A few weeks ago, I went to Miami for the world pro trials, where I hoped to win a trip to compete in Abu Dhabi. I had a decent tournament - I won my weight class but lost to the eventual winner in absolute, where I took bronze. Objectively, I knew that I did well but I still went home feeling disappointed in myself. I had trained my butt off, went through a grueling training camp, did a ton of extra drilling, had the support of my coaches and teammates, but still I fell short. What did I do wrong?
Some time and perspective showed me that I didn't do anything wrong, per se. I trained to the best of my ability and my team did everything possible to help me. I know that my game improved during my training camp. It just turned out that on that day, someone else was a little better.
It was then that I resolved that once a week, in some form or another, to push myself outside my comfort zone and train with different people. I would go to open mats, tournaments, seminars, etc. By regularly rolling with new people of different skill levels, styles, sizes, and shapes, I hoped that my own jiu jitsu would continue to grow.
So far I've stuck to my word. Since the tournament, I visited an open mat at Gracie Raleigh, went to a women's open mat at Chapel Hill Gracie Jiu Jitsu, competed in a US Grappling tournament, attended a Billy Dowey seminar at Sandhills Jiu Jitsu, and attended the lunch time class at my own school on a day that I was off work. I rolled with new and different people at all of these places. It's been both fun and productive for me. I've made some new friends and definitely picked up some new tricks!
But here's the other side of it - at least 75% of my rolling continues to be with the same 8-12 people each week. And I don't think that's a bad thing. A while back, when I was feeling discouraged and beaten down, I began making a conscious effort to roll most of the time with those who I roll most productively with. I am not avoiding anybody as much as seeking out those with whom I consistently have the most beneficial rolls. For me, those folks are not going to spaz out or overly beast me, are usually within 30 pounds of my size, have skills that challenge me technically, and have personalities that I generally click with...and vice versa.
What I like about these rolls is that it is evident to me that they are mutually beneficial. It is clear that both parties are getting something out of it. We might be benefitting in different ways - there are folks that regulary submit me that I usually work defense with. And there are folks that I regularly submit and work my offense with. And there are even more folks that I roll relatively evenly with and we spend most of our time in one or the other's guard. But there is always the sense that both parties are getting something out of it. The objective is not to dominate the other as much as to develop skill sets. It is common for the more advanced practicioner to offer advice and encouragement to the newer individual. And those comments are well received.
Sometimes these relationships develop naturally and easily and sometimes they take a little work. I have recently begun to attend MMA classes and I'll be honest - I'm no one's first choice in training partner. I'm often the odd one out, the person added into an existing group or left to partner with the instructor. This doesn't bother me much because, as the new person, it's on me to establish productive training partnerships. And part of it is likely because guys are naturally disinclined to partner with a female when there is face punching involved, and understandably so. If in a few months folks are still reluctant to train with me, I would need to look internally to figure out why they are not benefitting from our partnership. Is it too one-sided? Are they not getting as much out of it as I am? There's not much I can do to change my physical attributes (I cannot morph myself into a 220 lb man anymore than I can a110 lb woman), but I can adjust my training style and intensity according to my partner's needs.
I agree that training with everyone is essential to my growth and progression in jiu jitsu. But even more important, I believe, is continuing to train as often as possible with those with whom I am most productive. I grateful for the ample opportunities that I have to do both!