Rolling scared

I am continuing my focus of working on my aggression and mental game and it has been going well so far. I have realized that in pushing myself I have to not only be aggressive but I also have to learn to let go of some of my fear.

When I was at the women’s camp last weekend, I noticed that I was enjoying the rolls a lot. Typically when I am rolling with people for the first time, I am very reserved while I try to feel out their rolling style. I started to wonder why I felt so much more comfortable in this environment and then it occurred to me. I wasn’t scared.

It is really hard for me, probably for anyone in BJJ, to admit that they have fear. How can you have fear when your favorite thing to do involves getting beat up on a regular basis? However I realize that I cannot overcome the fear if I don’t admit that it is there and I need to move past it to go to the next level.

So where does the fear come from? I think there is a natural amount of fear for anyone who does BJJ. There are about a billion different ways you can get hurt. I think there is arguably more fear when you are smaller and weaker than most of the people you train with though. You know that you can get outmuscled and hurt a lot easier than your bigger, stronger counterparts. Chances are that you have gotten manhandled in a way that has made you feel awful and/or uncomfortable at some point. I know I have.

Here is the story of what I consider my scariest roll to date. It was shortly after I had begun training at my weekend school and I was in for Sunday basics class. I was working with a new guy who had been training about a month. We were drilling armbar/triangle/omoplata transitions. I spent most of the class showing him what the various moves were as he was brand new (I had probably been training about 7 or 8 months at the time) and he was very nice the entire time. We got to the end of class and he stayed on the mat to roll. I was surprised that after a month he was allowed to roll but the instructor didn’t say anything about him being there so I figured it was ok.

He asked me if I wanted to roll and I said yes. Since he was brand new I thought he would go very light and just figured I would let him get me into guard and work what we’d been drilling. That was a mistake. As soon as we bumped fists he lunged at me and took me down to the ground…hard. I got him into guard and he was trying his hardest to do an americana from there. I had just opened my mouth to tell him that wasn’t really a high percentage submission from guard as I could just use my legs to bring him forward and ruin the leverage when he got frustrated, yanked me up by the arm (the one he had the americana hold on), twisted said arm behind my back and threw me about 4 feet to the side. I think that I started yelling “TAP” in midair and he quickly got off me and we reset.

In retrospect now I should have realized it was not good for me to keep going but I thought that it was my fault because I had thought he was going to go light and I was clearly not prepared. I figured if I took it up a notch this time I would do better. That was mistake number two. Even though I was “prepared” for him going harder this time, I couldn’t keep up with his speed and strength. He managed to twist my body into some weird position that I was not familiar with and then got frustrated and tackled me again. I think there was another submission after that and then the round ended.  He told me when the round ended that he had been going for a knee bar and asked me if he had set it up right. I told him I didn’t know as I had never trained one. He told me he hadn’t either but he had seen it on YouTube.

I left immediately after this because I realized that I had hurt my ribs but even if I hadn’t, I would have had no desire to roll anymore. I will admit that I cried the whole way home. This was the first time I had ever felt so uncomfortable during a roll. So much was going through my mind. Was this what it was going to be like if I kept training with all guys? Could I keep doing BJJ if it was? Was my partner so concerned about “winning” that he didn’t care if he hurt me or any other partner? Did he not realize that he was completely manhandling me and didn’t need to be going that hard? In a way it felt like a violation. I had trusted him with both my training and my safety and I felt he let me down on both.

However, I also learned some very valuable lessons that day. One was to be very cautious when rolling with new people. I had always heard this but I guess it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I also learned that if I am uncomfortable with a roll that I should just stop it. I think that is hard for everyone. No one wants to admit that they can’t handle a roll but it is better to stop a roll or ask someone to take it down a notch than to get hurt and spend time off that mat (I had to take off for about a week and my rib continued to hurt for weeks after).

So this was, I believe, the end of my “I’m going to kick everyone’s ass!” mentality and the beginning of my cautious, safe rolling. I had taken it up a notch and so had he and it had ended poorly for me. I also spent so much time after that guarding my sore ribs that all I did was play defense. This was not a conscious decision on my part to stop being aggressive and play safe but I think it was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to go hard and make the boys go harder because they were always going to be stronger.

Now that I have realized what I was doing it has been completly liberating to let go of that fear. That doesn’t mean that I am just attacking everyone with no concern about getting hurt. I know most of the guys I train with and I know that I can trust most of them. I will always be cautious about rolling with new people and I will stop a roll if I feel like it is out of control.

But by not worrying about safety first and BJJ second, I am able to raise my level of aggression and I am seeing some great results. So if you are smaller and weaker know that you will always have to be a little bit more concerned about safety but don’t roll scared. Trust the partners who have earned that trust, let go of the fear and have some fun!

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4 responses to “Rolling scared”

  1. oldmunki says :

    I have also been in the same position as you being used as someones “punchbag”. Seeing your perspective has been really useful. Thanks

  2. slideyfoot says :

    Ha – I don’t think I could ever roll without thinking safety first. “Don’t get injured” is one of my major priorities. It’s part of what I build my whole game around: non-aggressive, low risk, tight, avoid extending.

    Although again, I think it is probably different if you’re a competitor, as you can’t afford to be quite as cautious if you want to do well in a tournament.

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