Or - How To Roll With Everyone
BJJ as a martial art is very personal experience which is heavily dependent on the individual and their own journey. As much as we train to focus on ourselves and our improvement it is nothing without our training partners. We make each other better, we challenge one another and help each other both on and off the mats. As cliché as it sounds, we are in this together.
A common question within the online BJJ community is ‘How do I roll with girls?’. When I find myself faced with questions in life I often turn to people who have inspired me, in this case that would be Cyndi Lauper. She was right all along, ‘when the working day is done, us girls we really do just want to have fun’. For some girls, fun means Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Whether we are hobbyists or competitors we do it because we love it. It is challenging and tough but at the end of the day it is so much fun!
The purpose of this article is not so much to say this is how you should or shouldn’t roll with girls. Instead I am attempting to open up a dialogue to try and get people to consider how are they rolling with anybody.
There are some common gender-based questions I will address but most of these ideas fall under general rolling etiquette. Everyone is different and it’s going to be based on individual preferences and experiences, however there are some essential ideas we could all consider.
There are two basic fundamentals for rolling in BJJ:
1 - Be aware and beware.
This is one of the first things we experience when we start rolling in Jiu Jitsu and it is something that doesn’t go away. When we start rolling as a fresh white belt we have no idea what to do, or what is going on. This is okay when we start out, as it’s expected. The more we train, the quicker we learn to be less clumsy and our actions and reactions are driven with intention rather than fear.
Even as we move out of this stage we still experience this with new white belts. It is here we learn to beware and to be careful. You might be able to control the roll or you might have to play it safe. Again everyone is different, it’s a skill in itself to know when to give people space to try things or to not give them anything. We learn how to not put our self in danger while also not putting our training partners at risk. We are responsible for our partner’s safety as much as our own.Text
While this is a common issue with new people, sometimes we forget to think about what we are doing during a roll. This can continue throughout your time at white belt and even as you progress into the higher belts. Don’t let it get that far, don’t be that guy. When you are rolling try to consider if you and your partner are benefiting from what you are doing, and are you gaining anything from the roll?
2 – Don’t be a jerk!
This second point is pretty self-explanatory and closely related to my first point. I feel like it needs repeating, particularly for instances where you should have awareness, or you do and you choose to ignore it. We all have our moments, often mistakes or misjudgments but there are the occasional dick moves that were intentional. If you’re cranking submissions hard, choking over their jaw/teeth, jamming knuckles in the throat purely because you can, no one wants to roll with that guy. Plain and simple, don’t be that guy
Okay, now we know the basics, I’ll address some of the gender-specific questions or queries that often pop up.
How do I roll with a small female?
Easy! The same way you roll with a small anybody. I’ll refer you back to my two previous points because it all comes down to this. If you significantly out-weigh your partner compensate for the pressure/intensity you would normally use with technique. Take the opportunity to play bottom, practice your escapes or guard retention. If you are mostly on top or snapping on submissions left, right and center be aware how fast or strong they may be coming on.
In saying that, in most rolls you will learn to match your intensity. You don’t have to go 100% like its ADCC, but sometimes people like to amp it up. Start out slow or half your intensity and see how it goes. This is relevant to everyone, some people always roll at 75%, others might dial it back to 40%. Basically is someone is going 60% you don’t need to crank it up to 90%.
One thing to avoid which rests on the opposite side of the spectrum, instead of going too hard maybe you’re not even going at all. It’s cool if you want to impersonate a grappling dummy but please don’t do it during a roll. Try find a balance between give and take. I’m not suggesting you hand out grips and submissions but open up positions for your partner and yourself to explore. Try create some resistance some for your partner, experiment with different movements and find new ways to attempt or defend a move. Being nice isn’t going to help anyone if there is no energy or progression during a roll.
Worried about getting too close for comfort?
BJJ is a close contact sport, every female walking onto the mat knows this. If we weren’t understanding or comfortable with it, we wouldn’t do it. Body parts are flying everywhere sometimes it’s unavoidable and we understand.
Whenever I’ve had this in a roll my partner or I quickly apologize and we keep rolling. If it goes left unnoticed, we don’t mention it and we keep rolling. If I’m rolling with my friends and we get a bit too friendly we can laugh it off and keep rolling. You don’t need to make a big deal out of it, shit happens.
That being said, we can also tell when it wasn’t an accident. Forgive me if I am starting to sound like a broken record, but don’t be that guy.
Don’t be afraid to communicate, ladies I’m talking to you too!
Sometimes it is okay to avoid rolling with certain people. However, it can also be really beneficial if you are open to your partners and let them know where you are at. If you are unsure you can always talk to your coach as well, this is what they are here for.
Rolling with someone for the first time can be hard to find a good pace or intensity level. I’ve had some rolls turn scary when guys have gone too hard, too intense, too fast and strong with submissions and I’ve been injured as a result. Instead of avoiding these guys I approached them and said, next time when they go for a submission could they just put it on slowly. Ever since then our rolls are still hard but they are fun too.
I don’t expect people to go easy on me or hand things out because I am small or because I am a girl. I understand how tricky it is to find the balance. I’ve let guys know if they can amp it up as well. Some guys have also asked me if our rolls were too hard or if there were using too much strength. I appreciated that they were being considerate towards me and talking about it rather than not trying to trying too hard.
However, there is the occasional person that can’t dial it down and there is always the new white belt that might not realize how intense they are rolling. It is okay to decline a roll with this person especially if you want to avoid injury.
You don’t have anything to prove!
We all know to leave our ego at the door. But our ego always finds a way to slowly creep onto the mats. I’ve stated before that training is never about winning or losing. It doesn’t matter that you tapped someone or if they tap you. Try consider when you are rolling are you rolling with everyone the same. For the sake of this article, are you treating girls the same as you do the guys? Are you treating the female higher belts the same as female lower belts?
When I say treating I mean how you approach the roll. Are you intentionally go harder because you don’t want to get shown up by a girl? Do you feel you need to go harder because a girl is a higher rank? Are you choosing to roll with girls because you think they are ‘easier’? Do you get frustrated if a girl puts you in a bad position? Do you lose control in the roll and let your emotions get the best of you?
Can you tell I am trying to emphasis having awareness in a roll? If you notice yourself becoming more intense or worry that you are being too aggressive, make sure you know where it’s coming from. If you realize you are worried about a girl ‘beating’ you, then that’s okay. You have something to work through, this is what BJJ is all about. Even though it’s competitive it isn’t about winning or losing, it isn’t about who is the best, it’s about everyone getting better and improving.
What if I am a girl worried about rolling with guys?
BJJ is quite intimidating to start, if you’ve never done anything like it the idea of being so close to someone can be quite scary. Most academies offer girl classes, which is a great place to start. If you find a school that doesn’t have a class for girls, then talk to the instructor. Most instructors will be pair you up with someone who has more experience, someone more your size and someone you can train with safely.
BJJ is about pushing through your comfort zone and challenging yourself. As long as you can trust your partners and train safely you will be fine.
Nothing I have mentioned here is revolutionary or game changing but it’s an important topic to cover. I didn’t want to rely on my experiences alone when writing this article. I talked to my coach, friends and training partners, both male and female and we all came to the same conclusions. I obviously can’t speak for every girl in the BJJ community but hopefully I can encourage people to be a bit more mindful during training regardless of who you roll with. Now that’s all said and done, let’s roll and have some fun!
*Note: When I say don’t be that guy, I’m referring to men and women.
"I'm just a nerd who likes books, games and guillotines. Trying to figure things out and share my musings along the way."