When it comes to live training we have a few choices to make. How skilled of a partner do I want? How big? How strong? We have different lessons to learn from all of these people, and a variety of training partners will prove very useful in the long run. I like to categorize my rolls in three categories: Winning rolls, losing rolls, and competitive rolls. Not to say that winning or losing are important factors in training, but simply a way of categorizing the nature of that round of sparring. With a given partner we are likely to consistently catch more subs or score more points, consistently get subbed or scored on, or it could go either way. Chances are if you’ve trained with someone for even just a few weeks you have some prediction as to how the roll might go. Let’s talk about what we might get from each of these different rolls.
A winning roll is any roll against someone that we can realistically expect to outscore or catch more subs than our partner. This type of roll is likely against a smaller or less skilled partner. The benefits of a winning roll do not lie in feeling good about yourself or showing off your coolest jiu-jitsu. This is a time where you are generally in control, and you get to test new techniques and strategies without so much pressure. This is where we expand our jiu-jitsu vocabulary. You are going to get realistic and resisted responses for anything you do but the responses may be a little slower, or your partner may not be as strong or fast as you. This takes the pressure off of you to an extent. It allows you to use a level of control you may not normally be able to use, and create loftier goals for yourselves. I may make a point to allow my partner to recover guard and rep my passing, or not allow myself to use my favorite submission, or roll with only a fraction of my strength. All these things will accelerate technical growth. The caveat is that we must create parameters for ourselves in a winning roll or we will not get better for it. If I just use my A-game and smash, I am not challenging myself. I need to create technical challenges for myself. All the while, I must understand that my partner is having a very different kind of roll, and I want to create a productive losing situation for them.
A losing roll is an incredibly productive part of jiu-jitsu if we don’t allow it to damage our ego. Fact of the matter is that with a helpful partner, losing is the fastest route to getting better. When I roll against someone who is going to get the better of me consistently, it becomes clear as day where I’ve made mistakes. Every position they gain, point they score, or submission they catch stems from something I could have done better. Simply rewinding the mental tape a bit, or better yet, filming and reviewing these rolls can tell me where my partner got the better of me. When an issue is recognized, It is likely an area I will want to isolate and drill, or bring to the forefront next time I am on the winning end of a roll. A good partner will also point out to me where something more could have been done. Ask your partner questions when you get scored on or subbed, and be specific. One strategy should only work for the winning party so many times before a defense/counter is developed in your game. If you aren’t adapting to what you know is working on you, that is on you. That’s ignoring a hole in your game.
A competitive roll should be your toughest type of roll. Even though you may come out on top by a small margin, you should have worked harder to accomplish that than you would in a typical winning round. A competitive round has two main benefits. It’s going to challenge your conditioning, and it’s going to pressurize and force you to refine your game heavily. You will see a little more of the strategic side of jiu-jitsu, as in, you will need to think more about which techniques to apply, rather than if your are applying the techniques correctly or not. All the while, pacing will be a big factor. We must assume that this roll is against a partner of similar size and skill, or there is some balance between the offset in size and skill, that levels things out. With other things in balance these rolls can come down just to who’s ready to work harder at that moment. These rolls are a test. They will most closely simulate competition rolls, which is absolutely critical if you plan to compete. The frequency of competitive rolls should increase in preparation for tournaments. Despite being the most challenging and realistic, I would not necessarily say they are the most beneficial.
Application of Different Rolls
Looking at these different types of rolls, we need to decide on which ones we want and when. As stated before, competitive rolls are absolutely necessary for competitors. These rolls also can be a lot of fun, as the level of challenge will force you to really push, and winning or scoring by a narrow margin are always the most satisfying. These rolls are the biggest physical challenge as well, which for some is the best part of training. A winning roll is a great way to polish our technique, and expand into some moves we may not be using as is. Likely the least physically demanding, and best used when we are feeling a little beat up and when we have no plans to compete in the near future. Losing rolls, I believe accelerate our game the fastest. We can always learn from someone with a greater skill set than ours. Our mistakes are excellent teachers and we should seek them out every chance we get. I believe getting beat is good for us most of the time, as long as our body can handle it. So lose in training a little every day if you can, and pick a heavier balance of competitive rolls when tournaments are coming up, and win a little more when you’re a little further out, or need to recover a little. Start thinking about what type of rolls you’re getting, what you need, and how you’ll make the most of them.