The Integrity of One’s Roll “Rolling With Integrity”

When someone first starts Jiu Jitsu, they don’t know how to move, talk, or even breath. Everything they experience is new, alien, and uncomfortable. As a result, it is common place to hear the phrase “Calm Down,” at almost every class where people are rolling with even a slight disparity between skill levels as new members attempt to power through their partner’s technique.

When I talk about the “Integrity of One’s Roll,” this is where it comes into play, when a relatively much more experienced individual is rolling with a given partner. When I was about six months into my white belt I had no notion or even dreamed that there were “dark side” techniques. No one ever told me about these consistently  illegal techniques, and rightfully so as I had no need to learn them yet. During this time, I was bicep sliced by a visiting purple belt and even had my knee popped by an, albeit it was at a McDojo, BJJ black belt. I didn’t even realize that there may be something wrong with this but just accepted it as paying my dues. Though there is an aspect in combat sports to needing to get your bruises like everyone else at the start, these sorts of attacks are not in that category.

I did not know what a compression technique was, as I was still learning fundamentals, let alone a heel hook. I had come up as a wrestler so I was more willing to experience and fight through pain than most which I would quickly learn from, referencing the bicep slicer that left my arm dead for three days. However, heel hooks are a completely different beast. The reason being that knees do not register pain the way the rest of the body does. It is not until you feel the pop that you realize what was happening to your knee.

I have been training consistently now for four years in BJJ, with several years prior wrestling experience, and sit as a blue belt in an assistant coach position at a small gym called Straight Blast Gym Elko in Nevada. We have a good group of guys who are competitive and train hard. Due to the high level of competitiveness that many of them possess, every few months in our chill and chat sessions after open mat I often find myself on a little soap box stressing to them the importance of not going for “dark side” techniques on new teammates.

When I refer to “dark side” techniques I am absolutely referencing knee attacks and compression techniques. If someone who has been training for some time must resort to such techniques that their partner has no understanding of, and I stress partner over opponent in training environments, then I regard their roll as lacking integrity and the tap gained, if that is your goal, to be of no worth. Though this may differ from certain schools of thought in regards to the self-defense aspect, you are likely gaining nothing in that sort of attack at this level of training.

In no way am I saying to not work those techniques, but merely to work them with people knowledgable and aware of what is going on to be a true test and best practice to avoid ending someone else’s journey due to injury. If you are playing rock-paper-scissors with someone and sucker  punch them in the face to win, you have gained nothing. Again, this is in regards to training, not a street altercation.

I implore my teammates to work the techniques that would be expected at every level: chokes, arm locks, shoulder locks, and (typically after at least a few months) straight ankle locks while training with new people. The goal is to improve, not assert an almost cruel dominance over people ignorant to the art-the other side of leaving your ego at the door.

Roll with integrity so that the journey continues, future best friends don’t get hurt, and you sharpen the skills in appropriate settings. Meaning, you work within the parameters of your partners in order that you both may improve. It is when you resort to these techniques because you are having difficulty with someone you feel should be an easier roll that lacks all integrity.

Use your partner to improve in such a way that you both improve by utilizing techniques that will help them in the present to improve and develop a better understanding that will assist their journey more long term. Being aware of the kind of person you are rolling with is crucial in regards to their aggression and willingness to tap. Hurting the new guy by slapping on a technique, perhaps because you feel he or she is rolling too hard, without giving them the opportunity to tap is another example of lacking integrity. At some point, everyone waits a little too long to tap. That is not what I am talking about. Specifically, you should strive not to, in any way, resemble a bully and to merely demonstrate the power of a given technique. 

When you roll with integrity you foster a relationship of trust with your partner and amongst your team. Teammates will feel comfortable knowing that, though they may have a rough roll, they can be sure to leave without being injured and thereby train another day. Injuring teammates will result in many not wanting to roll with you and, ultimately, will be detrimental to the team as a cohesive unit. Often times, once a person has demonstrated such qualities has having integrity, they become the first person to be paired up with a new individual because they have gained such trust from even their instructors. It should be taken as a compliment to be the first experience that individual will have in the amazing world of BJJ and, in many ways, it becomes your responsibility to show the new individual the qualities of a good teammate so that they can perpetuate the cycle of rolling with integrity.

Roll methodically, smooth as possible, and especially at a level that is appropriate for your partner that you both may learn safely, effectively, and for years to come–this is what it means to Roll with Integrity.


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