If you walk into a jiu-jitsu gym, who are the most dangerous people in the room? The upper belts, of course. The higher you get on the food chain, the more dangerous you become, but I’ve noticed as time has progressed that, if anything, the better someone is at jiu-jitsu the SAFER they are to train with.
When I first got back into jiu-jitsu, I had the ability to submit most of my white and blue belt training partners. As I improved through white to blue, that trend extended, and as a purple belt, I can at least hang with the vast majority of people I encounter on the mat regardless of rank.
As I started developing submissions, I noticed a trend of not necessarily having full control. It’s like the anecdote of baby venomous snakes being more dangerous than adults because they inject all of their venom with any bite they deliver. I had a handful of mishaps where training partners didn’t tap either out of pride or out of lack of awareness. I’m not sure if this is a trend for other practitioners, but I’ve experienced and witnessed it in others. I started to get a handle on what I was doing, but I didn’t know when I’d actually caught the other person, and relied on them to recognize the danger they were in.
I’ve seen more injuries occur between white and blue belts rolling than between purple, brown, and black belts. Of course, accidents happen. We are doing a combat sport, but the more experienced someone is, the better they are able to recognize both when they are caught as well as when their training partner is caught. I’m at a point where I don’t fully apply most submissions while training. If I think I’ve got the other person caught dead to rights I’ll release it. Sometimes people get annoyed that I released prematurely, they didn’t tap, but I’d rather they be safe and annoyed, than injured and more annoyed.
None of this is to say that you aren’t responsible for your own safety on the mat. If your training partner catches you, tap early and tap often. The fact is that as we get better it becomes at least somewhat our duty to protect those with whom we train.
The more talented someone is at grappling, the better control they have over their submissions. Now, when I catch a training partner in an armbar, I don’t have to put pressure on their elbow joint. I can gradually and systematically control the position and take their defensive options away from them. They’ll tap, but they are unlikely to suffer wear and tear to their elbow. Similarly, many leg locks I catch in training aren’t resolved by me applying the lock, but rather I catch the lock, make eye contact and say, “Hey, I think I’ve got this.”
Completely outside of the spazzy new white belt phase, beginners can be more hazardous to train with because they are unpredictable. When I roll with someone for the very first time, I often ask them explicitly not to hurt me. Sometimes in training, I’ll give people submissions so I can try to work my escapes. I feel safer doing this with high level blue and purple belts than white belts because many white belts will get so excited at the prospect of catching me that they will throw their weight behind the submission.
Of course, one should be prepared for all different kinds of rolling styles. I’ve had the opportunity to train with black belt world champions who felt way spazzier than even the spazziest beginners, and I’ve seen beginners come in with better positional understanding and control than far more advanced players. However, at the end of the day, the trend remains that the more “dangerous” you are, the safe you are to roll with.