I’ve been taking requests lately and one of my teammates, Brad, asked me to explore some of my thoughts on rolling with older practitioners. Brad is in his mid 50s and competes occasionally; he also has various joint problems from a lifetime of martial arts training (including a purple belt in BJJ.)
I roll with Brad fairly frequently. I am young enough to be one of Brads kids, and probably have about 5-10 pounds on him. When we roll it is not the same level of intensity as when I roll with someone younger, but still we have competitive rolls. Perhaps the most important thing for me is to have both me and Brad get something out of the roll while at the same time avoiding injuring him.
First and foremost I want to point out that I think that every single training partner should be treated as an individual. Many of these rules apply to everyone I roll with, but some of them apply specifically to older practitioners. There are some old guys who can absolutely demolish me, and then there are ones who have paid a bit more for their training throughout the years. The most important thing to remember is to respect all training partners and establish the best rolling procedures for them before beginning the roll.
Anytime I start a roll out with an older practitioner (by older Id say 45 and up) I check if they are currently nursing any injuries. Very often these people who have embarked upon the Jiu Jitsu journey a bit later than most feel that by telling their training partners about injuries, they are somehow making premeditated excuses. I on the other hand think it is good courtesy on both peoples part. The last thing I want to do is hurt one of my teammates. I have nothing to gain or prove by tapping out someone 20 years older than me and I would feel terrible if I accidentally hurt them.
Once I have determined what if any injuries my older training partner is nursing (and believe me they more often than not are), I determine what sort of game Ill play that day. One of my older training partners has bad joints all around, so I try to strictly choke him, another I try to secure submissions on very slowly and carefully to give him ample time to tap. By doing this I develop better technique in focused areas and my older training partners develop better defenses to these techniques.
Throughout the roll I like to communicate and make sure that the other person is comfortable with the pace I am taking. Again, these are people who dont want to come off as weak or whiny so they wont necessarily tell me if I am going at an unacceptable pace. I tend to get carried away when I roll, so stopping occasionally and asking if they want me to change anything about what Im doing is a good way to go.
Similar to rolling with physically smaller practitioners, when one of my older training partners secures a submission, I do not try to use athleticism to escape it, after all chances are Ill hurt myself or them. In a tournament I may try to explode out of a given submission or really put my weight behind my submission attempts in order to maximize their effect, when rolling with people smaller or older than me I try to avoid doing this. It effectively sharpens my technique and gives them a chance to work without fearing injury.
By taking these steps I ensure that my older training partners feel safe rolling with me. This winds up being mutually beneficial because people like Brad have extensive experience and can give me insights that younger guys cant. I always learn when I roll with my older teammates and I feel that some of the training I get in with them is as good as or better than the training I do with some of my younger teammates.
Emil Fischer is an active blue belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training with Strong Style Brasa and is sponsored by Pony Club Grappling Gear and Cruz Combat. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj and www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer