When should brand new students first start to roll?
Many will pipe up and say “Just jump in there, bro! I rolled my first day!” Rolling the first day and getting tapped out six days from Sunday while having no idea how it happened is not the most encouraging introduction for most students. Academies with a curriculum will not get a student to roll until they have completed the Fundamentals course.
When a complete beginners come into BJJ class, they have little idea about all of the positions on the ground. Often, they do not recognize the difference between the mount and the guard (a critical difference!).
The basic ground positions in BJJ may be divided up into the Positional Hierarchy:
Knee on Belly
Guard Top / Guard Bottom
Turtle Top / Turtle Bottom
Half Guard Bottom
Side control Bottom
Knee on Belly Bottom
Rear mount Bottom
Unless students have had at least a class or two in all of those positions, they are ill-equipped for productive rolling.
If you do not have any technique solution when caught in a specific position, what do you do? You rely on what you have: athleticism, survival instinct, and spazzing out. But this is not very productive from a learning perspective.
I once visited a BJJ school where there were a handful of new students trying out the class. The blue belt running the class was convinced that if the more experienced students really tapped out the new guys as hard and fast as possible, those prospective students would be convinced of the effectiveness of BJJ (and how bad ass their gym was!) and sign up immediately!
I observed the new guys being completely overwhelmed and tapped out hard. I doubt any of the exhausted, sore, and discouraged new guys ever returned.
Gracie Barra for example, starts new students doing positional training to get them started rolling in a limited fashion. If you learned guard passing today, there will be a specific training drill where you try to pass and defend the guard with a clear objective for the drill. New students then have an opportunity to apply the techniques they just leaned in class in a live situation.
Free rolling would be chaos to students lacking any idea of what they should do in unfamiliar positions. But positional sparring is a great first step to build their techniques.
A good question to ask before a new student starts to roll is, “Do you have at least one solid technique from each of the positions in the positional hierarchy?”
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