Jiu-jitsu is as much of a team sport as it is an individual sport. The camaraderie we share on the mats is vital to our success when pursuing our personal goals, and we tend to realize this more and more as we accumulate time and experience in the sport. One thing that many newcomers struggle with, however, is a feeling of guilt, believing that they can’t help their more advanced teammates in the same way that higher belts guide and push them.
It’s an understandable feeling, especially as newer white belts get more comfortable rolling and drilling techniques, but understand that their more advanced partners are definitely going easy on them. Jiu-jitsu is a sport that requires you to give as much as you take, and when you feel like the purple belt you’re rolling with is doing all the giving while you’re doing all the taking, you can kind of feel like a charity case. But seriously, if you’re in that position, stop worrying so much. Every upper belt that’s helping you out was once in your place.
A lot of the giving and taking that happens in jiu-jitsu occurs over time rather than in the same class. The blue belt who’s helping you finesse your armbar technique was once the white belt who couldn’t figure out why everyone was escaping her own armbars so easily. Now, a year or two down the road, she’s paying it forward, and I guarantee she’s happy to finally know enough to pass on what she’s learned.
Don’t feel bad about not being an “equal” rolling partner for your more advanced teammates either. When the experience disparity is enough that you’re not a true challenge for your partner, they should know enough to be able to either practice their weaker techniques with you to provide their own challenge, or match their level of intensity to yours. None of your teammates are going to be at the exact same level, and most of them are going to be doing various amounts of giving and taking depending on who they’re paired with. Just because you’re still struggling to remember how to do an omoplata doesn’t mean you’re not a worthwhile rolling partner.
One day, you’re going to surprise yourself with how much you know when someone even newer than you comes in and you can help them out with the techniques that once left you stumped. You’ll roll with them, and they’ll clumsily fumble for a guard pass while you let them work before helping them out where they’re struggling. Then once the round is over, you’ll move on and surprise yourself with how much you don’t know when your brown belt teammate plays with you like a rag doll. It’s all part of the equilibrium of jiu-jitsu, and one day, you’ll be able to give back enough to balance out how much you took in the beginning.
For now, though, stop worrying. Seriously. Everyone in that room has been where you are now, and they remember how hard it is to be thrown into the deep end before you know how to swim. Both in drilling and live rolling, you’re not holding anyone back by trying your hardest. You should suck at jiu-jitsu right now. Embrace it and then reflect on it years down the road when the newest white belt keeps apologizing after kneeing you in the head for the fifth time.