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BJJ Etiquette and the Right Way to Spar

Hi everyone, it’s Bruno here! In this month’s blog, we’re deep diving into all the common practices and (sometimes) unspoken rules inside a jiu jitsu gym. Every gym is different, but for SJJA, I’ve added below what I hope will be a helpful guide on all of the rules and best practices for our gym, including: the things you should and shouldn’t do on the mats, food for thought when choosing your training partners, and the right way to roll with other students to keep each other safe. I hope you find this helpful.

choosing your partner:

When your coach offers you the chance to choose your own partner, there may be several things that you want to consider (or even consider what your potential training partners might be considering). Everything from belt, age, weight, gender, culture, and competitive level or training goals are things to consider when choosing your training partners.

It is important to keep in mind that not every member of our gym is here for the same reason. While some are active competitors who train to prepare for national or international tournaments, for others, this is just a hobby, and they might be here to get a bit of exercise in or wind down after a long day at work. Some are recovering from existing injuries and need to roll carefully, some may also be more prone to injury than others due to their age, and for others, perhaps it’s simply that their version of 100% doesn’t match your version of 100%. Whilst this can often be solved with a polite conversation before rolling, if a gym member is having a more relaxed session and you are preparing for worlds, consider looking for other partners whose training goals are more in line with yours.

Another clear example here may be personal or cultural elements that don’t apply to you, but may be important to others. If someone politely declines your offer to roll, don’t take it personally – simply find another training partner. 

On the other hand, if you have some concerns or special requirements for training partners yourself, please voice them with the instructor before class, and they will be sure to help partner you with someone more appropriate for you.

It’s also really important for men to understand the nuances around rolling with women and kids. Many women are not comfortable with rolling with the opposite sex. This can be for a myriad of reasons (perhaps they had a bad experience in their personal life, or a bad experience on the mats in the past and consequently, they don’t trust rolling with other men). Again, if a female politely declines your offer to roll, don’t take it personally – simply find another training partner. 

before your roll commences:

When you greet one another, find a spot on the mat, and get ready to shake hands, have a quick conversation about any concerns you might have for the roll. If you have an injury or a sore spot that is still recovering, please make sure your training partner knows about it before rolling. 
You might also want to make sure you clear that your partner is okay with practicing or incorporating any particular manoeuvres that are riskier moves. You should also typically stick to the rules associated with belt levels (especially if uneven with your partner), unless you are very conscious of your decisions, have had a conversation with your partner, and are ideally being supervised by your coach. A good example is to not risk injuries with moves that are illegal by IBJJF standards at you or your partner’s level. It is not cool to wrist lock a white belt, or to kneebar or heel hook a white, blue or purple belt who has never learnt how the submission works, or how to effectively defend it. Always have a conversation first and get their consent before practicing any risky moves. If the person doesn’t want you to train those high risk moves on them, acknowledge and respect their decision, and take this opportunity to practice your other techniques (especially the fundamentals!).

during the roll:

It is important you never take the fight further than it needs to go in the middle of the roll. Keep any conversations that you had prior to the roll at the top of mind, like if your partner voiced concerns about a recovering injury or any concerns with particular maneuvers and submissions (bad knees and complex leg locks are a good example).

Not letting things get out of hand also goes for your attitude and ego. Don’t let it get the best of you when sparring with someone under any circumstances. Jiu Jitsu is a combat sport, but typically not one that revolves around aggression and anger – it is methodical and very controlled when performed at its best. Keep control of your temper and never take it personally or react in anger when someone catches you out with a good move on the mats – no matter who they are or what level you are at. 

rolling with women or kids:

If you’re rolling with women or kids, I want you to really become more aware of and monitor the way you roll with them: I see a lot of male egos run wild the second the female sweeps or mounts the male – all of sudden, he will throw all of his technique out the window and use nothing but brute force and strength to overpower her and try to recover his position. Consequently, his very poor technique combined with an explosive movement means he often ends up injuring her. At SJJA, this is not the forum for proving you’re stronger than a female or child, so wind back your physical strength, leave your ego at the door, and be sure to take care of your female training partners and the kids. 

One other thing I’d like to add is: rolling with females is actually the perfect opportunity to fine tune and perfect your technique. When you wind back all of your strength to something between 0%-10% during sparring, you’re forced to rely on your technique alone, and the more you practise perfecting your technique, the better quality your jiu jitsu game becomes. So next time you’re choosing your sparring partner and really want to work on perfecting your techniques, consider choosing one of the ladies for your next roll!

at the end of your roll:

Always thank your partner for their time and be polite. You might also want to debrief quickly about anything that happened in the roll. If there was something your partner did well, let them know! And if there was something you could learn from them, don’t be shy to ask them for a tip or two! The more questions you ask each other, the more you learn, the better your jiu jitsu game will become.  

Sydney Jiu Jitsu Academy SJJA
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