BJJ Rolling Guide for Beginners

by admin on August 29, 2011

Below is an AWESOME guest post by Randy Jones who posts as Balto on the Sherdog forums.  If you are new to BJJ, or know somebody who is new, this guide is one of the best ways to explain how to spar in class.  Thanks Randy!
This is a brief guide to rolling (free sparring) in BJJ. If you are new to BJJ, you might not know exactly what is expected of you during rolling or even what the rules are. The purpose of this guide is to help clarify that. This guide applies to gi BJJ and the rules surrounding it. The no gi rules differ somewhat.

Unlike certain other grappling arts, rolling in BJJ is not usually done with 100% effort. Most of the time the focus is on relaxing and applying technique properly. As a default, use 50-75% of your effort and maintain control of your body at all times. If you wish to go 100%, ask your partner if that is okay before you roll. Do not go 100% without warning.

Rolling in BJJ is also not usually considered to be competitive. Expect to trade taps with your partner and flow back and forth. Do not attempt to win at all costs. When you are submitted, do not become angry or frustrated. Respect the fact that you will make mistakes and have to fight out of bad positions sometimes. Do not stop rolling just because your partner is getting the better of you.

Tapping is a very important skill to learn. When you tap, tap your partner repeatedly with your free hand hard enough that he can feel it. Do not tap the mat with your hand because your partner may not hear it. You may tap with your legs on the mat if you do not have a free hand. While you are tapping, say “tap” in a clear voice at the same time. Tap as soon as you begin to feel the effects of a submission. Do not wait until the last second to tap. Do not cry out in pain at any time unless you intend to tap. Pay close attention to your partner and stop immediately when he taps.

The following moves are always allowed in rolling. You can do them in any school against any partner. You do not need to ask permission to do any of these moves.

Blood chokes (chokes that put pressure on the sides of the neck)
Elbow locks (armbars of all types)
Shoulder locks (americana, kimura, omoplata, etc.)
Light/moderate crossfacing (pushing directly on your partner’s face)

The following moves are never allowed in rolling. They are always illegal in BJJ competition at all levels. Do not use these moves under any circumstances without the explicit permission of the instructor. If you are rolling and someone does one of these moves to you, do not do them back.

Pure neck cranks (bending the neck in any direction to put pressure on the spine)
Heel hooks/twisting leg locks (grabbing the foot and twisting it)
Slamming (picking your partner up off the ground and throwing him hard back to the ground)
Small joint manipulation (grabbing individual fingers and toes)
Reaping the knee (holding your partner’s lower leg and bending his knee inward with your leg)
Direct windpipe attacks (grabbing the windpipe with your fingers)

The following moves are sometimes allowed in rolling. They are legal in BJJ competition, but they are only legal for certain higher belts. The etiquette for using these varies from school to school. They may be legal for everyone, legal for only certain people, or illegal for everyone. It is best to ask the instructor for clarification on these if you are not sure. When rolling at a new school, the best policy is to only use these moves if your partner uses them first.

Straight ankle locks (grabbing the foot and bending it straight back)
Kneebars (bending the knee straight back)
Toe holds (bending the foot with a figure four hold)
Wrist locks (any straight or twisting wrist attack)
Slicers (compressing the elbow or knee joint around another limb)

The following moves are technically legal in BJJ competition at every level; however, they are sometimes considered to be dick moves. You should refrain from using these in normal rolling because there are better ways to accomplish the same result. These are typical beginner moves, and you will not progress very much if you rely on them during rolling.

Choke/neck crank combinations (some guillotines, some arm triangles, head squeezing, etc.)
Hard crossfacing (pushing directly on your partner’s face)
Choking the jaw/face (applying a choke over top of your partner’s tucked chin)
Smothering (using your body or gi to obstruct your partner’s breathing)
Pressure points (digging elbows into the thigh, digging knuckles into the ribs, etc.)

If you are unsure about anything discussed above, ask the instructor for clarification. If that is not possible at the time, just relax and flow with your partner.

Above all, try to learn and have fun.