If you’re a white or blue belt, you will more often be the proverbial “nail” rather than the “hammer.”
Is your best strategy to give it all you’ve got to show your skills? Do you roll at high intensity to show that you are ready for that next stripe or belt? Do you try to survive as long as possible without tapping?
I struggled with this as recently as brown belt. I wanted to show my instructor that I was worthy of the brown belt he has given me. So when I rolled with my instructor I would bring a high level of intensity, which usually ended up with me getting dominated and completely gassed before the end of the round.
By going hard I might prolong the inevitable tap — which was sure to come anyway — but I was muscling and expending a lot of energy. Then I could barely finish the round and could be easily tapped a few more times in the last two minutes because I was so exhausted.
In a conversation on the mat, my instructor related how one of the purple belts in our academy would really come after him with different tricky moves that he had no doubt studied from YouTube.
He shook his head, “Don’t just try to beat me as your goal. I have a lot of experience and can shut my opponent down completely. Just try to move and work your techniques.”
I thought to myself, “Hey, I do that!” I was trying to go hard to prove something and it was only resulting in me gassing out. Uuggghh!!!
After reflecting on it for a while I resolved to roll differently with my instructor.
My new approach was to just try to do my techniques. Even if I started to lose position or was threatened by a submission, I had to reset mentally and not expend so much energy. I had to look for the best technical solution for the situation and try to apply it.
This was the exact same advice I often dispensed to white belts in the Fundamentals class!
Rolling was much more productive from a learning standpoint when I was forcing myself to always use technique instead of focusing on survival. I wasn’t having epic gas outs like before. I was thinking more clearly in bad situations.
This new habit served me well on my training trip to Rio de Janeiro, where the black belts were more than capable of dominating positions. I was able to get something out of the rolling rather than survival and fatigue.
It is natural and tempting to try to measure your progress by seeing if you can survive a round by tightening up and being completely defensive or losing a position by exploding out of something.
But is that a true metric for measuring the value of a training session? What would Helio Gracie say?
What you should be asking is: were you able to recall and apply your techniques and learn anything?