Rolling with Others and how I think about it later


Last night I had the privilege of joining a different school for a night of training. I am from Wellington, but am in Whangarei for a week. There is a club up here, so I decided to bring my Gi and have a roll.

This reminded me of something that, I believe, should be foundational to everyone’s BJJ life:

Whenever you have the opportunity, train with new people.

After 2 years at the same place you tend to have a pretty good understanding of everyone’s game. You naturally learn counters, and counters to counters. You discover strategies that work against different opponents. You know what positions to stay away from and what positions you can enter freely without consequence.

When you head off to another school, and hop on the mats with people you’ve never met before, you have to go through the entire discovery process again.

For example, from last night I’ve figured out the following:

– Against opponent A I cannot let him get to the top position. If I do, I won’t get out and will likely get submitted. I also have to be posture-focused while in his guard because he likes to attack from there. I also have to play a sitting hooks guard against him rather than a laying hooks guard (so I’d be attacking with my arms rather than my legs). This is because he sprawls on the hooks which exposes my legs.

These things mean that when I roll against opponent A, I have to look for underhook sweeps and drags from the guard. I have to use an early escape plan.

Since I spent the entire spar on the bottom I don’t yet know what works when on top. So, if we rolled again I would look to test that out.  My hypothesis is that he would have quite a physical bottom game where he looks to break posture. So, I would try to play a busy top game looking for underhooks and collars along the way.

– Against opponent B I cannot allow him to gain side control, because it takes more effort to get out of side control than it does to not allow it in the first place. I was defended while there, but he stayed busy, and kept attacking. Again, I didn’t have a chance to test the top. He also sprawls well on the hooks.

Similar to opponent A (probably because they train together) I would have to play seated looking for underhooks and drags. I would look to just play top and stay busy. I would defend sweeps, so as not to give up position.

– Against opponent C I can play a bit more, but need to be willing to work my way out of things. He defeats lazy-jitsu. He plays a very tight, grabbing game. Top would just be slow and steady, working towards better positioning. He is a north-north top player (someone that just keeps pressing forward) so a laying hooks guard is fine.

I would look to play more east-west in the guard and attack a lot with the legs, with drags and scissors sweep thrown in. My top game would be all about dominating staying clear of arms (so that I don’t just get stuck and have to waste energy working out), and using knee-rides and transitions. Since he likes to grab I would look for arms and opportunities to transition into submissions, rather than trying to work towards submissions.

– Against opponent D I can play a lot more. This opponent rolls, and scoots and flows. Grips, foot placement, blocking with shins and simply countering slight movements is the game are all important. This opponent doesn’t hold position, they advance while looking for spaces to attack. I get to play a lot, and give up position, and try different things, but I have to always be on because submissions could come from anything. There are no resting (mentally)positions against these kinds of opponents.

I would look to play even more against this type of opponent. Why? Because it’s fun.

The best reason to roll with others is that is tells you, very clearly what’s missing in your foundational game. I get to ask the question, “What, when I roll against someone I’ve never met, is a hole in my game?” I can now take these things away and create new triggers for my techniques. I can broaden my game just enough to fit the new things in without making it too big.

This is a great practice that every practitioner should do as often as possible.

Thank you to the folks I rolled with last night. Thank you for helping me grow my game. See you next time!


Postmodern Martial Arts

I am currently studying at a theological seminary run by The Salvation Army in New Zealand (which is part of the reason I haven’t posted in so long). My current topic of study is how post-modernity has effected the Christian faith.

Now, I’ve always felt that the world of martial arts and the world of religion have a lot in common. Especially when it comes to the more traditional vs the more contemporary expressions of both. Well, in my studies I’ve realized more and more that BJJ is a great example of post-modern martial arts. 

First, definitions. Modern and postmodern are terms used to describe how people think. The way people think has always been consequences of society. 

Modernism is all about human reason as a way of discovering systematic truth in an orderly world. There is truth, and we can find it out, and everything else is wrong. 

Postmodernism is basically the opposite. It is a believe that human reason is flawed (a logical conclusion of a look through the history of “truth”), and that the world isn’t orderly and therefore can’t just be limited to systematic truth. This is simply because people discovered that there seems to be layers of truth and that everything contains some truth AND some non-truth and that all of it is relative to whatever reality someone might exist in.

Got it? Exactly, you’re not really meant to. That’s kind of the point. 

That brings us to martial arts. 

Every martial art in the world thinks it is the best. If it didn’t think that it wouldn’t continue to be whatever martial art is it. That’s just silly. Many martial arts exist and teach in the modern realm of human thought. We do this because this works. It works because I tell you it works, because I was told that it works by someone else who was told that it works. This is what we do because this is the true path to better martial arts. You do it this way because it’s the truth. 

Then comes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Now, if you haven’t read the history of this martial art you need to. You can google it, or find it in many BJJ books (especially ones done by the Gracies), or many MMA books. 

BJJ is a martial art that has it’s base in effectiveness. I won’t get much into that here, because it’s not the point of the post. 

What I will talk about is how BJJ works so well for someone like me, a postmodern thinker. 

I believe that everything in this world is relative to the user. Truth for me might not be truth for someone else. BJJ is a great example of this. Marcello Garcia and Roger Gracie have very different games. Both games are true. Both games work. However, if Garcia started to roll like Gracie and Gracie started to roll like Garcia, neither would preform as well (I don’t think). Therefore, what is true for Garcia is true, but not for Gracie. What is true for Gracie is true, but not for Garcia. To teach that either is wrong is not a true teaching.

I am at a club as a 70kg guy. There are two other regulars that are under 80 kgs. That means that my reality is different than anyone else’s reality. What works for me is actually different than what works for others. It is all relative.

That works, and is actually quite enjoyable for a postmodern thinker. If I were told, “These are the moves. They are to be done in exactly this way. Never deviate” I would be lost in a sea of big sharks trying to do all the same stuff. That modern form of thinking just wouldn’t work. I would quit and leave. 

BJJ also works really well for me because it gives that opportunity to test truth in a live setting. That’s a key for a postmodern thinker, the safe space to test truth claims. 

I don’t accept something just because someone tells me it’s true. I don’t just believe something that someone says just because they have a certain degree (or belt color). I want to test it before I’ll accept it. BJJ gives me that opportunity in live, full contact sparring.

So, I want to encourage anyone like me, a self-proclaimed postmodern thinker, to embrace all the amazing stuff about this great martial art. Your game can be relative to you and you can test truth claims every time you hit the mats. Don’t waste the opportunity to explore. 

Keep thinking, and test every possibility.

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