It could be said that a bjj black belt is partially paid for with pieces of your body. While injuries naturally accumulate over time in any sport, it is still important to protect ourselves the best we can. This means constantly improving technique, actually resting when injured, and picking good partners.
Newer jiu jitsu athletes do not have the skill set to control their weight and pressure. It takes years to learn to be able to adjust pace and intensity to be a good training partner; especially if there is a size or strength difference. Here are a three tips to make the mat a little bit safer when choosing who to roll or drill with.
1. Read the Mat.
A surfer sits and watches the waves for a while before they decide how and where to paddle out. I think that this one round of observation is particularly important if you are at an open mat at another academy. You can pick out a handful of people that appear to be good partners and look for them between rounds. It is easy to spot those who are rolling in a way that is thrashy or too hard. These individuals will look like they are caught in a net while everyone else seems to be swimming. They will be breathing hard, moving fast, and gritting their teeth during the first round. These new practitioners often feel like they are in a real fight. They will be a dangerous partner, especially to smaller people, until they learn to control this instinct and replace force with technique.
2. Warm up with a colored belt.
Many white belts are either rolling at full intensity or sitting out at open mat. There is no “warm up” speed. The first roll of the day is high percentage in terms of injuries. In general, the more highly ranked the person, the better of a training partner they will be. They will appreciate the opportunity to go slow for the first round.
3. 30 lbs or Less.
Prioritize rolling with those who are within 30 lbs of your weight. Yes, it is important to learn to apply technique on larger partners. However, when you begin the sport you don’t have the survival skills to ensure that you are always in a safe position. If I am tired or injured I will likely not grab a partner that is way out of my weight class unless they are more experienced. If a large partner drops their weight in an unexpected way it can mean months off of the mat.
These are only guidelines as some learn to be good partners sooner than others. A few of my favorite training partners at home are large blue and white belts. We have rolled together a lot and built up a lot of mutual trust. This is one of the advantages of having a consistent group of training partners rather than bouncing from school to school.
Girls in Gis writer
Leah Taylor is a full time fitness and jiu jitsu coach/ competitor at Straight Blast Gym of Montana. She was inspired to begin traditional martial arts by her mother as a senior in high school. She searched far and wide for a functional martial arts academy as she traveled for work and fun. She is now a jiu jitsu blackbelt under Matt Thornton and Travis Davison of SBG. Leah hopes to use her own experience to coach men and women of all ages to become the strongest version of themselves.