Two players engaged in BJJ rolling

First Time Rolling in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Are you just starting BJJ and want to learn how to roll? Rolling is an essential component of modern Brazilian jiu jitsu training. It is important that you grasp how it works and how to do it safely. Once you understand rolling culture, you will be on you way to becoming a better grappler. You will also have a lot more fun in BJJ.

As a beginner, the thought of rolling can be daunting, especially as you see the higher belts perform techniques with easy and efficiency. Don’t worry, with these tips you will be rolling like a black belt in no time.

What is BJJ rolling?

Rolling is a form of practice in BJJ where training partners perform live techniques on each other. Sparring might be the closest synonym to rolling in BJJ. Keep in mind that rolling should typically encompass mutual learning on both partners in a relaxed context. 

Rolling is best understood when observed. What you will find on a mat during a rolling session are two teammates engaged in practicing their submissions, defenses and other techniques. A student will “tap” their teammates body (usually twice) once a submission has been locked in on them, at which point the teammate will stop applying pressure to release the submission. The two will go back and forth attempting to perfect a certain aspect of their game.

When should you start rolling in BJJ?

There is no “right” answer to when you should start rolling. Some schools require that students master basic concepts before they engage live on the mat. Other schools throw their students into the fray on day one. 

What matters is your comfort level with the techniques you know and the training partners in your class. Of course, the opinion of your instructor also matters significantly. When you are starting out, you should look to them to ensure that you are OK to roll and with the proper training partner that is appropriate for your needs. As a general principal, brand new students should always be matched with generally higher belts.

How to Prepare to Roll in BJJ for the first time

Rolling Mentality

To roll successfully in jiu jitsu you need to have the proper mindset. First, remember that you are not supposed to go full strength. This is a practice session, not the world championships. Of course, it is very easy to get worked up during a roll, but always remember that the roll is not about winning or losing, it’s about learning.

Your BJJ Training Partner

Everyone rolls differently. When you are starting out it can be hard to find the right fit in a training partner. Generally, you have found a good rolling partner that is knowledgeable, courteous, and a higher rank

A knowledgeable rolling partner will let you commit mistakes, point them out, and then show you how to fix them. A courteous partner will give you plenty of time to tap and will protect you from your own injuries. They will understand that rolling is not about battling out egos or winning a medal.

Lastly, if you are a beginner, a good training partner should be a higher rank than you. Upper belts are comfortable with their technique. When you roll with an upper belt, your risk of injury will greatly decrease.

When it’s your first time rolling, or you are relatively new, make sure to tell your partner. Don’t let your nerves get to you. 

Types of Rolling in BJJ

When you decide to roll, it is essential that you and your training partner agree on the terms. If the instructor has set the rules, make sure you follow them. If the mat session is open, you should discuss before you fist bump. What is the goal of the roll? Do you want to reset after a certain point? Only work on one technique? Here are a few different approaches to rolling that you can incorporate in your own practice. 

Positional BJJ Rolling

Positional rolling is all about mastering technique. This is also known as technical rolling or positional drilling. Usually, you and your partner start in a set position and are working on a single technique. Your goal will be either to defend or attack around that technique with minimal or moderate resistance. You will often reset if you get out of position. The point here is to build confidence in the technical aspects of the technique while building muscle memory. 

Flow Rolling

Flow rolling is a middle ground between positional rolling and normal rolling. The idea is usually to freeform with your partner to see where the techniques take you. You may agree to start in a certain position each time, one person being in the dominant position and the other the inferior.

Your aim is not to submit at all cost. Instead, you want to explore different position and your reaction. Perhaps you easily give up an advantageous position to work an escape. You might catch and release a submission and continue the roll without interruption. A note of caution, everyone’s concept of flow rolling is different, so do your best to establish a cadence and intensity level with your partner. 

Regular BJJ Rolling

Regular rolling in BJJ is characterized with each partner attacking and defending to the best of their ability. While teammates should not (typically) be going all out, they should focus on their timing, breathing and reactions. Regular BJJ rolling is as live as it gets outside of a competition and the intensity usually picks up as the session continues. 

BJJ Rolling Rules: the Do’s and Don’ts

The following tips will help you in any BJJ rolling session, no matter what your level or the intensity of the roll.

Do’s

  1. Breath
  2. Maintain a positive attitude
  3. Accept that you will be tapped
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  5. Be patient
  6. Stay relaxed and don’t over exert yourself
  7. Stay on task. Focus on the techniques learned in class
  8. Leave any frustrations regarding the rolling session “on the mat”
  9. Thank your partner (fist bumps, before and after)

Don’ts

  1. Resist the tap
  2. Try submissions you have never done before
  3. Force someone to roll with you
  4. Attack with the intention to do harm
  5. Feel resentment after a “bad” roll.

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