There has been a great deal of discussion lately about the merits and value of rolling light/playfully and rolling hard. Proponents of playful rolling feel that it is better for Jiu Jitsu longevity and that it better allows people to enjoy their rolls. On the other side, hard rollers see rolling as a testing ground; they feel that iron sharpens iron and that the harder you push yourself while rolling the more productive that roll is. One concept that isn’t really discussed much is rolling hard while rolling playful.
I think that in order to maintain longevity in Jiu Jitsu a good policy is to tap early AND let go early. Too often we place importance on getting the tap, practice occasionally letting go of a submission right before the other guy is about to tap and immediately transition to the next available submission. Doing this will not only improve your ability to address a successful defense, but it also makes rolls go a bit smoother.
Another step that you can take is rolling in intervals of hard and soft rolling. What I mean is: start out lazy, let your partner establish a dominant position and even let them start working for a submission, then momentarily go balls to the wall and try to reverse that position. Once you accomplish reversal go back to being lazy, see what transitions or submissions you can find, be creative, and maybe even mess up just a little bit. As soon as your partner starts to capitalize on your intentional mistake, go back to your beast mode; try to reestablish your dominant position. Exercises like this will change how your muscles react to your own mistakes, and in a tournament your likelihood of succeeding in an uncontrolled flurry will greatly increase.
One thing I always tell myself and others is that any technique I can apply slowly is a deadly one. Sometimes, try to set up your techniques dead slow, telegraphing every movement. Give your training partner ample time to successfully defend; doing this will force your technique to be perfect, otherwise they’ll be able to defend against it. This will not be an ego-stroking exercise as you will frequently fail, but there is no better feeling than knowing that you don’t always need to exert yourself to successfully hit your favorite techniques.
All of these ideas engender both the principle of keeping it playful/friendly as well as rolling hard in order to improve and toughen up. Most important of all is to make sure you have a training partner who understands what you are doing and plays some of the same games. Instead of competing with your teammates, collaborate with them. This doesn’t have to be a gentle or “friendly” collaboration, but if you work closely with them, everybody benefits.