Why BJJ gets you hooked

One of our members works as a computer game designer. He’s performed an analysis of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu from a game designer’s perspective to show why it is that we find BJJ to be so addictive. Full video is below.

A written version can also be found on medium.

Getting better at BJJ (intermediate)

There’s a simple formula for a beginner to get better at jiu-jitsu. Show up, train, roll and get enough sleep. A beginner needs general physical conditioning, knowledge and experience applying that knowledge on the mat. The beginning formula gives them this.

Sooner or later their improvement slows down. Why? What causes this slowdown?

Beginning training is focused on techniques. More techniques means more success on the mat. Eventually the beginner becomes saturated with techniques. More techniques no longer mean more success. Additionally, the beginner is becoming predictable when rolling. The other athletes have figured out their game and are able to stop their techniques early.

The beginner is now at an intermediate stage of progression and needs to train differently to continue improving at a steady pace.

Intermediate training is different

There are always more techniques to learn, but your emphasis should be on improving the techniques that you are having success with.

To apply your technique, you must overcome your opponent’s defences. The two ways of doing this are to

  • improve your technique so it can overwhelm your opponent’s defence
  • apply the technique before your opponent can defend

You should work on both of these areas together.

Improving technique

  • What is the key point that you have to do for the technique to work?
  • What is the next key point?
  • Is your structural alignment (posture) better than your opponent’s?
  • Are you successfully restricting your opponent’s movement? (connection)

If you’re not certain, ask someone with more experienced with the technique.

Applying technique

If you’re underneath, don’t fight for the underhook. Bump your opponent sideways and force them to post their arm. They’ve now given you the underhook.

This is the idea of the set-up. You set up your desired move with an initial move that you expect your opponent to counter. This initial move is planned so that the counter to this move makes it harder to defend the technique that you really wanted all along.

Setups aren’t developed while rolling. They’re germinated in the shower, while you’re walking to work or in bed at night before falling asleep. Once you’ve got an idea, you develop it with a training partner after class or at an open mat. When you’re happy with it, you try it while rolling with a beginner.

Now analyze. Is the setup working or does it need refining? Continue the cycle of practice with a training partner—try it in a roll until you’re reliably applying the setup while rolling.

Change your thinking

The progression from beginner to intermediate involves a change in the way you think about training. You’re no longer accumulating techniques, you’re revisiting and getting better at the techniques you are already doing.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 4

In 1993 in the UFC, Royce Gracie wowed the world by beating all his opponents by fighting off his back. He used the closed guard to do it.

Thousands of years ago, people believed that the earth was flat. These two facts have more in common than you think.

The Earth is not flat. We’ve known this since Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth about 2200 years ago. The Flat Earth model was useful long ago but we now use a better, more accurate spherical model of the Earth.

The closed guard definitely works. We’ve seen thousands of people use it to achieve victory in fights and competitions. So why am I comparing it unfavourably to the Flat Earth model?

The pros and cons of the closed guard

Pros

  • Easy for beginners to learn
  • Keeps the fight on the ground
  • Many submission opportunities – guillotines, armbars, triangles, kimuras, omoplatas
  • Moderate ability to sweep to the top position

Cons

  • Easy for your opponent to lift you off the ground
  • Easy for your opponent to stack you once your ankles uncross
  • Easy for your opponent to heel hook you once your ankles uncross
  • Hard to defend against strikes

So 4 for 4. Seems even, right? Wrong.

Spinal injuries, knee ligament injuries, getting elbowed in the face. These are some of the worst things that can happen to you when grappling/fighting. Using closed guard makes it easy for your opponent to do these things to you.

The disadvantages of closed guard far outweigh the advantages.

Spinal injuries

There are many videos on youtube of people suffering severe spinal injuries while competing in BJJ. You may have even heard of friends locally who’ve suffered spinal injuries while training or competing. All these injuries occur because of either getting lifted off the ground or getting stacked.

Here is why you don’t want to get lifted off the mat

Closed guard spinal break

WARNING: not for the weak of stomach.

Risks of getting stacked.

Heel hooks

Following on from spinal injuries, the next worst injury is knee ligament damage from heel hooks. These injuries are dangerous because they need surgery to recover more often than other injuries. Once your ankles are uncrossed in closed guard, you have little ability to prevent your opponent from entering for the heel hook.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 5

Strikes from closed guard

The only way to defend strikes in closed guard is to use your arms. Your legs can’t effectively control distance or off-balance your opponent. If strikes are a concern, then using closed guard usually results in this:
https://twitter.com/twitter/statuses/1005630393956093957

Alternatives

There are other guards that avoid the disadvantages of closed guard.

Half guard (and variations e.g. z-guard, lockdown) keep the fight on the ground.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 1

Hooking guards (butterfly, X-guards) allow for higher percentage sweeping opportunities and access to leg submissions

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 2

Why is closed guard so prevalent?

Apart from specialist professions (pilot, ships’ captain) assuming the earth is flat doesn’t cause any real harm for many people.

For BJJ athletes, using closed guard has very real (and severe) risks.

Even though we knew the Earth is spherical over 2000 years ago, it took hundreds of years for it to become universally accepted.

Closed guard’s one advantage over other guards is that it is easy for beginners to learn. Beginners love closed guard because it feels like they’re making progress in learning BJJ. They don’t have the knowledge and experience of the severe risks of closed guard to make an informed decision.

It is a coach’s responsibility to protect their beginning athletes from severe injury, until the athletes gain enough experience to take responsibility for their own safety. If you’re a coach, it’s time to ask yourself if you’re fulfilling your responsibilities towards your athletes.

The closed guard was useful for its time. Its weaknesses are now obvious. There are more modern and better replacements. The earth is not flat and there are better options than the closed guard.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 3

The BJJ Belt System

As a coach, every action I take either helps or harms the people I train. My actions are guided by this filter, which causes us to do things differently to other gyms.

Most gyms start newcomers with bridge-and-roll and scissor sweeps. Most people at my gym don’t even know what these low-percentage moves are.

The IBJJF has a list of illegal moves that many gyms avoid. We train with these illegal moves because we need to know how to defend them.

We keep what is useful and discard what is not. There is, unfortunately, one very harmful aspect from traditional BJJ training that I haven’t been able to discard.


The BJJ Belt System

The BJJ Belt System

Why do we have a belt system? Other sports don’t have belt ranks, what they have is ranked competitions. As your performance improves, you compete in higher ranked competitions. If your performance decreases then you compete in lower ranked competitions (although most people stop competing when their performance declines).

This may seem like a subtle difference, but it is an important one. In most sports you want to improve your skills so you can challenge yourself by competing in tougher competitions. In BJJ, many people just want the next belt, and don’t necessarily want what the belt represents.

Would you rather be a black belt or beat a black belt?

Belts create a hierarchy in the gym that can harm the gym culture. You see this is many gyms where higher ranks have special privileges over lower ranks. Lower ranks have to bow to higher ranks, or must stand behind them or can’t even ask them to roll.

In case you were wondering why we circle-up in arbitrary order rather than lining-up in rank order, it is to avoid the idea of hierarchy and special privileges.


Is the Belt System based on merit?

We like to pretend the BJJ belt system is a merit system, but it isn’t. The IBJJF leads the way in this with their black belt grades. Black belt grades are based entirely on time-in-rank and whether you pay your annual registration fees or not. No merit involved.

The coloured ranks aren’t a merit system either. We know this due to how often the word sandbagger is used in BJJ. A sandbagger describes someone who is consistently beating higher ranked opponents, but has not been awarded that rank.

If we ignore belt ranking and say “I compete at blue grade” rather than “I am a blue belt” we wouldn’t have a problem. The only hierarchy in the gym would be the natural competence hierarchy of who is beating whom.

If everyone in the gym competed, again there would be no problem. The coach would rank competitors according to how well they perform in competition (or risk facing embarrassment).

A problem occurs when only some people at the gym compete but everyone expects to progress in rank. The competitors that compete will be ranked appropriately. But how should a coach rank those who don’t compete?

Imagine a part time athlete who trains sporadically but has been training for six years. Many coaches would be tempted to award the next grade to this athlete, even if they don’t have the same ability of the competitors at this grade. Given the prevalence of the claim of sandbagger, there are many coaches who have given in to this temptation and have graded their athletes inconsistently.


The problem of the Belt System

The problem of the BJJ belt system is that it is not merit based, yet we pretend it is. Few coaches have a consistent criteria. Many use arbitrary metrics such as length of time training, whether the athlete pays their fees on time, or whether the coach likes the athlete or not.

Assuming the belt system is merit based causes problem with the gym culture. Athletes who have trained hard to earn their belts will resent seeing other athletes being awarded belts at lesser ability levels. Athletes who have been given their belts early will feel intimidated by athletes of lower rank yet greater ability.


How do I get the next belt?

The crux of the matter is that there is no generally agreed upon way of establishing who should hold what belt. My personal criteria is:

If a BJJ athlete were to enter a competition in their age and weight division, at what belt rank should they compete in to best improve their jiu-jitsu?

Note that this mostly, but not entirely, merit based. It’s competition based, so athletes that I grade should expect to be competitive in their competition division.

It not solely merit based for older and lighter athletes due to our local competitions. There are not many lighter or older competitors that compete locally. This means that lighter competitors often have to compete in heavier divisions, and older competitors have to compete with the young guns.

For these athletes, I have higher expectations for them and treat them is if they were heavier or younger. This means that it takes longer for them to be graded to the next belt.

If you want to know about how to get your next belt, read my criteria then come and talk to me.

Rickson Gracie

Rickson Gracie
tl;dr
Connection is contact that restricts your opponent’s movement while improving your own ability to move.


Rickson Gracie enjoys a reputation as the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioner ever. Whether you believe his claimed 465-0 fight record or not, respected coaches such as Fabio Gurgel say Rickson’s reputation is deserved.

Is Rickson simply a superior athlete with impecable timing and co-ordination, or is his invisible jiu jitsu the key that distinguishes him from everyone else?

Rickson says invisible jiu jitsu is a combination of base and connection. We talked about base previously, but what is connection?


Confusion about connection

There is much curiosity and confusion about connection, but no clear description. Part of the fault lies in the unfortunate choice of name. The name connection is also used by several internal martial arts to imply mystical and indefinable forces.

A Jiu-Jitsu Magazine article furthers the confusion by describing connection as a kind of mind meld with your opponent where you can sense their intention before any movement occurs.


How do others describe connection?

Fortunately, two different seminars where Rickson discusses connection are now online.

Before we examine them, let’s see what other people who have trained with Rickson say about connection.

With it my timing is perfect and I feel like I can read the mind of my opponent or anticipate his or her actions.

Without connection, I feel that I’m struggling for the perfect leverage, angles, weight distribution and base.

Tony Pacenski

Two people joining their bodies so that they make one unit and you are in control of how that unit moves.

Cane Prevost

Connection is the ability to transfer your energy to another person so that when you move, your opponent immediately feels the effects of it.

Henry Akins

connection is the relationship between the attacker’s base and our own

when you’re connected, there is a certain tension in the arms as well as the legs, and that allowing that tension to disappear is to give up the connection you have to your opponent.

When we are connected, we shift our weight in a way that doesn’t give our attacker anything to use against us.

being connected allows your base to remain independent of your opponent’s actions, while his lack of connection allows you to manipulate his weight and posture.

being connected is about inhibiting the opponent while improving your own ability to move.

the connection point works best against your opponent’s resistance because it not only blocks that resistance, it allows you to move more easily away from it.

Andreh Anderson

Each of these descriptions are vaguely similar but the commonality isn’t obvious, yet.


How does Rickson explain connection?

Below are two different occasions of Rickson teaching connection.

After watching these, I’m more confused than ever. In both those seminars, Rickson says he is explaining connection, but what I see him doing is hugging tightly and talking about base.

Cane Prevost, recounts a similar experience of a Rickson seminar.

In fact, instead of giving us details about posture (where to put your hips, your hands, shoulders etc) he talked about how the position should feel. He did a lot of that. He used the words “base” and “connection” a lot. I found the whole thing fascinating and left the seminar curious but unenlightened. I knew I had experienced something profound but wasn’t yet sure what it was.


Verbalising connection

Just as Rob Biernacki elegantly describes base as a platform from which you can deliver and absorb force, I want a similarly elegant description of connection.

Fortunately, Andreh Anderson nails it in one of his above descriptions of connection.

Rewording slightly, we have our elegant description, connection is contact that restricts your opponent’s movement while improving your own ability to move.

This description describes the function of connection, rather than form. I discussed why this is important in the last post.


Confirming the definition

Rickson demonstrating connection

Rickson demonstrating connection. Note the marked connection points.

I found Rickson’s seminar videos confusing because it looked like connection was just hugging and talking about base. The concept is clearer now thanks to our new definition.

Observe the image of Rickson demonstrating connection. Rickson applies firm, tight pressure with his hug. This removes slack and prevents his opponent from escaping. Rickson’s strong base allows him to move his opponent while remaining stable. The firm, tight hug (connection) maintains a favourable angle, while base allows Rickson to control the movement.

Cane’s description two people joining their bodies so that they make one unit and you are in control of how that unit moves, agrees nicely.

Tony says about connection: with it my timing is perfect and I feel like I can read the mind of my opponent or anticipate his or her actions. We can improve our timing by slowing (restricting) our opponent’s movement. Again we have agreement with our definition.

Henry says when you move, your opponent immediately feels the effects of it. This sounds like a description of removing slackness, combined with the tension there is a certain tension in the arms as well as the legs that Andreh describes.

Andreh’s other descriptions both imply the ability to move more than the opponent. Namely When we are connected, we shift our weight in a way that doesn’t give our attacker anything to use against us. And being connected allows your base to remain independent of your opponent’s actions, while his lack of connection allows you to manipulate his weight and posture.

Our definition of connection is consistent with Rickson’s demonstrations and the reports of his students/seminar attendees.


Why this definition matters

We need to keep in the mind the function of what we are trying to achieve, not merely the mechanics of what we are doing. I believe part of the confusion surrounding connection is that people are focusing on the form (removing slackness, closeness of contact, the feeling of tension) and forgetting the function.

Why do we need to mention movement in our definition? Can we define connection only as contacting our opponent with tension while removing slackness?

Here’s a demonstration of connection from side-control bottom. We can see the points of contact and we can imagine the feeling of pressure. We can see how the bottom person has removed slack and is applying tension. Everything looks fine when we remove movement from our definition.

Demonstration of connection

Demonstration of connection. Note the points of contact.

However, we see a problem when we look at the opponent’s freedom of movement. The opponent’s entire right side can move freely, despite the restriction of the left side. The restricted left side does not prevent the opponent from mounting, which is one of his primary goals from this position. Ignoring movement allows sub optimal jiu-jitsu to creep in.

How the contact points inhibit movement

How the contact points restrict movement

Our definition of connection, contact that restricts your opponent’s movement while improving your own ability to move, is important because it matters which parts of our opponent that we restrict from moving.

Let’s look again at Rickson demonstrating connection. See how Rickson is contacting (connecting) all the parts of his opponent’s body that his opponent needs to move to escape. Rickson is combining the mechanics of connection (tight, firm contact with no slackness) with the objective of restricting his opponent’s ability to move.

Rickson's connection principle

Note the connection points are precisely the points that Rickson’s opponent needs to move to escape.


In conclusion

Connection may not be the silver bullet that distinguishes Rickson from everyone else, but it’s a necessary component of efficient jiu-jitsu. A clear definition helps to communicate the concept and avoid the confusion that currently exists.

Verbalising BJJ concepts

Word Salad

Perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Jiu Jitsu is too complicated. There are many techniques, and many more counters. We focus too much on the details and not enough on the bigger picture.

Consider the idea of base in BJJ. Base is about being stable. We need:

  • Hips low to the ground
  • A wide base of support with two or more limbs on the ground
  • The limbs contacting the ground to be slightly bent
  • Our centre of mass inside our base of support

Already there are too many details.

Rob Biernacki elegantly defines base as as platform from which you can deliver and absorb force.

This is a better way to describe base because it describes its function rather than its form. Once you know the desired function (e.g. Don’t fall over when I push you), the form is easier to understand.

Did you notice that the first discussion of base missed something?

The description implies that base is for absorbing force, but it neglects the need for delivering force. I can have a stable side-control top game with my insteps on the mat if my only concern is absorbing force. But we know that good base in side control requires toes on the mat so we can deliver force when necessary.

When we focus solely on form (detail-oriented description), it is easy to overlook key details because we don’t know which details are necessary and which are merely nice to have.

Verbalising why you are doing something conveys more information than describing what you are doing.

Head-arm choke details

Most BJJ classes have people of mixed levels. Beginners benefit from the advice and feedback from those with more experience. Advanced members benefit from having less skilled training partners to refine their skills against.

How does an instructor run a training session that will benefit members with differing ability? One solution is to break the topic into levels. Beginning levels provide only a coarse overview of the most important details. Subsequent levels add additional details. Levels are created so that each level builds on the experienced gained through practising the previous ones.

Each level is small and simple and easy to digest. Having multiple levels allows members to work on the area that will have most benefit to them.

To illustrate, here is an example of using levels to teach and practice the head-arm choke.


Focus on the details at your level. Only level up once you’re sure you’ve internalised the details. For later levels, ensure you can consistently perform all details in your level on a resisting opponent.

Level 1. Core finishing details.

  1. Elbow of your arm encircling your opponent’s head must be on the mat.
  2. Skull to skull contact.
  3. Squeeze, hold, wait. It may take up to 12 secs for opp to tap.

Level 2. Tightening details.

  1. Start from mount.
  2. Push opp’s arm across and encircle their head and arm.
  3. Block opp’s temple with your hand while you drill (screw) your encircling arm deeply under opp’s neck. Goal is to have your biceps snug against opp’s neck.
  4. Gable grip, dismount and finish as before.
  5. Question: which way should you gable grip your hands?

Level 3. Keeping your opponent flat. (opp resists)

  1. Opp must be flat (not on side) for you to finish.
  2. Your biceps pressure and skull-to-skull counter pressure attaches you to opp. Your bodyweight keeps opp’s shoulders facing up.
  3. After dismounting, position your belly/thighs flat on the mat. Get as low to ground as you can.
  4. Ask your opponents to turn to their side. Ensure you can keep them flat.
  5. Question: What angle should be between your spine and your opp’s spine? You may need help from someone experienced for this.

Level 4. Dismounting. (opp resists)

  1. Start on mount with opp’s arm across, tight arm position and gable grip.
  2. Your goal is to dismount then finish.
  3. Opp’s goal is to prevent you dismounting and to free their trapped arm.

Level 5. Squeezing details.

  1. Remember; squeeze, hold and wait.
  2. Don’t squeeze unless the choking arm is already snug (recall level 2).
  3. Moderate tension in biceps of choking arm (not too tight so as to avoid fatigue).
  4. Wrist flexion and adduction of choking arm to apply pressure of your biceps against opp’s neck.
  5. Push with your toes to apply pressure of opp’s shoulder against their own neck.
  6. Be conscious that your biceps applies pressure against one of opp’s carotid arteries while opp’s own shoulder applies pressure against the other.

Level 6. Understanding counters.

  1. Opp’s main counter is to free their trapped arm so their shoulder is no longer choking them.
  2. Opp has to relieve skull-to-skull contact before freeing their trapped arm.
  3. Turning on their side is a good way to relieve skull-to-skull contact.
  4. Takeaway: get your opponent flat and maintain skull-to-skull contact.

Level 7. Zero point.

The zero point is when:

  1. Your opponent’s arm is trapped in position for the choke.
  2. Your arm is encircling their neck.
  3. You have (or are close to having) skull-to-skull contact.

It’s that time of year. Our recent holiday indulgence makes us look in the mirror and we realise that our health and fitness is not as good as we wish it to be. This year will be different, we tell ourselves. This year I’ll be serious about taking better care of my body.

Of course, it rarely works. Our wishful resolution relies on our will power. Unfortunately, will power fatigues quickly and fades over time. Our problem was caused by lack of will power, so why are we relying on will power as the solution? We’re just setting ourselves up for failure.

So how do we make lasting change?

One solution that works is time-based habits. When we have an activity we want to do more of, make sure to perform it at a fixed time. Most of the activities we consistently perform are already on time-based habits. Each Monday we get up at the same time. We eat breakfast, clean our teeth and even empty our bowels at the same time.

If we want to get more training in, or even want to get back to training after inconsistent attendance, here’s what to do.

  1. Pick a class that you will always attend every week, e.g. Monday 6:45pm.
  2. Commit to coming to that class for 4 weeks in a row.
  3. Tell your coach you are doing this – now you have to attend those 4 classes as you don’t want to disappoint your coach do you?
  4. Always attend this class. When you have a busy week or are feeling tired, skip one of the other classes. You always attend this class.

Once the habit is formed, it doesn’t require will power to keep attending. It just becomes another thing that you do.

If you’ve been inconsistent with your jiu-jitsu attendance last year, which class are you committing to attending this year?

Rolling is competitive. You and your training partner are both trying to submit each other. The best way to do this is to stick to your A-game and only use the moves and tactics that you are best at. While this is a good way to submit your current opponent, it isn’t a very effective way to submit your future opponents.

To improve in jiu-jitsu, and to be able to beat better opponents, you need to improve your moves, timing, tactics and recognition of the game. This necessarily means doing things differently to the way you are doing things now. If you only practise your A-game, you never take the opportunity to change and hence improve.

Your training partner can help you with this. Recall from part 1 that there are different types of rolling. Don’t assume that your partner knows what type of roll you want. If you tell your partner, “I’m working on half guard sweeps when I have an underhook” or “I’m working on regaining the half guard from side control” your partner has more information to work with. Be specific, don’t just say “I’m working on half guard”.

This gives your partner information about what kind of roll you are expecting. How they respond is up to them. One response is to let more of the roll occur in half guard, so you can practise your offense while your opponent practises defence. Or your training partner may choose to avoid the half guard altogether. This lets you know that your priority isn’t practising half guard sweeps, but rather it should be practising your entries into half guard.

By telling your training partners “This is what I will be doing during this roll”, they will necessarily ask themselves how they will respond to this. Now both parties have a purpose in mind for the upcoming roll, and each has an opportunity to evaluate their success after the roll.

Rolls that have a purpose cause you to reflect on the roll. Reflection is a necessary component of improving.

How do you know that you need to train your training partner? The easiest way is to ask yourself whether you enjoyed the roll you just had with them.

If you didn’t enjoy the roll, the worst thing to do is to talk to them about it immediately afterwards. When emotions are high, there will be misunderstanding and overstatement which will lead to bad feelings. Instead, just tap hands and mentally note that the goal of your next roll with them will be to train them to be a better training partner for you.

Here are five training partners that are not fun to roll with, and suggestions on how to improve future rolls.

The enthusiastic beginner with high attributes and low skill

Beginners have little skill, so they need to use lots of physical attributes to be competitive. With experience, they will gain skills and experience. They will realise that BJJ is an endurance game and will learn to conserve their energy and only use their attributes when necessary. But before that happens, they use too much strength, move too quickly and thrash around, all the while potentially injuring you with their flailing limbs.

Beginners will eventually become competent but you can hasten this. Firstly, rolling is competitive and beginners want success. All a beginner is thinking of is winning, so let them. Let them sweep you. Let them gain dominant position. Let them submit you. The easier you make it for them to do this, the less they’ll need to use physical attributes. They’ll quickly realise they don’t need to use so much energy and they’ll calm down. Now you can start increasing the difficulty level. Your goal is to have your training partner come to the realisation that winning isn’t sufficient, it’s how they win that matters.

Your training partner doesn’t gain any satisfaction when they win and it is obvious that you are letting them. You are helping them to clarify their understanding that they don’t want to merely win with their attributes, they want to win with their skill. At this point, many training partners will often say that they don’t know what to do (BJJ-wise) so go ahead and share your knowledge.

The too-rough training partner

Your training partner is competent, but he is rough. You walk away from a roll sore or injured. Your training partner likely doesn’t have a good grasp of controlling intensity.

Firstly, if you get injured, tell your training partner and tell your coach. Injuries should be uncommon. Injuries are a warning sign that something is wrong with the gym culture and your coach needs to know about this to fix it.

Your training partner needs to become aware of his own intensity level. Pretend you’re made of tissue paper and tap early and often. If your training partner squeezes you too hard, tap. If he attempts a submission, tap at least a second before it is applied. When your training partner asks why you are tapping so much, let him know you’re afraid of getting injured and are tapping early for your own safety. Ensure you are just stating a fact, don’t whine about it. Assume that your training partner is not malicious, just unaware. By tapping whenever the intensity is too high, you are training your training partner to become sensitive to his own intensity level.

Mismatched intensities

This is the most common cause of dissatisfaction after rolling. You’re tired or just wanting a fun roll, while your partner is rolling to test where their level is. The problem here is with mismatched expectations. Either you or your partner needs to match intensity, or you should stop rolling or risk injury.

The problem is one of communication. If you want a fun roll, say so before tapping hands to start. Be sure to say “fun roll” and not “light roll”. “Light roll” is code for “I want to go light only as long as I’m winning, but if I start losing I’ll go as hard as I can.”

The up-and-comer

Your training partner is less experienced than you, on a meteoric rise and you are the next stepping stone. This is a hard roll and you have to pull out all your physical attributes to prevail.

If this is not fun for you, then why are you fighting so hard? It’s time to contemplate your ego.

The arrogant higher belt

You’re on a meteoric rise and your training partner is next ahead of you. But whenever you roll him, he increases the intensity and you can’t beat him. It’s not fair.

You’re not there yet. Improve your skill level. This training partner is the best to help you with this. If you can’t pass his guard, ask him why not. Ask him to show you how to pass his guard. Drill it with him. Your training partner will be happy to help you improve because it means you become a more challenging training partner for him.

If you’re not having a fun roll, either you need to train your training partner or you need to change your attitude.

This post has been about improving bad training partners. The next post will be on making the good ones even better.