Rolling. Sparring.  Going live.  It’s what a lot of new students look forward to- live action!  But… it’s also what every new student is least prepared for.  Even after months of technique training, when you first begin to spar in BJJ its almost impossible to relax, especially when rolling with a more experienced partner.  It’s often compared to drowning.  100% maximum effort which leads to 0% progress, then you quickly exhaust and sink to the bottom, spent.

Here are a few of the key principles to keep in mind when you begin the transition into sparring in BJJ:

  1. Breathe.  It can’t be overstated… Focus on your breathing.  Notice it, pay attention to how it feels, adjust it.  If you are breathing fast and irregular, your movement will be inefficient and irregular as well.  Try to use your diaphram to breath (belly goes in and out, not chest going up and down).  Focus on the exhale, not the inhale.   If you breathing is calm and steady you’ll be much better able to conserve energy and last longer in each roll.
  2. Defend.  You’re not a defending ADCC champion, there’s nothing to prove.  The easiest way to defeat new students in sparring is to wait.  I wait for them to make a mistake and I use it.  If you are trying to attack and win from the first second, there WILL be holes, you WILL make mistakes, and you WILL loose as quickly as you try to win.  The key is to practice recognizing OPPORTUNITIES (whether you capitalize on them or not doesn’t matter) and do your best to avoid unforced errors.  Try to defend and avoid submission.  Your rolls end up being longer and you gain more experience with each one.
  3. Tap.  See #2 above regarding ADCC championship status.  Leave the ego at the door, and look for opportunities to learn.  That means if you get caught, tap.  Don’t think that you’re going to invent a brand new escape every time you get caught.  Tap, learn and move on.  If you have a good training partner, they are going to give you the opportunity to tap out.  When you land in a bad spot, try the correct escape if you know it.  If that doesn’t work, try something else you think might be helpful.  If that doesn’t work, tap then give it another go.  It’s like playing a video game with infinite lives!
  4. Redefine success.  You get caught in a triangle and you tap.  That can feel like failure.  UNLESS… you are focused on learning instead of winning.  Think of it this way.  You shoot a triangle and I try to defend.  You end up tapping me.  Maybe that’s because you have accumulated 500 reps of finishing the triangle.  And I only have 300 reps of defending the triangle.  It makes sense that I tapped if the odds were in your favor.  BUT, now I have 301 reps of defending the triangle.  So, if you get caught in triangles often,  try to let EVERYONE put you in a triangle, so you can accumulate those reps in defending.  Eventually you’ll be almost triangle proof, but you’ve gotta put in the reps. There are no short cuts.  “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried…”

It all comes down to experience, and experience is a function of time.  Spend time in uncomfortable situations and position.  Accumulate repetitions in defending, in attacking, in simply existing in a position.  The goal is to develop comfort in the chaos, to be able to see (and eventually take advantage of) opportunities that are so hard to see when you are rushing and in panic mode.  If you want to gain a higher level of comfort in sparring, the key is to steer into it and spend more time sparring with the right mindset and goals.

Happy rolling!

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