I have written previously about the severe degeneration I am dealing with in the vertebrae in my neck. I am often in pain, and if it wasn’t for a superb Chiropractor, I doubt I would be able to get through most weeks. This last week after rolling, I felt a tingle in my muscles surrounding my scapular. I have had it before, and normally indicates the onset of a muscle spasm. I didn’t think much about it, until the next morning, when I was unable to turn the key in my cars ignition. Turns out I have likely pinched a nerve in the C6, C7 region. A week of bed rest, chiropractic and physiotherapy sessions and I am feeling mildly better.
This incident made me think once again about how I both train and teach jiu-jitsu. It made me think further about the longevity of being able to keep doing this. While jiu-jitsu may be translated as the gentle art, there’s nothing gentle about it. It can be very hard on your body. One only has to look at the ‘old timers’ in jiu-jitsu to see how many of them are now suffering with a myriad of injuries, many of which keeps them mostly off the mat. When I began jiu-jitsu more than 21 years ago, there seemed to be only one way to roll: you rolled with everyone, regardless if they where three times the size of you, and you always rolled for a submission.
My realisation now is that, while of course gaining the submission is an important aspect of live jiu-jitsu training, it’s definitely going to shorten your lifespan in the art if that’s how you going to roll every time you get on the mat. It’s simply not sustainable to keep going into the academy, night after night, rolling full out, only to prove that by submitting everyone on the mat, you have the right to be there. If you strip away the need to ‘win’ what you are left with is something very different – instead you realize, that what draws people to jiu-jitsu is the personal challenge, the cerebral nature of the game, how it makes you completely feel alive, the real possibility of entering the flow state, and of course the brotherhood.
Going forward, jiu-jitsu coaches, or ‘Professors’ as they are referred to in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world are going to have to learn to be more creative with how they offer the opportunity for their students to experience those qualities of jiu-jitsu mentioned earlier. Not only that, they are going to have to think hard on how to make the experience viable for longevity and keeping everyone safe. Personally I have been thinking more and more about this lately. How do I as the coach, set up the environment on the mat, so that my students still gain the live, realistic nature of jiu-jitsu – but without creating damage to their health that they will only realise, as I did, a couple of decades later?
Changing the Way Everyone Rolls
One of the most obvious ways of course is to define different parameters in live rolling. Does it really have to be all out every time you step on the mat? Does it always have to be about getting that submission to engender a sense of game? I personally don’t think so. I also think this approach is antiquated, a left over from the time when Brazilian jiu-jitsu was trying to prove to the world that it was a viable form of real fighting. I think it is time for a change, and a different approach to help students develop a real grappling game, without the disasterous health affects of years of putting your body through the proverbial meat grinder.
In my classes (and in our Academies around the world) we present a series of styles of rolling that I feel still invokes the sense of challenge everyone is looking for, as well as the need to problem solve – but ensures that they never have to stop rolling. I’ll be honest, as the coach, you have to constantly observe the people on the mat and not be afraid to call someone out if they are not following the game set out.
Following are my top 6 Ways to Roll for Ever,
Micro-Flow: I no longer allow new student who join my Academy just to free roll. Everyone in my class first starts by doing what I call Micro-Flows. A Micro-Flow is live rolling, against a resisting partner, but kept within a specific position of the game.
For example: lets say for the past week we have been focusing on techniques on how to pass someones open guard. Once the techniques are learned and understood, I then allow students to work against an opponent who resists their pass, while they work to make that pass happen. Once they pass, they immediately reset back to the open guard position.
Crucially however, I limit the amount of speed and strength people are allowed to use – on both ends of the game – the person playing open guard, and the other person trying to pass. While I want the person playing open gaurd to give some resistance, and to throw in potential counter measures to the mix – the person trying to pass has to still be able to make that pass in the end. If no pass has happened within 60-seconds, then it is obvious that the person playing the open guard is giving way to much resistance for the guard passer to handle. The solution: tone it down a bit.
Positional Control-Flow (PC-Flow): This is a flow roll, where a person can only hold a position they gain for limited amount of time (e.g., 5 sec, 10sec), and then is required to relinquish that position, and move to another position.
Improvisation-Flow: This is a flow roll, where both partners are moving all of the time, no stopping, no holding down positions, only continuous flow movement. When students get this right, its beautiful to watch. The only way to achieve this however, is if both partners use no strength, and are open to allowing their partners to gain any position. As I explain to all my students, if after two minutes you haven’t found yourself in every conceivable position (mount, guard, back mount, north-south, side control: top and bottom etc) then you doing it wrong.
SubZero-Flow: This is a flow roll against a resisting partner, but without any submissions. This is getting closer to the ‘real’ thing, but because there is no chance of being submitted it gives students the confidence to be creative, and to think outside the box.
SubAct-Flow: Similar to SubZero-Flow, but this time students can simulate a submission, but never putting it properly on to get the tap. Once they have achieved the simulated submission, they let it go, and keep rolling. This is a great way to roll to highlight both positional accuracy, as well as partner mistakes.
Flow-Roll: A Flow-Roll is smooth, light, playful roll, that incorporates all aspects of the game + submissions. But it’s not a full out war. As I constantly remind my students, did you get that position, or that submission because you applied perfect technique or because you are 50 kg heavier than the person you rolling with? To be honest, in hindsight, this is the type of rolling I should have been doing all along. It would have saved me a lot of injuries for sure.
“…It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
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