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All about sparring



"Sparring" or "Rolling" - when two people are grappling (rolling around on the mats, hence the name 'rolling') and are trying to submit each other by applying chokes, armlocks, or other submissions, usually without the fear of punches. But sometimes sparring sessions can include punches, but this will be made clear by the instructor and will usually only apply on Fight Simulation and Street Sparring classes (Thursday nights in the Master Cycle). Punches are never more than 10% power.

"Sportive" or "Sport Jiu-jitsu" - grappling where there are no punches allowed.

"Tap" or "Tapping Out" - when a person uses their hand to 'tap' on their partner to signal that they give up due to being caught in a submission, too tired, or can't go on any reason. (more on tapping below)

"Ego" - your only goal is to win no matter the cost even if it means hurting your partner in the process. Also, your whole identity as a person comes from being able to tap everyone in the room. And if you get tapped, you get mad and through a tantrum, because you feel worthless and defeated. Your concern is only for your own improvement while totally disregarding the progress and improvement of your partner's.

Because of safety concerns and because beginners are just learning the mechanics of jiu-jitsu, there is no live sparring or 'rolling' in the Gracie Combatives program (the beginner program). Because the Gracie Combatives program is helping people to learn to be street-ready and to defend against the most common street attacks (where there are no time limits, no weight categories, no referees), the structure of the class is based upon a "Good Guy" and "Bad Guy" model.

The Good Guy is the one defending against street violence and the Bad Guy is the perpetrator. Because Bad Guy behavior in the streets include punches and we because we always assume the Bad Guy is going to be bigger, stronger, and more athletic, live sparring is not safe at this stage of learning.

Therefore, when you're acting as the Bad Guy in class, your job is to provide the Bad Guy indicator (what a person in the street would tend to do) and the Good Guy's job is the use the appropriate technique which addresses that indicator. Therefore, training in the Gracie Combatives program is largely cooperative.

Once students have taken each Gracie Combatives class twice, they qualify to take Reflex Development classes on Thursday nights. In this class, students will practice simulated fight sequences that mimic what would really happen in the street, i.e. start from standing, closing the distance, getting the fight to the ground, maintaining the top position, and submitting, negotiating compliance, or running away.

While these drills are cooperative, they will resemble real street fight scenarios without the real threat of violence, allowing students to sharpen their street reflexes and to master all the Gracie Combatives techniques in all possible combinations. As your partner's reflexes get better and better, you are allowed to increase the intensity of your Bad Guy indicators in order to check the legitimacy of their control and submissions. We only increase the intensity of the attacks ONLY when your partner is ready and able. If you ever overwhelm your partner with your level of intensity, dial it back a little and match their skill level. NEVER GO BEYOND THE SKILL LEVEL OF YOUR PARTNER. Talk to each other and you will know when and by how much to increase the intensity. You'll be able to feel it also.

So, in the end, we TRAIN to fight, not FIGHT to train. No need!

Once students graduate into the Master Cycle, students can start sparring or rolling because they have learned the basic movements and concepts of grappling. Master Cycle classes are conducted in two parts:

1-hr technique class followed by 30 minutes of sparring.

Sparring is OPTIONAL for all Master Cycle students, so once the 1-hr technique class is done, students can leave or stay. We will take a 2-3 minute break after the technique class is done so that students can grab a drink of water and to grab their mouth pieces. During this time, students can stay or leave. Completely up to the student!

The technique class will usually include Rapid Mastery Drills. In these drills, we sharpen our swords by starting from a manageable level, gradually increasing the intensity level of your offense until you take your partner to failure. Once failure occurs, students should assess where failure occurred, whether the technique is not mastered yet (so our poor execution was the cause), or if the technique itself is insufficient to handle all the offensive attacks, in which case, another move would be required. This is okay. We will see all scenarios in due time during the course of the Master Cycle.

In the Master Cycle, we train seven positional chapters:

1) Mount
2) Side Mount
3) Guard
4) Half Guard
5) Back Mount
6) Leg Locks
7) Standing

In each chapter, we divide up the lessons into subsets: escapes, controls, submissions, and submission counters, and learn them in that order. On average, it could take us one to two months to finish one positional chapter. The Master Cycle lesson of the day will be posted on the gym website under "Calendar."

Let's be honest, no one likes to be tapped out in a sparring match. In most BJJ gyms, every class can feel like a jiu-jitsu tournament, since a typical class will consist of 20 minutes of warm-up drills, 10 minutes of technique, and 30 minutes of 100% sparring in every class, even in the beginner class! If you don't even know the basics, you can feel like a punching bag for all the higher belts who managed to survive and stick around long enough to see a ton of their cohorts quit jiu-jitsu. Because SOME (not all) students tapped out a bunch of people in class, they go home having fed their ego at the cost of "beating up" on their sparring partners. About small percentage of people (around 5-10%) strive in this environment, but most people do not.

This type of gym culture is ego-driven, based primarily upon the belief that the only way to get good at jiu-jitsu is to be thrown to the lions and to live or die. It is also based upon the belief that training this way will translate into being "street-ready" even though they have never trained for the possibility of punches, in many cases, not even once. Of course, if a student wants to be a world-champion grappler, there is value in being thrown to the lions. Most students though have day jobs and this is not their goal.

The fact is, if you don't train for punches in your jiu-jitsu training, you're not going to magically know what to do when you find yourself in the street (or in your house) defending against someone who is bigger, stronger, and more athletic and who is intent on punching you in the face until you're unconscious. We have already seen examples in real life where jiu-jitsu black belts (some world champions) have gotten beat up or even killed because they did not have a self-defense mindset. The one time they needed their jiu-jitsu, they didn't have it. Although there are no guarantees no matter what the kind of training one does, it is important to train for the real threat of violence in the street.

If it were true that being thrown to the lions translated into street-readiness, then we'd do it! But the fact is, it isn't necessary (unless your want to be a sport jiu-jitsu champion). If you train jiu-jitsu for any significant amount to time, you're going to be a "beast" no matter what. Jiu-jitsu is that amazing! Just the simple concept of tying someone up will help you be safe from punches in a street fight or other physical altercation.

Therefore, in our academy and in other Gracie Certified Training Centers, we strive to develop a street/sport switch. Gracie Combatives (street) will give you the street reflexes as a foundation, but the Master Cycle (sport and street) will help take your grappling skills to the next level in exploring the other 600+ techniques in the art.

Jiu-jitsu is an art where you can go full bore or 100% and still be safe (as opposed to boxing where repeated hits to the head can cause long term damage). While we will learn a lot of new sport jiu-jitsu techniques to use with our family and friends, but we never leave our self-defense mindset behind.

We recommend the following mindset when sparring:

1) Sparring class is not a tournament. Your sparring partners are there to help you get better and you are there to help make your partners better. The enemy is outside the gym, not inside. Therefore, we recommend not viewing your partners as the "enemy." If you get tapped out, just realize that jiu-jitsu works and is amazing (especially since it worked on you), and try to figure out with your partner how you ended up tapping out, and learn from it. It's totally okay not to spar the next round so that you can figure out what went wrong.

If you tapped out, this usually means that you made a mistake somewhere down the line, didn't know the correct defense, got baited into a bad position, or just got muscled into that position. In all cases, try to learn from your mistake.

2) I always say: "The mat has no memory." No one is going to care who you tapped out or who tapped you out in class. If you tap out, learn from it, tap and bump again, and keep going. Don't sweat it. Just know that your skill level isn't static, especially if you learn from your taps. You'll improve as you keep training. People fear getting tapped out because we are emotionally attached to the outcome.

If you tap someone out, just know that you can be caught also and that someone ALWAYS has your number! Someone will always be better, and that's okay. It's all friendly games of chess. We are all there to help each other figure out all the intricacies of jiu-jitsu. The journey never ends! There are 14 and 16 year old kids out there right now that are tapping out seasoned adult black belts. Believe me, someone always has your number!

3) Consider who you're rolling with. If you're tapping your partner out every 30 seconds in one round, this usually means that you have a technical advantage or strength advantage. No one really learns too much when they are being tapped out every 30 seconds. When you find that you have a technical advantage on your partner, dial your intensity back and roll to their level. Make it challenging for your partner, but don't go limp either. You can also put yourself in more compromising positions, such as putting yourself in the bottom of the mount, bottom of the side-mount, have your back taken, etc. so that you can train worst case scenarios.

When you can survive in the worst case scenarios, your defense will be impenetrable. This is the goal: if you can't be tapped out, you win! This counts as a win too! Believe me, when you're rolling with a higher belt or with someone who is bigger and stronger and you can hold off their attacks, survive, and not get tapped out, just know that the jiu-jitsu worked! Sometimes, we may not tap out our bigger, stronger, and more skilled opponents, but if they can't tap us out, we win! This is why Helio Gracie said: "If you don't lose, you can only win." This is what he meant!

4) You WILL be tapped out by lower belts from time to time. Don't worry, this is normal. A famous world-champion grappler, Saulo Ribeiro (who is amazing by the way), has said the same thing. Eddie Bravo, as a brown belt, tapped out Royler Gracie, a black belt, in a tournament once. It happens. Sometimes I allow the tap to happen, sometimes I tap because I got caught! Either way, we have to be invested in our partner's improvement just as our own.

Sometimes we feel like we have to represent our belt rank and never let a lower belt rank tap us out. The fact is, you'll be caught at some point. No problem. Learn from it and never let it happen again! I've been tapped out by lower belts and higher belts alike. I learned something from each encounter. From this one lower belt, I learned to not let my guard down just because they are a lower belt. A lower rank doesn't mean they aren't a beast. With a black belt who tapped me out, I learned that when people allow you to pass their guard too easily, they are up to something. So now, when passing someone's guard, I make sure they don't have their hand on my collar, baiting me to pass too easily, waiting to choke me out! LOL All lessons I needed to learn and carry with me to this very day.

5) Roll with whom you're comfortable with. Please do not hesitate to decline rolling with someone if they ask to roll with you. If you're the asker, don't be offended if someone declines to roll with you. Everyone has their reasons, i.e. too tired, confidence level is down, tired of rolling with bigger people, injured, afraid of injury from rolling with you, or the asker just stinks to high heaven! There are all sorts of reasons. If someone declines, just ask someone else. It's all good. Don't take it personal.

6) Always protect yourself! We recommend wearing a mouth guard when rolling, but we also recommend thinking about where you're positioning your hands, toes, knees, and legs in relation to your partner. As your instructor, I will do my best to point out any safety hazards that might arise from certain positions, but I can't predict all scenarios. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you as the student to be aware of what your partner might do or how your own positioning could injure them (or yourself) if things happen too quickly. For example, if someone grabs your foot to do a leg lock and rolls quickly and you don't roll with them, you could tweak your knee. Another example is knowing how to fall safely, i.e. backwards, forwards, and knowing when to shoulder roll rather than landing on your head. Again, I, as the instructor, will point out any safety concerns during the lesson presentation that I am aware of, and I will sometimes stop a partnership mid-roll in order to point out a potential safety hazard.

For men, wearing cups is optional. If you chose to wear a cup, don't let it become a crutch. In other words, sometimes wearing a cup will allow us to do armlocks over our groin area. Yes, we get the tap, but you're also developing a bad habit of finishing armlocks over your cup. Keep in mind that in the street, unless you wear a cup everywhere you go, you're not going to be able to rely on your cup to finish armlocks in the street.

7) When applying submissions, apply them slowly! Establish control first, then apply all submissions in a slow and controlled manner. Try NOT to catch submissions so fast that your partner doesn't have time to react and defend. After establishing control and you have your submission technique in place, apply slowly and allow your partner to tap. For example, for leg locks, there is no need to grab a heel and tear their leg off in 2 nanoseconds. Grab the heel, establish control, and then start applying the submission slowly. I, personally, will not do certain moves on my partners (even if I know I could tap my partner out instantly) if I feel that I could hurt them. For example, jumping to guard (landing on their knee and over extending it). If you're a big heavy guy rolling with a lighter person, jumping to a move where they have to support your weight all of a sudden could injure your partner, especially if they don't know what you're doing.

8) Tap fast, and tap often! Never fight a tap out to the point of passing out or snapping a joint or ligament. Recognize that you got caught, learn from it, and then never allow it to happen again.

Use your hand to tap on your partner, not the floor since they might not hear it. If you hands are tied up in the position and you can't tap with your hands, use your foot to tap on them or the floor, or yell "tap" or "ouch"! The person who is applying the submission MUST LET GO WHEN SOMEONE TAPS OUT (physical or verbal), NO EXCEPTIONS!

When applying chokes, do not hold chokes too long if you realize that your partner hasn't tapped and they are completely still. It is not always obvious that they've fallen asleep because of the choke. So, check-in with your partner or just let go! Holding a choke for more than 30 seconds can cause brain damage. So, ALWAYS ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION AND LET GO.

This is why it is important that if a choke is being applied on you, that you tap once you feel that an escape is impossible and BEFORE you fall asleep. Never avoid the tap so long that you fall asleep. Just acknowledge that you got caught, and tap out. Learn from it, tap and bump, and keep going.

9) Have fun! Don't be attached to a particular outcome! Just get on the mats, sweat, keep your partner honest (and they'll do the same to you), and play a little chess!

10) If you have any questions or concerns about rolling, please do not hesitate to let me know. My goal is to create a rolling environment where everyone is having fun, sweating, helping each other, and learning! Rolling should be fun, but challenging. It should never feel like a tournament.

No one pays their tuition to be punching bag! I will never devote time in class just for those who are training for upcoming tournaments. In fact, I will never speak of points and tournaments in class nor will I ever pressure students do tournaments. This is entirely up to the student.

Lastly, gym bullies will not be tolerated and will be asked to leave. Anyone who consistently shows that they cannot be safe with their fellow students will be asked to leave and their membership cancelled.

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