PART 2: What Happens After You Step on the Mats
If you’ve read the first part of this article, you are ready to step on the mats at a host academy. Whether learning from an instructor or doing open sparring, there are a few things to remember to get the most out of your visit. The following tips are from my own experiences, other students, and hosts.
When attending a class or seminar where someone is teaching technique, the most important thing to remember is that the instructor is the instructor. You are NOT the instructor. This can be particularly tough on upper belts when a class is being taught by someone of a lower rank. Respect that they have been entrusted to teach and do not question their techniques during class. Pay attention and do the technique that they are actually showing. If the details are different than how you have been taught in the past, do it the way the instructor is showing. Do not show your partner something that is contrary to what the instructor has shown. If you are not the one teaching, keep it to yourself. Only show a technique if asked directly by the instructor. Also, you should introduce yourself to your partner, but do not keep chatting with your partner during class.
Open rolling or sparring is typically less structured and can be an incredible experience. It can also be extremely frustrating for both host and visitor. When rolling with someone you have just met, you have no history of trust. The ego involved when rolling with someone from outside ones own academy can lead to additional problems. Visitor and host alike may feel they are representing their entire team. Remember that you roll to learn and not to win. Sparring is not a tournament and nobody is waiting with a medal for you. The things during a sparring session that will reflect poorly on your team have nothing to do with winning. Hurting your host's students is the worst possible transgression. They have accepted the risk of allowing you into their home. Do not make them regret their decision. Do not slam into or crank on submissions. Avoid pain submissions or submissions with higher risk of injury. Know what submissions are allowed. If you put their student into a submission they have not been exposed to there is a higher risk that they will respond incorrectly and injure themselves.
You must also protect yourself. Your host may allow submissions or techniques you have not learned.
Know what your host allows. If you are not prepared for certain positions or submissions, let your rolling partner know before you begin. If you have an injury, let them know before you begin. Be prepared to tap early. Putting yourself into dangerous positions and waiting too long to tap reflects poorly on your home academy.
To get the most out of your rolls, focus on more than the tap. Sparring allows you to find out how someone with a different teacher responds to situations. Rolling with someone outside of a competition that does not know your game is a great learning opportunity. Avoid thinking of yourself as better or worse than your partner. They may be giving you 10% or 100%.
Typically, timed rounds during a class should not involve pauses to discuss a position. If you are in an open mat situation, stopping to take a closer look at a position is usually acceptable. There is no universal rule for this so take cues from your partner and those around you. As a guest the following guidelines will serve you well:
- If you are a lower rank than your partner, do not initiate teaching a technique unless asked to do so. Regardless of rank, be wary of saying a technique is outright wrong. Your partner may be attempting something from their instructor that you are not aware of. If you wish to offer suggestions, it can be as an option instead of replacement.
- Mat etiquette varies significantly by academy. Rules for the same situation might be quite different. As an example, some academies have rules on who is allowed to ask someone else to roll or spar, while others do not. Rule variations I have seen include:
- Only higher ranks may ask lower ranks to spar.
- Any student may ask any other student.
- Instructor determines who spars with each other.
Rolling with many different skill levels and body types can improve your jiu jitsu game, but you must know your limits and be strong enough to decline a request (even from an upper belt) if you do not feel comfortable rolling with them. If anyone ever warns you not to roll with a particular person from their team, there is probably a good reason. Listen to their advice.
Once you are sparring, be aware of what is happening around you and protect yourself and your partner. Most academies have rules to decide who must move when two or more pairs get close enough to risk colliding. Having these rules helps to reduce disruption during rolls. Some variations for “right-of-way” include:
- Highest rank pair has right of way and lower rank pair must move.
- Pair in position easiest to pause moves.
- Pair in greatest fear of being crushed moves.
Any student will know the rule for their home academy, so you should be able to follow your partner’s lead. Whether rolling or drilling, try not to be a mat hog. Be aware of how much space you are using. Sweeps and takedowns typically take more space. If the mat is crowded, it might be better to work on something else.
The last big thing I’ve learned over the years is that every academy has rules you will never think to ask about. These are the unwritten rules that are reasonable and obvious to members of the academy but will completely blindside a visitor. It is almost impossible to know of these rules before you break them. If an instructor or student points one out to you, your best response it to thank them for letting you know and try not to do whatever you just did ever again.
Hopefully this article will help you make the most out of visiting other jiu jitsu academies. Most hosts are very forgiving of any mistakes you might make as long as you are respectful. Your team is your family, but there is a great extended jiu jitsu family out there for you to meet as well. I hope you make the best of it.