Rolling, or grappling with resistance, is a crucial part of BJJ’s pedagogical model. At any of the many MMA / BJJ schools in NYC, you will see rolling. It’s fundamental to one’s ability to implement techniques and internalize the concepts of Jiu-jitsu. Like in much of life, a person needs to undergo stress tests to be sure that they’re really competent at a skill. Rolling provides that crucial part of the puzzle by acting as a resistant test in a controlled setting. Just like you wouldn’t want to fly a plane without practicing in a simulator, you don’t want to jump into competition without lots and lots of rolling. It also allows students from all experience and conditioning levels to train together. When first starting BJJ, many students are confused about how to roll; how fast, how hard they should go, and what exactly they should be trying to gain.

Don’t think of BJJ rolling as a do or die fight. That’s not helpful for you or your partner, and more importantly, it’s unsafe. Instead, look at it as an enjoyable conversation, one in which both people are looking to learn and expand their horizons, where both are participating in the give and take, and where both are having fun.

Shouting doesn’t make you better at making a convincing argument and it doesn’t help whoever you’re arguing with understand your point any better. Likewise, rolling all out at a hundred percent all the time doesn’t help you learn how to use your Jiu-jitsu. The person rolling with you in the gym is not your competition; they’re your training partner. Smashing them with your strength, not allowing them to work, and using nothing but your already-dominant A-game all the time – none of these will help you grow as a martial artist or as an athlete.

At the same time, being completely passive isn’t helpful either. Just agreeing with everything someone says might make them feel good, but that isn’t making them more insightful or persuasive. Not only is your BJJ not improving because you’re not moving, you’re not helping your training partner learn BJJ either. Because you aren’t giving them the right degree of resistance, they can’t be sure if the technique they’re using is being done correctly. By not giving them the correct resistant pressures, you’re creating holes in your training partner’s game because they won’t know how to react or adjust when real resistance appears.

Instead, like the best conversations, there should be give and take. There should be a flow that allows you both to improve. Just because you can take mount and hold it for the entirety of a five minute round doesn’t mean you should. Even if you are that dominant, transition to something else, let your training partner work. Play a weaker part of your BJJ game or try a new technique. Try to give your partner the correct responses all the time, but not so much so that you completely shut down their game. If you feel like you’re ‘losing,’ don’t. There is no winning or losing in BJJ rolling, there is just gaining knowledge or not. If you’re banging your head against a wall trying something, don’t just lay limp, try something else. There is a lot in grappling; explore the possibilities and don’t try to force something that isn’t working.

There are places and times to train really hard. Usually, this is when you’re getting ready for competition. Competition training is where you need to work your A-game and condition yourself to working all out. At that point, it’s not about learning new techniques or trying new things, but about sharpening the skills you already have and developing a sound strategy.

Remember, you’re in our MMA gym to train, to learn and to get better, and not to hurt yourself or your training partner. The day to day of BJJ and grappling is about constant improvement, so we should seek to help each other constantly improve.

See you on the mats.

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