It’s OK To Be Picky When Picking Partners 3

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.


Leah Taylor

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.

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3 thoughts on “It’s OK To Be Picky When Picking Partners

  • Kellie

    Nice artcle but I want to know is me being 1 handed and wieghing about 118 pound I’ve been training for 13 years now I have a big problem with havyer girls like 145 and they are tougher than me too I’ve been wanting to learn judo but everything has to be modfied like my jiujitsu and I cant figured out how to do it can and I use to have a bjj partner that was a good spired guard player she would do the drills with me to leg lock to hip of her moveing she’s no longer training there I haven’t had any one else to drill this with please I would like to know ur advice on this Thanks

    • girlsingis Post author

      Thank you for your question! I have a lot of respect for grapplers your size. I understand finding partners can be even more difficult if you are close to 100 lbs. I imagine having one hand adds an entirely new level of challenges. It is remarkable that you have been training so long!!
      I will suggest a couple of things. The first would be working with some of the teen students in your school closer to your weight or finding a gym locally that might have a teen judo program. This would be a way to begin your judo journey with a larger pool of partners. You already have experience modifying bjj, I’m certain that with the right instructor you could do the same for your judo.
      Secondly, if women do join your school try to go out of your way to encourage them to keep training and to become great partners. We create our own training partners to a certain point. You are very experienced, it is within your rights to have a conversation with the girls that are already training and let them know if they are rolling too rough. If you are not comfortable doing that, speak to your coach about it. Those partners often have no idea that they are applying techniques with too much pressure since they are almost always the smaller grappler when they train. It is difficult to develop the skill of rolling with significantly smaller people. You can help!
      Last thing! You may already be aware, but there are a couple of very notable black belts missing most of their fingers on one hand. Jean Jacques Machado is a member of the prominent Machado jiu jitsu family lineage. He has won ADCC among many other competitions. I also recently learned about Russell Redenbaugh who is blind and is missing four fingers on one hand. He did not start bjj until he was 50 and has at this point won master’s world championships at various colored belt levels on the way to black belt. He lost his hand and his sight in an accident as a teen. He went on to become a millionaire as well as one of two known blind bjj black belts. Barriers to our success are presented to us by life, but only made concrete if we accept them in our mind. You have more challenges than many grapplers, which makes your progress even more remarkable. Happy Training!
      Here is a talk by Russell Redenbaugh on how he learned to read the world in a different way:

      -Leah Taylor