When Is It Ok To Ask Your Training Partner To ‘Roll Light’?

“Does your gym think it is ok for you to ask people to mellow out in a roll or decline a roll if you feel unsafe?”

This question was recently asked in a grappling group I belong to, and it really made me think about my own experiences. I specifically remember one instance when I declined to roll with a particular training partner because I always seemed to walk away with a bruised rib or other injury. This training partner is a significantly larger, stronger man and every roll seemed like a contest of who could make the best pancakes. I never won.

I started planning my next roll ahead. I always knew who I would be rolling with next so I never “got stuck” with the pancake king. My coach called me out one day and told me to roll the next round with said training partner. I grimaced, but did as my coach instructed. It went the same way, and I was frustrated. Why would my coach put me in that position? This guy is dangerous, he’s arrogant, and I never get any real work in because he immediately mounts me and squishes me to the ground for the entire round.

I stewed over it until the end of class, and I decided to let my coach know why I wouldn’t roll with that training partner again. Surely, if I talked to my coach discreetly after class he would understand why I didn’t want to be put in that position. He didn’t understand.

My coach heard me out and listened to my concerns, and he simply said, “Those are the exact reasons you need to roll with him sometimes.” He went on to explain the obvious that I don’t train jiu-jitsu to feel comfortable all the time. He knows I won’t progress at my intended rate if I don’t continue to push myself through the pancake sessions. Sometimes surviving is all we can do, especially in a true self defense situation.

On the other side of this argument are the times that you’re recovering from an injury or faced with a truly dangerous “newbie”. When is it ok to ask a training partner to chill or even turn down a roll?

Once again, I’ve learned from experience that when someone says “let’s roll light”, they don’t usually mean it. I’m guilty of this myself, and all of my training partners have called me on it. Coming back from maternity leave, I started by saying, “I’m just going to roll light for a few weeks.” I got a round of smirks from everyone and proceeded to roll at my normal 85 percent, which is not light at all. If you’re recovering from a specific injury, it’s totally fine to let your training partner know what/where the injury is so they can keep their movements and grips in mind, but asking them to roll light isn’t really necessary. They’ll usually match their pace and pressure to yours, especially if you’re higher rank.

Declining specific training partners is another matter in itself. You can’t avoid the newbies forever, even if you’re a higher rank, smaller, lighter, whatever the case may be. If we could all pick our favorite training partners for every roll, the gym would be a utopia. You wouldn’t necessarily improve your jiu-jitsu though. If your coach has noticed you only rolling with certain partners and pushes you outside your comfort zone, it’s probably for a reason. Oddly enough, my jiu-jitsu got significantly better (mostly my defense) from rolling with the pancake king.

If you’re unsure of your coach’s motives, stay late after class and ask for his/her perspective. If you walk away from the conversation feeling worse than you went into it, maybe you have reason to consider switching gyms. Your coach should listen to your concerns and give real, tangible evidence as to why they are requiring certain things of you.


  1. Not sure I can agree there, I and only I know my body and how it feels, I would rather pick my partners and go for longevity than working with people who are dangerous either for lack of knowledge or carelessness…
    I’m not young enough to recover easily from injuries and I rather be there more often than not!
    I have my trusted partners which usually are guys that have some injuries too and we’re both aware.
    Meaning if my partner had wrist injuries I will not wrist lock him/her no matter what. Back injury, no twister, etc…

  2. Like to go light most all the time am 64 years young, but weight over 300 pounds. The proplem is the younger guys think they have to go hard because I am so big. Would rather go with upper belts for safety. Only show once in while so never seem to get in shape. But I am pretty picky sometimes. And sometimes all go with anybody. One time I said to guy that weight 200 and is young enough to be my son, all go with you let’s just flow. He said I am not really a flow kind of guy. I said all flow you go as hard as you can and I heard laughing in backround. Didn’t mean to slight the guy.


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