On the other hand, there are some training partners with whom it is appropriate for me to take it down a notch. Likewise, I know that there are plenty of folks who take it down a notch (or 2 or 3) when they roll with me as well.
There are plenty of reasons to go less than 100% during a roll. Here are a few:
- You are significantly bigger or stronger than your training partner and want to rely on technique instead of physical advantages during training.
- You are developing a particular technique that requires you to be in a certain spot. If you are working on head and arm chokes, you might allow your partner to escape other dominant positions so you can work that transition. Or maybe you are practicing side control escapes and therefore allow your partner to pass your guard without much resistance.
- You are injured and want to train through it. When I injured my knee last year, it hurt it to assume a combat base inside someone's guard. So for weeks, I always yielded guard and would let people up after sweeping them. This limited my attacks during this time, but it also allowed my knee to get better.
- You are rolling with someone for the first time and are feeling him or her out. It is a generally accepted rule to match your partner's intensity. When you have never rolled with someone, it is better to err on the side of flowing rather than smashing.
- Your difference in skill level is such that a competitive roll isn't possible. The more advanced practitioner might roll at a level slightly above his partner's in order to "let him work."
- You want new students to have a positive first experience with jiu jitsu. I think of it as being an ambassador for the martial art. When new women try jiu jitsu, I want them to have a positive experience and to come back. It would not benefit either of us if I tried to submit them as many times as possible during our first roll. It is better for me to flow with them at first and let them work out of bad positions with little resistance.
I try to keep these factors in mind when I roll. Whenever I find myself in a good spot against an upper belt (unless I am significantly bigger or stronger than that person and am using force), I know it is very likely that she let me get there for one of the above reasons. Likewise, I have no doubt that my instructor can tap me as many times as he would like during a roll. Yet, he usually chooses to tap me 1-2 times. To brag about not getting tapped by him on a particular day would be hubris because the choice is obviously his. The outcome of the roll has less to do with my performance that day than the level of resistance he is providing.
To most people, it is pretty obvious when a partner is rolling nice with them. But every once in a while, someone just doesn't get it. Enter here the Dense and Deluded Grappler (DDG for short). DDGs are the grapplers who brag about not getting tapped by an upper belt after a roll. They exaggerate how well they are doing so that their reports sound fictitious to even the casual listener. To a DDG, attempting to attack someone's turtle might morph into taking his back, with hooks in and a choke nearly set. You can tell that a new student might be a DDG when he walks into a school, gets partnered with folks experienced enough to roll at 10% effort, and then boasts afterward to anyone who will listen about how well he did against the upper belts. No, DDGs don't make friends quickly at the gym.
Maybe there is something in the acai, but I've encountered several DDGs over the past few weeks. They are innocent enough at first. But at their worst, they can be enough to make even the most grounded martial arts practitioners livid.
So why is it that we care so much? Why not entertain the illusions of the less experienced and let them believe that they are better than us? I am a pediatric speech language pathologist by profession and much of my therapy activities revolve around games. I let my kids win these games all the time (ok, this is a lie. I can be a competitive jackass and I have to remind myself to let the kiddos win every now and again. But I DO let them win sometimes. And when I do let them beat me, I don't feel the need to remind them of all the nice things I did to let them get there). Is it not the same in jiu jtisu? We know the truth...our coaches know the truth...so who cares what a DDG thinks?
I might strive to have this no ego attitude, but at the present I fall short. I'm not able to treat rolling as I would a therapy session with a child. The difference is that we are both adults. I have put a fair deal of blood, sweat, and tears on the mats (This is not an expression. I sweat on the mats everyday and I have cried and bled on them more often that I would like to admit). I have sacrificed time, energy, and pain for my training, but I would do it over again in a heartbeat. And I am just a lowly blue belt. So many others have invested so much more than I have. So yeah, this behavior bothers us.
Is there hope for DDGs? When we are given the green light (permission to roll as realistically and intensely as we'd like with someone) should we take it? Or is there another way to offer a much needed reality check?
One thing I know is this - DDGs need jiu jitsu as much as anybody. One might become a DDG for one of two reasons - 1) he has an overinflated ego and a poor understanding of just how long it takes to get good at jiu jitsu or 2) he is overcompensating for what is actually very poor self-worth. Either way, he is coming to the right place by training jiu jitsu - the martial art is simultaneously the most humbling and empowering thing you will ever do.
So yes, go ahead a smash a DDG when appropriate. But when your roll is over, make sure to help him up and offer some encouragement. Jiu jitsu might just change his life.