What’s it like to roll with you?

When we first start bjj, everyone tends to fall into one of a few simple categories based on our instincts. Some people drive forward, others turn away, a very few will approach with caution. After an unspecified amount of training, we become more aware of the patterns we encounter and our responses to these puzzles. The way we roll becomes an expression of our personality. Some people enjoy being athletic and active, others like to sit back and guide you into a maze. Sometimes the same person will have a different game for different opponents, others will do the exact same thing to everyone in the room. 

Over time, we grow a unique series of stories about memorable rolls. My favorite was the roll that sold me on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Until that point, I had been training for the purpose of MMA. I hadn’t seen much variance of approach yet.

One day, I met a large muscular blue belt who I expected to be an extremely athletic roll. After mentally preparing myself for the fight of my life (it’s a gym roll, I really needed to calm down) and I threw everything I had at him. He calmly rolled out of every attack and positional control that I knew using no force at all. Then, he wristlocked me. The thing that fascinated me the most was that he handled me easily without trying to hurt me or using any type of pain compliance. I was sold, and tried to copy that specific style for many years. But I was equally impressed by the pressure passers and the concepts that emerge when you multiply strength with good leverage. To get a tap with positional pressure is also a fascinating study. These concepts can be difficult to balance when building a game. Another source of inspiration came from other martial arts. I was oddly inspired by Anderson Silva and Floyd Mayweather. The description Andre Berto made of their fight instantly gave me new goals in both training and competition. 

He’s a boxer and a storyteller.

It’s both fun and informative to ask an upper belt what it’s like to roll or compete with a specific individual. I remember asking a purple belt world champion what it was like to roll with his instructor. “I don’t roll with him!! He doesn’t let me do anything!” That’s a response I would never have guessed.

These are a few of my favorite brief descriptions of rolling with different black belts that stuck with me over the years. Some people are famous, and others are just interesting to me. 

Every single finger and toe had a purpose. There was no wasted effort, everything was moving towards the end goal. 

It was like rolling with a machine. 

It was like rolling with an empty jacket. 

He took away my grips, and they were never available again. 

Everything hurt. His grips hurt, his pressure hurt, everything he did was painful. 

Everything was a trap. 

I could tell that he had worked with his hands for a living. 

He disappeared. I didn’t see where he went. 

Everything I did was wrong.

It’s like he could read my mind. 

These types of descriptions can serve as an inspiration for how we want to develop ourselves, or to guide us away from what we don’t want to do. This is an art, so no answer is absolutely right or wrong. Enjoy your training!

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