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Rolling in BJJ – Beginners Guide for How to Roll

Rolling in Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) is sparring where you are attempting to perform jiu jitsu techniques on a fully resisting opponent.

Rolling or live sparring is one of the most prominent aspects of bjj that proves its effectiveness in real life. When martial arts do not include live sparring there is no way to tell if the techniques being taught will actually work on a resisting opponent.

Rolling in BJJ – Key Takeaways

  • Rolling is the practical application of BJJ techniques in live training scenarios.
  • Sparring (rolling) is usually performed in almost every bjj class
  • You do not have to roll on your first day of class and should only roll when you are comfortable
  • Try to slow down and focus on breathing and technique during your rolls if you are new to jiu jitsu
  • You should try to roll with a mix of partners how are better than you, at your experience level, or newer than you
  • Lastly, try to match the pace and intensity of your rolling partner (you should not treat rolling like a fight)

Top Tips for Rolling in BJJ

BJJ Etiquette - What You Should Know Before Your First Class
  1. It’s normal to forget what you are doing when rolling as a beginner so try to choose one or two techniques/positions to work on and try to get there
  2. Emphasize positional control, passing, and guard play over seeking submissions
  3. Identify and work on areas of your game that need improvement
  4. Ask for feedback from your training partners after the roll
  5. Switch techniques when facing a good defense rather than forcing a submission
  6. Maintain steady and controlled breathing to help with efficiency
  7. Prioritize learning and defending important grips for each position
  8. Aim to achieve a top position when possible
  9. Use the closed guard as a “home base” on the bottom
  10. Keep your arms close to your body to prevent submissions (T-rex arms)
  11. Try to stay relaxed and loose during the roll*
  12. When rolling with higher belts try to learn where your defenses fail
  13. When rolling with lower belts or those less experienced work on control and submissions
  14. Utilize your weight instead of relying solely on strength
  15. Tap early to avoid injury*
  16. Always show respect and thank your partner after rolling
  17. Avoid placing your feet near your partner’s face
  18. Communicate any injuries before starting the roll
  19. Always follow the sequence of defend, escape, advance, and then submit
  20. Weight and strength do play a factor so be more careful when rolling with someone heavier

What to Avoid When Rolling in BJJ

  1. Going for submissions without establishing control first
  2. Forcing techniques against a well-defended opponent
  3. Moving without purpose or strategy
  4. Allowing the opponent to grip both of your pants legs from the bottom
  5. Extending your arms away from your body
  6. Being overly tense or rigid
  7. Using excessive strength rather than technique and leverage
  8. Getting frustrated or angry during practice
  9. Neglecting to tap out when caught in a submission
  10. Ignoring the importance of defending and escaping before trying to submit

What Are the Different Types of Sparring

Rolling is essentially the BJJ term for different types of sparring.

Positional Sparring Explained

Positional sparring focuses on specific situations or positions within a BJJ fight. We begin in a predetermined position, such as mount or guard, with the goal of either improving the position, escaping, or achieving a submission. It allows us to isolate parts of our game that require attention and improve them through repetitive practice.

  • Mount sparring: One partner tries to maintain mount and seek a submission, the other aims to escape.
  • Guard sparring: The top player works to pass while the bottom player attempts to sweep or submit.

Flow Rolling and Its Nuances

Flow rolling is a dynamic, less intense form of sparring where we move fluidly from one position to another without using full strength or resistance. The focus here is on technique and movement, allowing us to explore transitions and create muscle memory for sequences. It’s akin to a physical dialogue between partners, each one contributing to the movement narrative of the roll.

  • Key aspects:
    • Reduced strength and speed
    • Emphasis on technique over force
    • Mutual cooperation for transition practice

When to Start Sparring (Rolling)

You should begin sparring once you’re comfortable.

Since I had no grappling background, my first bjj gym told me that I can roll after 2 weeks of training. This can vary gym to gym, but the point is to only roll when you’re comfortable.

You should try to get down some basics like:

  • where and how to start sparring
  • general goals for sparring
  • one or two submissions to try
  • comfortable with tapping (early)

This doesn’t mean we have to master every technique, but having a foundational understanding of positions and a few submissions is crucial. It’s typically a few weeks into training when we can start testing ourselves through sparring if you don’t have a grappling background.

Read more: Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew as a White Belt

Choosing Sparring Partners

Selecting a variety of partners is vital for our growth. We should look for partners who challenge us in different ways:

  • Higher belts: To learn from their advanced techniques and expose your weaknesses
  • Our own belt level: To gauge our progress against peers
  • Lower belts: To practice control and submissions

Lastly, if you suspect that a potential sparring partner will move in unpredictable ways that are potentially unsafe, it is always okay to decline a roll. (I simply say “No thanks, I’m taking it easy this round“)

Is It Okay to Decline a Roll with Someone?

Yes, it is okay to decline a roll with someone. You should always feel comfortable with your sparring partners. If you suspect them to be potentially unsafe then you shouldn’t feel any pressure to roll with them.

Again, I simply say “No thanks, I’m taking it easy this round“)

Should You Go 100% When Rolling?

There is a time and place to roll with all out effort.

A good tip is to match the intensity and pace of your training partner

However, if it is an advanced class or competition class, you should be able to roll at 100% effort as long as you are moving in a safe and controlled manner that is focused on technique as to not injure your training partner.

Often beginners in jiu jitsu, will go 100% when sparring – this is a mistake at the beginner level since they aren’t using the basic techniques they have learned and just relying on speed, strength, and adrenaline.

If you are a beginner, you should focus on moving at a slower, more controlled pace, and not sparring at 100% effort.

Key Benefits of Sparring

Some of the key benefits of sparring are that:

  • Increases Muscle memory: Techniques become instinctive over time.
  • Increases Conditioning: Our bodies adapt to the physical demands of rolling.
  • Mental resilience: We learn to manage setbacks and victories alike.
  • Self Defense: Prepares you for what it’s like to use your techniques in a self defense situation
  • Pressure Tests Techniques: Helps you better learn which techniques are effect for real life

Sparring (rolling) is the funnest part of Brazilian jiu jitsu. You can spar with pretty much 100% effort with very little chance of injury to your or your partner. Unlike boxing or other striking martial arts there is also very little likeliness of blows to the head.

Maximizing Learning from Sparring

To maximize learning from sparring, we must:

  1. Set specific goals: Each session should have a purpose, whether it’s defending a certain position or working on a new submission.
  2. Analyze and reflect: After each roll, take a moment to consider what worked and what didn’t.

Top Tip: It can help immensely to film your rolls and review them after class to see what worked and where you need to improve.

Is There Anything Else You Can Do to Increase Your Rolling Cardio?

Many believe that the only way to increase your rolling cardio is my more rolling. However, I believe that:

  • As you train and roll more your techniques get better and you learn to use less energy
  • You will become calmer in your rolls over time and can focus more on your breathe and moving in slower, more controlled movements

If you are still looking for other ways to increase cardio, you can consider:

  • Interval Training: Incorporate high-intensity intervals with periods of rest to mimic the energy requirements during rolling.

I’ve found that interval sprints or hill sprints have helped my own cardio immensely during sparring. The reason this works is because the it mirrors the intensity and cardio requirements of sparring in bjj.

Is It Normal to Roll Your First Day in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

On your first day of Brazilian jiu jitsu, it is up to you to decide if you’d like to roll.

Generally, if you are newer to grappling and bjj, it is recommended to wait a week or two until you get a grasp of the basics. However, you can choose to roll whenever you are comfortable.

Rolling Etiquette Basics

When it comes to rolling, or sparring, we follow a set of unwritten rules that govern our behavior on the mat. It’s crucial to abide by specific etiquette to ensure both safety and respect among practitioners. Here are key points to consider:

  • Hygiene: Always come to class clean, with short nails and a clean gi to prevent the spread of bacteria and to avoid injuring our training partners.
  • Tap Out: We tap early and often to signal submission—there’s no shame in this, it’s a learning process.
  • Sparring Intensity: We maintain a controlled level of intensity to match our partner’s pace, skill, and comfort level, helping us to grow together as practitioners.
  • Mat Behavior: We don’t coach while rolling unless it’s an instructional part of the class; focus on the roll and be quick to lend a hand when a colleague is in need of guidance.

Gender Dynamics in BJJ

BJJ is a community where we aim to ensure equality and respect among all genders. The dynamics of gender in BJJ are important to us:

  • Equal Opportunity: All students, regardless of gender, should have equal access to learning opportunities and the ability to roll with any other student.
  • Respect: Physical strength may vary, but the technical aspect of BJJ is universal. We always respect our partners’ capabilities and learning pace, independent of gender.

Finally, yes, it is very likely that you will roll with another gender in bjj. It’s important to properly use your strength and size when rolling with someone else in order to get the most out of sparring for both you and them.