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Don’t Fear The Reaper


Disclaimer: Before any of you get to excited, there will be no cow bell in this article. As is typical, it can take a while before I post new content on this blog. It’s not because I’m lazy (although I can be) , life sometimes gets in the way, but most of the time I’m just waiting for something to inspire me. Well, I’ve been inspired the past few weeks and I want to discuss…..drum roll please……sparring with upper belts.

Now that summer is here, our school has seen a lot of new faces walk through the door. Many of them are college students who are on break and finally have the time to train. Some of them have had previous experience in Jiu Jitsu but have only trained sporadically, and some are brand new.  The influx of new students means more training partners for everyone which is a good thing, but I’ve noticed a handful of them avoiding higher ranked belts like the plague when it comes time to spar. While this type of avoidance is pretty common until a student gains more knowledge and confidence, many don’t realize that they may actually be holding themselves back from a fast track to that knowledge and confidence!

A few weeks ago during sparring, I asked a white belt I hadn’t met before if he’d like to roll. Much to my surprise, he looked around the room and nervously said “I think I should find someone more my skill level.” I was a bit surprised by this response. Usually guys say they need to sit out a round to rest or complain of an injury to avoid the upper belts. Although I appreciated his honesty and completely understood his hesitation, I knew I had to help him see why this way of thinking was backwards.

I started by joking with him a little bit, I said “nope, you’re stuck with me now.” He let out a nervous grin and I asked him how long he’d been training. He told me he’d been training a few weeks. I said “you’re here to learn Jiu Jitsu right?”, “yeah” he said. “Well you know what’s going to happen if you go and train with another new guy? You two are going to fight. You will not be doing Jiu Jitsu because both of you do not know Jiu Jitsu yet.” He looked a little confused and I continued “look, it’s not my goal or the goal of the other guys in here to smash you and beat you up, we’re here to help you learn by pointing out mistakes you’re making and let you move and feel what it’s all about.” He looked more relaxed and it was time to shake hands and roll.

During our five minute sparring session I did not submit him. I did not crush him with pressure. I did not try and show him how much better I was than him. I simply let him move and flowed with his pace. When he needed to move his hips I pointed it out to him. When he needed to bridge and roll to escape the mount, I gave him the opportunity to do so. After our roll I said “see, that wasn’t so bad was it?”, “No” he said. “And you learned about moving your hips and escaping the mount”, “yeah” he said “thanks.” There was no need preach, he got the message and I was happy to help him as many have, and continue to help me.

Rolling with higher ranked students can be a daunting task at times. It’s normal to feel nervous or embarrassed because let’s face it…you’re about to get manhandled. But do know that we’ve all been there and it should be the goal of the higher ranked student to foster your growth and help you along the way so that they have good training partners in the future. If your experience so far with higher belts is only that they beat the crap out of you and send you home, you may want to check out some other gyms. There will always be a few guys with ego problems that have to show the new guy how tough they are by smashing them, but you will find out who they are pretty quickly and maybe those are the few that you do avoid for now.

I also want to point out that I’m not saying you shouldn’t train with other beginner students. There is certainly some benefit to figuring things out on your own and testing what you’ve learned on people with similar skill levels. But at the end of the day, I feel that training with more advanced students will fast track your progress in Jiu Jitsu and here’s a few reasons why:

  • Upper belts tend to have less ego and will generally let you “work” things that you’ve learned because they already know what you are going to do and have an answer for it.
  • Your chance of injury decreases significantly because upper belts have more body awareness and know when to let go of submissions and also know how far they can take them.
  • Upper belts have already been through many battles and will be able to point out things you are or aren’t doing allowing you to get instant feedback on how to improve.
  • Upper belts are also generally great sounding boards so ask them questions!
  • Lastly, as a white belt, you are not expected to beat a blue belt, a purple belt, a brown belt or a black belt! Enjoy this time because there is no pressure on you yet. Your goal right now is to survive and make the upper belts work harder and harder to defeat you (makes me kinda wish I was a white belt again!)

So……next time a higher ranked student asks you to roll, what are you going to say?

 

 

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