We see it all the time: the more skilled grapplers in any given room wind up either having to ask people to roll or wind up not having anyone to roll with. There’s a certain degree of fear and uncertainty when it comes to approaching a more experienced and skilled grappler, but if your gym’s culture is one that allows lower belts to approach higher belts, you should make a point of seeking those scarier grapplers out.
I had a personal revelation the other day. I made an offhanded joke to one of my team’s white belts that they had been ducking me. I haven’t rolled with this individual in a few months, and his reply was that he felt that I didn’t get anything out of rolling with him.
The truth is that I get something different out of every roll. If I am rolling with someone of a much lower grappling caliber, I have an opportunity to play with techniques I don’t normally use. I have an opportunity to roll slower and more methodically than I would with someone who poses a legitimate threat to me on the mat.
If you only roll with people around your skill level, you’re missing out on some of the benefits that training can offer. More experienced grapplers will often give you valuable feedback that you wouldn’t get otherwise. They tend to do things better than you, and the things they tend to do tend to be the right things. In short, when rolling with someone with more experience, you get a glimpse at the goals you should be setting.
As one of the more experienced people at my gym, my biggest fear when rolling with someone newer than me isn’t the lack of challenge that they offer me; rather, it’s the fear that they may spazz out and hurt me. Very often, lower level practitioners are so desperate to succeed in a roll against higher level practitioners that they throw caution to the wind and become reckless. This recklessness can be dangerous for both people.
When rolling with someone of higher rank, match their energy. When you engage, try your best to engage as though you are diffusing a bomb. You must make contact to do so, and the contact you make must be decidedly smooth and calm. If you try to rip them apart, there’s a good chance that you’re going to wind up on the short end of that transaction.
Don’t be afraid to communicate. Yesterday when rolling with my coach, he caught me in a submission that I hadn’t seen before. After tapping, I asked him plainly if he thinks I could have used an explosive movement to escape the submission. Not knowing the answer, we recreated the situation and I tried to use a bit more force. Initially it worked but my explosion actually set him in a better position rendering the exact same outcome. Had I merely tried to use explosive movement in the first place we would have never had that kind of discourse.
Try to diffuse high level submissions using high level technique. If you don’t have high level technique, slow down and figure out what you need to do rather than risk injuring yourself or your training partner and missing out on the details you can glean from the situation.
Rolling with higher level practitioners is tough, but is ultimately a great way for us to grow as grapplers.