So you’ve finally been given the signal from your BJJ instructor to start sparring. It’s a scary thought, being fed to the “sharks”, the higher belts. For someone who isn’t used to sparring, especially with higher ranked students, doing so could feel intimidating. Worry not, higher belts are friendlier than you think. In fact, despite what you may believe, they’re there to learn – not to destroy poor white belts.
When your instructor says it’s time for rolling, instead of shrinking behind the line every time a higher belt approaches you to spar, here are a few things you should remember:
Everyone is there to learn
BJJ, or any martial art for that matter, is a continuous learning journey. There are hundreds, if not thousands of variations of many techniques that no black belt or World Champion can say they’ve fully mastered. Even BJJ black belts who have trained for 10 years or more admit that there is still a lot for them to learn. Thus, when it comes to rolling time, don’t think that the reason why a black belt, or a higher belt, would want to roll with you is because they want to take advantage of your lack of technique. They’re probably just looking to work on the holes in their game or fine-tune a technique or two.
Respect the belt
A higher belt, even if he/she is just a blue belt, has spent more time training than you. They’ve put in the time and effort to get to where they are, and that deserves some respect. Not everyone has the willpower and patience to train 3x a week or more for several years!
Practice your defense
Instead of thinking “Oh no, I’m going to get tapped out 342334 times by this purple belt”, focus on working on your defense. If you’re rolling with a much higher belt, you’ll probably find yourself on the defending end most of the spar. Use this to your advantage! If you find your guard getting passed, work on your guard recovery. If you’re caught in side mount and are about to get submitted, work on escaping and blocking the submission. Think about how you got caught in the bad position you’re in and how you can get out of it or prevent it the next time you roll. If that doesn’t work, move on to #4.
Learn from the roll
If you feel completely lost, or feel like you keep on getting caught by the same techniques, don’t hesitate to ask the higher belt what went wrong after your spar. Because of his/her wealth of experience, he/she will be able to tell you how to fix your techniques and what to work on. You can also ask them how they do certain techniques and how you can stop them.
Don’t give up
Just because you’re less experienced, it doesn’t mean that you should let the higher belt do whatever techniques he/she wants. You need to try and fight too! Even if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, try to recall the techniques you’ve learned in class and attempt them during the spar. As we mentioned, take this opportunity to work on your defenses and escapes, and also treat it as a learning experience.
There is plenty to gain for both white belts and higher belts when they spar against each other. For higher belts, sparring with a lower belt could be a chance to work on his/her technique, and for lower belts, sparring with a higher belt shows one how to see what he/she lacks in terms of technical ability. So white belts, next time a higher belt asks you to spar, don’t be afraid! Go on and bump that fist – you got this!