Jiu-Jitsu Letter

No Rounds Off

Early on, I was told it was OK not to roll with everyone and that it was fine to take rounds off. While true, it’s a mistake.

Reasons to skip rounds or avoid certain partners can be valid.

  1. Dangerous or reckless partner. At every school, there are people who can be dangerous to roll with. People have reputations for squeezing submissions too quickly. Usually, they’re the ones that don’t know how to “catch quick-apply slowly.” Sometimes, it’s a wrist lock, and that takes forever to heal. Or they can be reckless guys that jump guard or have poor awareness with flailing limps and end up elbowing or kicking you in the head somehow.

  2. Tired. You may be tired and simply want to rest. Sometimes, I drill with someone who’s very fast or strong, and my first round will be with him. And that first round, even when I try to conserve energy, really drains me (Hi Chris!). The rest of the morning (usually four or five more rounds), I’m on defense because of it.

  3. Ego preservation. Related to #2, I think the main reason to skip a round or avoid someone is to avoid getting smashed. There are guys that give me a really hard time and it feels like they’re absolutely crushing me. I’m sure there are people out there whose games are the perfect style to counter yours. Their strengths just happen to be exactly what’s needed to take advantage of your weaknesses.

  4. Injury/illness. Of course, if you’re hurt or sick, that’s fair. Get to 100% so you can resume regular practice.

  5. Hygiene. Yes, some people have poor personal hygiene. Dirty gi, dirty hair, long nails, bad breath. Fair.

These are all valid reasons to sit out and you should never feel obligated to roll, especially if it’s an injury or someone stinks. In those cases, report it to your instructor. He or she can help you manage your training. And they can privately talk to the offending student without embarrassing them.

Also report the reckless/dangerous partner. But you don’t necessarily have to avoid them completely. You can still train safely with them. As long as they respect the tap, you should be good to go. After all, one of the main reasons jiu-jitsu is so effective is we are ablet o test our skills at 100% intensity without injury. If you trained a striking art the same way, injuring yourself or your partner is guaranteed. But with jiu-jitsu, as long as your partner stops when you tap, you should be OK.

So how do you train with a “dangerous” partner? Just tap early. Super early, if necessary. Work on your awareness. And don’t match their energy. They’ll only escalate. And you might too, to keep up. At that point, you may not have the awareness to notice when trouble is near. So slow it down and be ready to tap.

If you’re tired, it’s still worth it to accept every invitation to roll. You’ll be forced to work on using better technique and body positioning to defend and attack. It’s a good thing. Everyone is awesome when fresh. Train to be awesome when you’re exhausted.

If one of our motives for training is self-defense, then rolling tired is important. (Driling tired may not be great, but we’ll talk about that another time.) You may be tired when the time comes to defend yourself off the mats. Will you be prepared? Will you have the experience of using your jiu-jitsu while tired? You don’t want the first time to be the time it counts. Anyway, the more you roll when tired, the less tired you’ll be. If you always take a break, you will always get tired.

If you’re trying to save your ego, then you should actually keep going. Yes, that guy or girl may smash you and deplete your confidence. Good. You need to get smashed to get better. And you need to learn to deal with it. It should be obvious how this would apply to self-defense. You never know who you might get into a fight with, so you better prepare for the worst.

It’s true, we’re probably never going to fight anyone in the street. However, if you want to get better, you have to train for the best (worst?) opponent. Train to beat the toughest guy or girl at your school.

Sure, you can beat up the fresh blues or smaller partners and go home feeling awesome. But you know what feels better? Surviving that heavy brown belt a little bit longer than last time. To get tapped one less time. To improve enough to actually threaten him. Because, if you always go for the easy rounds, eventually there won’t be any more easy rounds.

No one enjoys getting smashed, especially if it’s by a lower rank student. But it happens sometimes, and it’s part of the process. You cannot progress past a certain point without experiencing that. One more reason never to take a round off is time. You’re already at the school, so you should use that time efficiently. If you’re a hobbyist or a competitor, it’s important to roll as many rounds as you can while you’re there.

(Never say never. On the other hand, we can also think about this another way, which completely contradicts everything I’ve written. If we zoom out and know we’re going to train 20 years, then taking a few rounds off doesn’t seem to hurt us as much. As usual, it’s all perspective.)

Let’s say you train three times a week. And let’s say at each class, there is time for five 5-minute rounds of sparring. If you take a round off every class, you’re missing out on three rounds a week. 3 x 52 is 156 rounds in a year. 156 x 5 = 780. 780 / 60 = 13. That’s 13 hours of training you missed out on. But it’s when we start adding them up over a 10-year timeline that it really hurts. And it’s actually more than just those 13 hours, because our mat time kind of compounds. You learn how to learn. Each hour gets more valuable over time because you’re experiencing more, so you learn more in less time. You hear black belts say all the time, “I didn’t really start learning until I got my black belt.”

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