, I was that girl who was always picked last when it came time to choose partners, just like I was the girl who was always picked last in gym class. As time passed, my confidence increased, and I ranked up, I started being the person people wanted to roll with instead of the person they felt obligated to roll with.

But feeling like the extra puzzle piece is something I’ll never forget.

I know there’s often a reason the person who’s always picked last is always picked last. It’s not always fun to roll with someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing when you could be rolling with someone who’s presenting you with an actual challenge. And when you’re not used to a mixed-gender environment at the gym, it’s understandable that you might feel strange asking a woman to train with you.

That said, you need to get over it. If you’re in a position of power at your gym – whether that means being a blue belt who can call white belts over or being a member of the host gym at open mat – it’s your responsibility to make sure that the people who don’t have that power aren’t constantly sitting on the sidelines against their will. If you don’t want to roll with them five rounds in a row, call one of your teammates over and openly suggest that he partner up with them instead. Just make sure that if that person doesn’t feel welcome or wanted in the gym, it’s not because of you.

Yes, eventually everyone needs to suck it up and just jump in there, but this isn’t Fight Club. This is a sport that’s supposed to be inclusive of everyone and that has a reputation for building unbreakable bonds between people who would have never otherwise thought to become friends. If someone looks like she feels out of place, she might need a little push in order to feel like she can jump into the fray with everyone else. By asking her to roll, you’re not holding her hand as you walk across the street; you’re just telling her it’s safe to cross the road.

If you feel like someone is being left out of rolling, don’t leave it up to someone else to make him feel comfortable. At one point, we were all new, intimidated, and a little bit awkward in the gym. Be the teammate you needed when you were at that stage. Take your comfort and pass it on to them.

After all, the more they roll, the faster you’re going to have a training partner who really challenges your skills.


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