This article is part 2 of 2. Read part 1 of First Day BJJ Class.
CHOOSING A PARTNER (FOR BOTH DRILLING AND ROLLING)
Your instructor may pair you up with someone for drilling, rolling, both, or neither (in which case you will have to find your own partner). As mentioned in part 1 of this article, finding a good BJJ partner is key to your development. When it comes to live training your partner is key to accelerating your progress and, more importantly, not getting hurt. Initially, it’s a good idea to pair up with a live training partner who is similar size, strength, skill, mindset, and possibly gender. Let’s go thought these one by one:
Size and strength: As a beginner nothing is worse than rolling with a partner who is considerably heavier or stronger than you. When you’re on top, many of the techniques you use will seem not to work and you may have trouble controlling your partner since your technique is not fine-tuned yet. Likewise, when on the bottom you may feel as though none of your escapes work since you haven’t mastered them against a light opponent, never mind a bigger one. In contrast, pairing up with a person significantly smaller or weaker means your technique may not be as good as it should be but you will find success by overcompensating with strength.
Mindset: This may be the most important. Why are you training BJJ? Is it with the goal of competing and becoming a world champion? Then going against the person who has no intention of competing and may not be as serious as you may not make sense. Likewise, if you are a 40 something white belt looking for just a good workout it’s probably not a good idea to go hard with the 22-year-old ex Division 1 wrestler white belt who has aspirations of an MMA career.
Watching techniques being demonstrated at class.
Skill: This is strongly correlated with belt rank. If you are a white belt you can assume that all higher ranks are more skilled than you. Initially, you may want to avoid live training hard with a higher belt although that is not always true. In fact, many beginners prefer to train with the higher ranks since these practitioners are often the most controlled and can handle anything you throw at them without going too hard and freaking out. In the end, it depends on the individual. Just like in all aspects of life there are jerks and great people at every belt rank. Some academies do not allow lower belt ranks to ask higher belt ranks to roll. On the other end of the spectrum other academies not only discourage this practice but make it mandatory that any higher belt rank accept an offer to roll from a lower belt rank. Don’t worry, this will become apparent very quickly once you start.
Gender – Like everything else this depends greatly on the individuals but one should always be mindful when live training with the opposite gender. Males need to remember they are typically stronger than their female counterparts and should take that into consideration. Likewise, females need to realize that many males (especially lower ranking ones) have difficulty dialing down the intensity of a roll and may go harder that they want. There’s always the element of someone feeling uncomfortable from the perspective of the physical contact itself. BJJ is an intensely physical activity with two people literally rolling all over each other grabbing, pulling, and pushing all over each other’s bodies. It’s impossible to know how often it occurs but women in BJJ have often reported experienced being inappropriately groped during live training. This has given the rise to female only classes.
Etiquette during rolling: Generally speaking, lower belts should follow the lead of the upper belt. If there has been no declaration of a “light” or less intense session (also known as “flow rolling”) you can assume the round will be relatively intense. If you do not want to roll hard then speak up before the round begins! It’s possible that your potential partner is not looking for a flow roll and would prefer to find a different partner. Also, if there is some injury or issue with your body that you are protecting then you need to tell you partner. There is nothing wrong with saying for example, “my left arm is bothering me, please don’t arm bar me there.” After any caveats have been agreed upon, there will be some sort of acknowledgement that both people are ready to train either verbally or physically (nod, hand shake, hand slap, fist bump, etc). As long as the round has begun then it’s time to roll.
What submissions are permissible. Depending on the school there are usually limitations as to the type of submissions allowed. Kids and white belts usually are not allowed to use more advanced submissions such as leg locks. The idea is that these types of submissions can more easily lead to injury especially when done by the less experienced. Some submissions may be disallowed entirely for any student in the academy. These include submissions that put stress on the spine such as can openers and twisters (insert links?) or some types of leg locks.
Keeping safe during a roll: Perhaps the most important rule in all of BJJ is “tap early and tap often” It can be very tempting to fight the submission to the very last moment. However, unless you are an experienced practitioner who understands both the submission and counter this can easily lead to injury. This is why it seems that so many lower belts get hurt during training than older belts. Remember to leave your ego at the door and that there is no shame is tapping. Big strong experienced black belts tap every day to weaker, less skilled opponents. Everyone gets caught sometimes, there’s no shame in it. Remember, you want to be in this for the long haul and that means tapping when necessary. Tapping is part of learning.
Be a good partner when training.
What to do when you do not like your partner: Let’s be frank sometimes you’ll be paired with someone you don’t like. This may happen for a variety of reason. Maybe the other person goes too hard, goes too light, has poor hygiene, or has an ego so if you tap him/her they freak out. The list is endless. If you are concerned about your safety during a roll then tap and tell your partner you are taking the rest of the roll off. How you say this depends on you, your partner, the academy and a myriad of other factors. You can take the humble approach and make an excuse (i.e. injury) or the direct approach, or something in between. There are a number of approaches you can take to avoid training with this person in the future but the bottom line is you should not train with someone that you do not want to.
End of class: Usually the end of live rolling marks the end of class. This is not always the case though as sometimes there may be a warm down, stretching, or equivalent. Often, but not always, there is some type of formal lineup where the instructor will address the class. Many times this is followed handshakes (often by utilizing the snake line theory) where every person shakes the hand (or fist bumps or some equivalent) of every other person.
After class many students often stay to continue training or rolling. We have never been at a school where this is not permitted as long as it is not too late in the day and the students do not impact the next class.
In conclusion, every school, team, academy, and instructor will have slightly different methods and philosophies on how class should be run. What matters is that the class is positive, fun, and informative. BJJ is a martial art designed to improve your overall well-being both physically and mentally. The way to get there may vary but the goal should always remain the same. Congratulations on your start to this wonderful journey!
This article is part 2 of 2. Read part 1 of First Day BJJ Class.