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BJJ - Rolling With Less Skilled Students

Two stripe white belt here. I’ve spent the last year training pretty consistently and rolling hard. I’ve been lucky enough to have done most of my sparring with purple belts and higher, getting smashed on a regular basis.

I’ve been getting more chances to roll with white belts lately, and it sort of feels like I fell out of a meat grinder and I’m all of a sudden able to just tool on new guys.

It’s a great feeling for sure but I’m starting this thread to hear the perspective of upper belts on how to make rolling with less skilled students a mutually productive exercise.

I’ve been working on shelving my attributes, working techniques and making a goal for each roll. Get a sweep, escape side control, land a sub from mount, etc.

What I don’t want to do is be patronizing by going too easy on people to my own training detriment. I felt like I might have even disrespected a guy last week by going too easy. I lowered him to the mat after an ankle pick instead of letting hit the mat hard. Then I Went super easy on him, gave him chances to work his escapes, warned him to stop doing really dumb stuff like giving me his arms all the time, and submitted him easily but gently.

I also don’t want to be driving new students out of the gym by smashing the crap out of new guys. Even though I’d really like to practice that too, and becoming the best I can be will surely involve choking the shit out of many people down the line.

I realize progressing in jiu jitsu is the cause of this and I’m thrilled to finally have the problem of learning how to be a good training partner to newer students.

How do you upper belts roll with new guys?

How do you balance your skill development with being a productive and courteous training partner?

Thanks in advance!

How did the upper belts you competed with help you?

Among other things, smashing the shit out of me since very early on in my BJJ career. This brings me to a few other relevant pieces of information.

  1. I’m 6’00" 280 pounds.
  2. I directly encouraged my upper belt training partners to go hard on me. I started getting used to knee-on-belly, shins across my face and brutal pressure very early on.

I’m not worried with male blue belts and higher. They get the smash unless specifically asked not to. White belts are what I feel iffy on. Not all white belts are guys my size who are eager to up their pain tolerance, but I also don’t want to assume that just because the guy is 100 pounds lighter than me that he’s some big pussy who can’t handle some pressure from a big and strong mid-level white belt.

I’m still new to the idea of actually being able to tool on people, and I’m looking for perspectives to help me become a better training partner.

I am brand new to BJJ. My instructor was telling me that with lower belts, he likes to purposefully puts himself in compromised or very compromised positions & attempts to work his way out of them.


Unless the person is a spaz or something, my approach is that it’s about helping him get better and making sure his confidence increases. There is a big turnover in bjj, like most martial arts, so you want to encourage good people to stick with it and not feel like they aren’t getting better. If I like the person or it’s a female or kid, I’ll let them do whatever they want provided the technique is correct.

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Not an upper belt at all, but when I know I outclass someone I take the opportunity to work stuff I’m a bit iffy on that I wouldn’t get the chance to attempt when I’m in survival mode with someone I’m more on par with.

I set aside my high percentage subs (Americana, Kimura, head and arm choke, RNC, arm bar etc) and work my weaker areas. It was one of these situations where I finished my first now and arrow choke and mounted triangle.

That and strength-less flow, transitions, putting myself in bad spots and working escapes and bottom game. I’m still looking to finish, and am not really taking it ‘easy’ I just don’t need to rapid fire tap a guy because I can. Hope that helps.

Start them from your open guard or half guard.

New guys may be strong but they’re tight and stiff. Work on the timing of your sweeps and reversals. I’d go against conventional wisdom and recommend trying the same sub - your favorite- over and over again.

You’ll be able to track the evolution of a sub defense and adjust accordingly, no to mention fine you’ll be fine tuning your technique.

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@TX_iron Thank you. That’s a good idea.

@zecarlo The high turnover is part of why I started this post. I don’t want to be a new person’s bad experience on the mats, and my size and strength relative to most other students makes that a real possibility.

@batman730 That’s pretty close to what I’ve been doing when I have the opportunity. Unfortunately I feel like I do need to take it easy on most new students, unless a heavyweight powerlifter happens to walk through the doors of the gym. Still waiting for that opportunity.

@loppar We usually start on the feet, but I’ve occasionally pulled guard and worked from there too. I’ve also given up top position and just started from the bottom many times. Your unconventional wisdom is more-or-less what I’ve been taught. Getting good at jiu jitsu for self defense means making your shit work against unpredictable and usually untrained opponents, which means there’s TONS of value in just going to work on new students. There’s a few blue belts I can do that on, and as I progress I won’t be worried about smashing guys who are ready to play the game at full speed.

Right now the only fish I’m swallowing whole might jump out of the pond altogether if they don’t like swimming with a 280 pound dude, and I don’t want to be the guy that shrinks the pool of training partners at our small rural gym.

Thanks again for all of the thoughtful replies everyone.

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Man I share your sentiment. Although being 280 is probably your biggest issue.

I’ve moved to a new country and quickly found out most people doing bjj do it like a soccer mom does a boxercise class. So they are soft with no tolerance for pain.

I almost got kicked out of this gym I was just training at for going “too hard”. Obviously I respectfully apologized and never came back. In hindsight def turned it up too quickly with someone I’d never rolled with before but he was the highest ranked dude there and had like 50 + lbs on me. Lesson learned.

But yeah all solid advice here I think. Work your weak areas. I guess sometimes your training experience is going to have to suffer so someone with less experience can get something out of a roll. Just the nature of the game and its good to give back once in a while. We are all one big family in the end.

Being a newer guy to bjj, I appreciate rolling with bigger more experienced practitioners as they usually give me tips along the way. I may get subbed 10 times, but by the end of the session I have learned some concept or technique.

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The main things I would try to avoid (aside from the usual dick-ish stuff like elbow/knee/shin pressure on the face) are sustained top pressure (like just holding kesa gatame for 3 min or knee riding with your knee in their sternum), and smothering. Basically you know you can take someone off the street, get them tired, and tap them with pressure or claustrophobia. Sure they’re going to have to get used to that eventually, but it’s a gradual process and it can definitely make them not want to roll with you if you do that consistently (doesn’t sound like you do, just saying).

I’m only a no-strip blue though, so take that for what it’s worth. But that’s how I approach rolling with girls and little guys that aren’t a lot better than me.

@oglebee Losing weight is something I should get back to work on, but for now I’m going to be causing the sort of problems that a 280 pound guy who is strong and can move fairly well will cause. Luckily the circles I train in welcome me and my pressure. With a few exceptions for injured and older guys, any male colored belt I train with is totally okay with getting smashed by me.

@cincy213 That’s the kind of training impression I’d like to leave with all the new students. I’m working on it!

@Steel_Nation Thanks for chiming in. I learned pretty quick that pressure from a guy my size is going to produce some reactions, even in upper belts. I used that a LOT in my first few months, especially side control shoulder pressure. That’s been probably the biggest adjustment I made in the last few months, actively working to alleviate pressure with females and white belts. If I can’t hold side control with my knees and arms I let them have the escape and go from there. Same idea with mount, just try to hold it with balance and posting, switching to s-mount or just letting them have the escape if I can’t make a technical defense.

I’ve had quite a few rolls with white belts lately and they keep coming back for more, so I must be doing something right.

Some constructive options:

  1. Do more Positional Training and less “Free Rolling”- This method allows both training partners to sharpen both aspects of their game (top/bottom, offense/defense, etc…) rather than just having the dominant partner work offense constantly and the less dominant one work defense constantly.

You can also limit your options such as:
-Partner A starts in Mount, they can only tr to maintain the Mount

-Partner B starts on their back (Mounted), they can only try to Escape the Mount


-Partner A (in Mount) can only go for Submissions

-Partner B (Mounted) can only defend Submissions

This can also take on more targeted scenarios like:
-Partner A starts in the Common Armbar position (you could either just go for the finish, work on Control, or both)

-Partner B tries to defend (and/or escape) the Armbar

  1. “Call your shots”- Basically this involves telling your training partner exactly what you are going to try to submit them with before the Roll starts. If This “advanced notice” will make it harder for you to successfully hit that submission since your training partner will know it’s coming and be “on the lookout” for it. This forces you to really develop your set-ups and counters to their defenses.

  2. Work on stuff you suck at, and stay away from stuff you are good at

  3. play “shark bait” with 3 or 4 of them at a time-basically they get to keep cycling out to recover, but you have to keep rolling. This will exhaust you and force you to be as efficient as possible (use technique rather than strength). I’d also suggest that you always start on the bottom so you cannot use your pressure/weight right from the get go (of course you can use it if you manage to escape). I’d also suggest that your goal be to submit them, not to just hold position (again, this will prevent you from just hanging out and smashing to kill time).

Hope these suggestions/ideas help.


@Sentoguy Thank you for the thoughtful reply. Relating to the other thread I started about starting rolls from the knees, I don’t often take chances starting from the feet with aggro white belt guys anymore. I let them take side control or mount, or even just pull guard if we do stand-up and they get spazzy. Since starting that thread (and this one obviously) I’ve been trying to be more mindful about my intent for each roll.

I like your ideas. Calling your shot in particular seems interesting. I will give that a try soon, when the right opportunity presents itself.

I also really like the shark tank concept. My instructor’s place only has space for one pair to roll at a time, and I can guarantee he’d be on board to sick the entire room on me. They do very large, very long shark tanks as a promotion rite at his school, so he’d love it.

I have been submission hunting too. This is sort of new to me, but I’m having high success with a variety without taking advantage of my pressure potential and even starting from bottom. I fell out of a purple-brown-black belt meat grinder and got access to a bevy of new students. I’m really having a blast with my jiu jitsu now. Have weapon, will hunt.

I speak about this stuff with my instructors and training partners too, but I see a lot of value in getting the perspective of people on this forum too.

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to reply.


Nice! Hope you find my ideas useful.

If you have been having success with a given submission, then I’d pick that as your “shot” to call.

Obviously something like a RNC is an extremely effective submission and applicable to all arenas of application, but it can only be hit from the back. Something like say an Arm Triangle on the other hand can be hit from Guard, Side Control, Mount, or even set up while the opponent is attempting to escape from you being on their back. Same goes with something like an Armbar.

Not saying not to choose something like a RNC if that’s what you want to work on, just understand that such a submission will be harder to set-up/hit against someone who knows it’s coming (since all they will really need to do is to not give you their back and they will be safe).

Hope this helps.

Yeah Sentoguy is definitely right about positional training.

I got lucky in that the owner/instructor at the first gym I trained at had very cerebral approach to instructing and training.

He would teach moves in pieces. Like if we were going to work on taking someones back from your guard. The first ten minutes is just working on making your frames and keeping your opponent in position. Then we would progress to the actual back take and then we would do live situational sparring using only what he taught us and the final roll you start in the same position but anything goes.

He always emphasized that he was putting us in very confined boxes in regards to what we can do and that by staying inside those boxes it forces you to work on skills that you probably are lacking. So simple and obvious right. But how many people do you know have a very limited skill set and have one or two submissions. Put them in a spot they are not familiar with and they are very ineffective. This approach to training and instructing really minimizes that from happening.

Now I am learning from a Brazilian black belt and man their approach to teaching is so much different. Not that it is bad though. I went from a bjj gym where it was run like a wrestling program to something a bit more conventional I would say.

Sounds like my kind of instructor!

My big reasonings for advocating Positional training are these:

  1. Makes you well rounded- Like you said, most people that do mostly “free rolling” are lopsided or even 1 dimensional in their skill set. For stance you might get a really good wrestler that comes into BJJ and because of their wrestling skills never gets put to their back, so they only ever really develop their top game; unless an even better or equally good but bigger wrestler happens to join their club. Or you might get a really small person who always winds up on their back, so they develop a great Guard and Escapes from the bottom, but they never develop a good top game or Takedown game unless an even smaller person joins their gym that they can take the top position on.

  2. It accumulates “experience” faster than “free rolling”- Again, unless you either totally outclass your training partners or are lucky enough to have training partners that specialize in a vast variety of skills and positions, it’s likely you will accumulate lots of experience in a very limited number of positions/submissions and very little if any in others. Unfortunately, should you one day encounter someone who can “take you out of your comfort zone” you are going to suddenly find yourself a “white belt” all over again (even if you might be a “Black Belt” in the positions/Submissions you have accumulated vast amounts of experience in).

  3. Allows you to identify and correct imperfections in your skills at a faster pace- Again, let’s say you get caught in an Arm Triangle during a free roll. Then you return to your feet and start another “live go. There is a good chance that, unless you purposely put yourself into another Arm Triangle (which is the exact opposite of what most people will do which is to do everything they can to avoid getting caught in that same situation again) that you won’t have a chance to correct your imperfect technique and may not even have the kinesthetic memory or knowledge to even realize what mistake(s) you made that got you caught.

However, if you were to do Positional training from an Arm Triangled position and have your training partner apply gradually progressively intensive amounts of resistance as your defense/Escaping skills increased, then you would notice much faster and more “concrete” improvements in your Arm Triangle Defensive skills. You could also start your defense at different “steps/stages” in the technique, which would allow you to not only recognize those necessary steps better (meaning you would also usually recognize when someone was going for the submission sooner in it’s development), but also start to recognize the “point of no return” which you could then start to avoid.

  1. Less risk of injury- IME, other than “May heroes” who refuse to tap unless their life is in jeopardy and treat every roll like it’s the Finals of the Worlds, most injuries occur during scrambles between positions. By limiting the action to just one position or situation and bringing it back to that position/situation as soon as the training partners get away from there, you limit these scrambles and the injuries that occur during them.
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I would love to do this, as I come from a wrestling background where positional training was prioritized, but I am in a school where most of my training partners have no desire to do this. They’ll play along for a few minutes if I ask them to, but you can tell that they just want to roll.

I’m also outranked by 70+% of my training partners, and I’m definitely hesitant to ask a brown/black belt to help me work on specific things.

@oglebee I see that too from my instructors. We break the movements and even whole sequences down into smaller and smaller components. It seems like there’s always more details to uncover.

One of my instructors rolls “situationally” with me very often, although he always doesn’t announce it verbally. He’ll walk/force me down the same path over and over again during rolling, usually trying to land the same submission for that day. I’m not “easy” for him to tap, so he gets to refine his submission set-up on a semi-skilled and strong opponent, and I get to work on the whole pathway that leads to it. I never thought about these as “reps” until reading your thoughts on this, but it is pretty close to the training concept you’re talking about.

@Sentoguy Interesting thoughts and in my limited observation over the last year I’d agree. Reps of all kinds are what’s building my jiu jitsu, although I’d like to find a way to incorporate more of these positional training reps. We do occasionally train like this now, especially during open mats where we have a few “downtime” rolls, but class rolls are usually “free”. I hope to build a fairly complete game some day and this seems like a good concept.

@Steel_Nation Do you train at a large school? I feel very lucky to have spent the overwhelming majority of my mat time in very small classes and lots of open mats. I have two instructors from two different schools and probably close to 1/3 of my mat time has been one-on-one with one or the other. I’ve even been to a few open mats where it was just me and my two instructors who showed.

I’m asked almost every time I train with either of those two if there’s anything I’d like to work on specifically. Is that not the norm?

I’d say it’s medium. There are never less than 20 people in an evening class (there are also 6a and 11a classes every day during the week). Open mats are on the weekend and will typically draw anywhere from 10-20 guys, with a few drop-ins from other schools.

My last school was definitely large. Renzo Gracie affiliate. Probably 300-400 total students (my blue belt promotion ceremony had over 100 students attending). Typical open mat (there was one a day there) would have 50-60 people. There were usually two classes going at once (beginner and intermediate) and they would usually have 80-100 people in attendance, combined.

I only rolled with my head instructor once at the large school (but I was only a blue belt there for 3 months or so so that’s not surprising), and I’ve only rolled with my current instructor twice.

I’ve had that a few times, but it’s not the norm IME.