When I started Jiu Jitsu, I thought there was one type of training: bump fists, try to kill each other until the round ends, repeat, limp home, repeat tomorrow.
Recently, however; I discovered that BJJ is actually a beautiful tapestry of
many types of training. There is slow, methodical drilling. There is flow rolling. There is positional training. There is a competition class. There is the kind of training where you stop mid guard pass and ask your partner to do what she just did again.
Basically if there are mats on the ground, you will come up with a way to use them.
Sometimes the vibe of the room you are in can determine the type of training you do. There are BJJ schools where the instructor pushes for fast paced, competitive rounds all the time. There are places where the teacher is hands off, allowing each pair to figure out how hard to go amongst themselves. And then there are places where flow rolling and a more technical approach are encouraged. Often students will automatically adjust their training to whatever style fits the room they are in.
Right now I am fortunate enough that most of my training is done in what I call a working room, one where the pace is reasonable and most of the people are more interested in learning than winning. That does not mean we never roll hard, just that these hard rounds are often broken up by slower ones with people who have less experience than me, or people who are working on specific techniques or concepts.
I also train once a week with a group made up of black belts, school owners, and competitors. The vibe of this room is often different; faster, higher energy, more aggressive. This is a “hard room”, although we have working rounds too, particularly when I am rolling with black belts who have nothing much to gain from just submitting me over and over. But many of the other rolls are at a much faster pace, more competitive than cooperative.; They are both mentally challenging and physically exhausting. The hard room is also where you find out what works…and what really, really doesn’t!
There are pros and cons of both of these types of training environments:
The Working Room
- You will learn more jiu jitsu. It is hard to get better at a new technique or concept at top speed, especially in the beginning. Rolling at a moderate pace allows for more thinking and less just acting on instinct.
- You can purposely put yourself in bad positions and work your way out.
- It is easier to deal with size and skill discrepancies. More experienced partners can find something new to work on. Smaller people have to worry less about getting smashed.
- You will get hurt less.
- Your ego will get hurt less. These are both good things.
- You may get a false sense of your ability, especially if people are letting you get away with sloppy mistakes, or just simply being nice.
- You may be in for a rude awakening if you ever decide to compete or go to an open mat that is more aggressive than you are used to. Expect to be overwhelmed, at least at first.
- It can be hard to find something specific to work on, especially if you are newer to thinking this way about BJJ. Feel free to ask for help. I did.
The Hard Room
- A really, really great workout! Have you seen what the mats look like after a hard no gi class? Enough said.
- You will get a good sense of what part of your game is successful, and what moves need a lot more work.
- If you ever decide to compete, you won’t be completely overwhelmed by the pace of your opponent.
- Super aggressive partners may help desensitize you to a combat situation, which will help you not freeze up if you ever need to use your BJJ for self defense.
- Training hard makes you feel like a badass. I mostly prefer a good flow roll, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit how good it feels to walk out of a hard room in one piece.
- You will get injured more. Period.
- Unless you happen to be the best person in the room, sometimes you will really get your ass handed to you. And then you will go home and think to yourself “man, I suck at this”. And then you will have to swallow your pride and go back. You will have to do this dance over and over and over.
- New students will not always know how to control their bodies, or be told that they should try to.
- You will learn less, or at the very least, slower. New techniques won’t work at first, so you might find yourself just working your “A game” over and over.
- There may be less variety to the types of people who train there. Hard training tends to favor young, confident, athletic types, and exclude older, weaker or more timid folks who could really get value from learning jiu jitsu.
In my opinion, the best type of training environment includes both aggressive rounds, and slower, more cerebral ones. And the best room is one where all practitioners are able to easily shift gears from one to the other, and even more importantly, are paying attention to their partner enough to notice when a shift is necessary.
Or to put it another way. There is a reason so many people have compared a bad jiu jitsu round to a bad date… It does not matter if the round is slow or fast, the room hard or soft; you have to notice if the other person just isn’t having any fun
Jennifer Fremon is a sixth degree black belt in Kenshikai Karate and a brown belt in BJJ. She and her husband run UWS Kenshikai Karate & BJJ in Manhattan, where she teaches karate to children ages 3 and up. When she isn’t attempting to heel hook giants, Jennifer enjoys drinking coffee, walking her dog, making doodle art, and watching the sun set over NYC. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her fierce 12 year old daughter, and thinks there is no greater joy than seeing a child accomplish something new.