How to Roll

I’ve been thinking a bit about the idea of how to roll with different size and skill levels and still make each roll productive. I’m lucky at my gym to have a huge variety of guys to roll with. I get to roll with brand new beginners, huge athletic guys, advanced BJJ players, and everything in between. My experience is that over the years I’ve developed different ways of rolling depending on who I am rolling with. You can’t change the way your partner rolls but you can change how you adapt and adjust your roll with his. Here’s some of what I find useful for rolling with different types of guys.

This is a bit of an extension of the “Don’t let the tap get in the way” post. It’s part of establishing broader thinking about what happens in the roll an dhow to use it to better your BJJ game effectively. It’s really about rolling with more intent and purpose and aligning that purpose to the situation at hand in a way that makes sense.

Brand New Beginner

With brand new guys I do more “coach rolling” than anything else. I make my moves slow and deliberate. I want them to be able to feel and see what’s happening to them. If I make the game too fast they won’t be able to comprehend it at all. I will use no strength at all. Very relaxed type of rolling. It’s important that when beginners roll with more experienced guys they feel this type of energy. It’s part of how they will learn to relax when they roll. This is “learn by coaching” kind of rolling. BJJ is the art of combining someone Else’s energy with yours to make something new. With brand new beginners I try to use 90% their energy and 10% mine. Here is where I can work that game effectively. That way I’m getting something out of the roll as well.IMGP3124

Strong Athletic New Guy

This is the guy that grunts and groans when you wrestle. He’s out of breath in about 30 seconds. He moves really fast and uses brute force to try to make things happen. This is the dangerous guy. He can hurt you or himself if you aren’t careful. You can not use a playful game against this guy. Maybe if you are Rickson Gracie you can flow around with a guy like this, but the rest of us mortals will have trouble doing that. If he’s playing chess you can’t counter with checkers. You have to essentially meet his game. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use brute strength to match his. No, you use Ju  Jitsu. What I usually do is lock them down. Where they are dangerous is in transition. The flailing arms and elbows as they transition will cause trouble. If you lock then down and limit their movement they have less chance to hurt you or them. You want to control their movement and only let them move a bit at a time.  That’s really the key with this guy. Slowing him down to controlled movement.

Been Around a Bit But Still Not as Good as You Guy

This guy has been around long enough that he understands most positions. He’s not usually going to do anything dangerous or stupid. Much of what he does looks like Ju Jitsu. His game is no real match for yours though. This guy is a great training partner. There are a few things that you can work with this guy. Here is where you can work your experimental game. You can work those positions, transitions, subs etc. that you aren’t great at but want to work. It’s perfect because your partner will respond with something that looks like reasonable Ju Jitsu. He’ll most likely give you the right response. His timing may be off. He may not do it quite exactly right. It’s close enough though for you to be able to generalize how the technique might go against someone with more skills. This is not the place to work your A game. Here you should be working your C game. It has the benifit for the other guy of letting him in the game. If you gave him your A game he’d never be able to get in an it would be a useless roll for him. This way both partners get something valuable.

IMGP3126You could also limit yourself to a single sub. Get the same one over and over. This helps the new guy to experience some repetition in his defense and could become a teachable moment for him. You could tell yourself that you will only sub from one position. I went a couple of months only subbing guys from guard bottom. It was great for my game and gave me some new tools. In any case this is your opportunity to expand your game and experiment.

Even Match Guy

Here you are rolling with someone who is an even match. It could be that you have the same experience level. Maybe you are more experienced and he’s bigger. Could be the opposite. With this guy you have the most flexibility in how you roll. The key is that you are both playing the same game. You could do a competitive go-for-the-sub roll. You could do a playful flow roll. You could start slow and gradually build intensity. You could work starting from a particular position over and over. The most important thing is that you have an understanding of what kind of roll you are doing and make sure the other person is playing that game with you.

Better Than You Guy

This is where you can work your A game. You can’t work your experimental stuff here. Nor can you work what you aren’t as good at. He’ll make you pay too much. For example if you are not so good at the half guard and want to work it you won’t be able to with this guy. He’ll simply pass your half guard in 2 seconds. Better to work your half guard with a beginner. What you’ll probably want to work more than anything else is your survival and escape skills. Mostly survival though. If the guy is that much better than you you’ll have plenty of opportunity to survive and some opportunity to escape. May as well practice what you’re given right? Since you’re spending so much time on the bottom you may as well make use of it and practice how to survive. When I roll with my coach this is usually my tact. I’ll play games with it. I’ll tell myself that I won’t let him tap me out  from this particular position. Or I won’t let him tap me out while this particular song is playing. You have to adjust your idea of “winning.” In that circumstance winning for me is making him frustrated in his attempt to get a sub. If I can make him go for his 3rd or 4th attack and not get me with his first then I take it as a small victory.


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  2. Really enjoyed the ideas here. As you went through each type of ‘guy’ I could see someone from my gym in each spot! Haha!

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