Jiu-jitsu may favor technique over strength, but when you’re a sparkly new white belt and don’t have any techniques to work with, strength becomes your default tool. As a result, many of us have experienced (and possibly even been) that newbie who tries to muscle his way into and out of everything, possibly hurting his training partner in the process.
Obviously, from a more experienced point of view, we can see how dangerous this can be, especially if the new guy is paired up with another new guy who might not know how to defend himself. But even though it’s frustrating to have to roll with someone who will gladly rip your arm out of its socket if it means they don’t get “embarrassed” in front of everyone, knowing how to deal with them is crucial to improving your jiu-jitsu.
Unfortunately— or perhaps fortunately— I have a lot of experience dealing with killer white belts. As someone who is 5’2″ and about 125 lbs, I’m smaller than almost everyone I roll with. I’m also “just” a blue belt, so my technique isn’t so great that I can go in and dominate everyone regardless of how big or strong they are. As a result, my defensive game is pretty strong.
My coaches (with my OK, of course) will often put new guys up against me for their first roll to show them that all the strength in the world can only do so much if the other person knows how to wait things out until they get tired or make a wrong move. Being as I started jiu-jitsu with self-defense in mind, I’m grateful for that experience, but even if you’re just doing jiu-jitsu for other reasons, it’s still important for your safety – and your teammates’ safety- to be able to handle the egomaniac meatheads on the mat.
The first thing you need to work on is your guard game, even if you’re the world’s greatest passer. Obviously it’s best to be able to be on top of a person who might injure you, but you need to be prepared to end up on the bottom, too, especially if the person in question can out-muscle you, and especially if you’re on the smaller side.
Someone who is stuck in your closed guard or can’t pass your open guard is going to tire out long before you do if you have a solid bottom game. I hate to be that person who keeps someone in guard for the entirety of a roll, but when my goal is to not get injured by someone who can literally throw me and doesn’t know how to protect their teammates while rolling, my safety is going to take precedence over style.
As an added bonus, the new guy is going to quickly see that using up all their energy in one go is a bad idea. Once the roll is over (or during the roll, if your professor gives you permission), you can also use this as a teaching opportunity to show them a better way to pass guard without using all their strength trying to push or elbow their way out of it.
Even though I’m not a fan of beating up on the newbies, it sometimes helps trim their ego down if you can submit them. Some coaches will tell you that you should always go easy on the newer guys so they don’t get discouraged. While I’m no coach, I once again have to emphasize that my safety is the most important thing when I roll, especially with someone who is big and strong enough to hurt me. If I need to guillotine someone because they’re trying to injure me into a submission, I’m going to do it.
Getting tapped for the first time is a humbling experience for anyone, but especially for the person who thinks that their strength has made them invincible. It helps them realize that they’ll be better off keeping an open mind and listening to the people who want to help them improve their technique. If tapping out is embarrassing enough that they leave, they’re probably not cut out for BJJ anyway.
Teaching the new guy a basic submission or two is also a great way to get him to back off on using all his strength. I’m a big fan of showing new white belts the Americana if they have no idea what to do. It’s simple, easy to remember, and gives them a possible answer to the question, “Now what?” after they learn to pass guard and end up on top of you. A lot of strong newbies get so aggressive because they have no idea what to do with themselves, so putting a goal in their mind (Step one: Pass guard. Step two: Establish side control. Step three: Americana.) forces them to think about their next move and helps their body slow down a bit. Once they have a submission option and are able to work towards it, they’re much less likely to be yanking on random limbs and trying to submit you by smashing their forearm into your face.
If you genuinely think that anyone in your class is going to hurt you, don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s totally fine to stop the roll and remind them that you guys are teammates and that hurting each other is the exact opposite of what you want to be doing.
It’s also okay to tell your professor that you’re worried about getting injured and request to roll with someone else. It doesn’t make you a wimp or a quitter. It’s putting your safety before your ego, which is a huge part of jiu-jitsu in the first place.
Furthermore, there is no shame in tapping to someone who’s using all their strength to try to make you give up. Yes, it’s a bit annoying knowing that their ability to beat a higher level BJJ fighter is probably only feeding their ego, but it’s also a good lesson for them to know that even the more experienced students are fine with tapping out rather than getting hurt.
Ideally, the new people in your gym will have learned at least a couple of techniques before they slap-and-bump for their first live roll. They will also hopefully know the importance of protecting their teammates.
But if your gym has students roll on their first day, your partner doesn’t know how to handle his or her own strength, or you simply end up with someone who wants to win at any cost, you need to know how to deal with them. Not only will taking control of the roll keep you safe, but it will also help teach the new guy how to be a better training partner. This will help them along their journey and protect your other teammates who will eventually have to go up against him.
Once upon a time, we were all reckless beginners who wanted to win, but didn’t know how. If you can help teach the new generation of jiujiteiros how to roll safely while still protecting yourself, you’re going to be instrumental in helping to create the sport’s future black belts.