One of the truly unique things about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is the connections we make on the mat; after any stretch of time training at a gym, you are bound to make friends out of your training partners. You experience various challenges together, develop your skills together and, most importantly, make friends for life. I’d like to think that many of us are conscientious training partners; striving to reach our goals alongside our friends and training partners.
I was asked an interesting question recently by a friend who doesn’t train (often naive eyes can present us with new ways of looking at a question we have taken for granted.): Don’t you find it difficult sparring with your friends when you know some techniques hurt them?
My immediate response was simple: I don’t use techniques that hurt my training partners. The more I thought about this question however, the more I started to look at it from different angles…
-What if I didn’t finish that submission in training because I was being too nice?
-What would have happened if I had used a little bit more of that technically tough pressure to pass my training partner’s guard in that situation?
-I feel like I give my friend/training partner too much space during hard training.
These thoughts manifested recently when I started to prepare seriously for the upcoming competition season. Many of my friends at the gym were planning to compete too, and in fact some would even be in the same division as myself!
I found myself rolling with one of my regular training partners one night and I could feel him turning up the intensity (technically, not just being rough for the sake of it). At first I felt upset, offended even; I thought to myself “This isn’t how we usually roll, I don’t get why he’s trying to turn it up on me!”.
He went on to submit me four or five times in the remainder of the roll, which never usually happened in our ‘nice’ rolls. It clicked later that sometimes we have to put being ‘nice’ aside to make progress. The next time we rolled, I felt him turn up the intensity, and I responded in kind. We went on to have an amazing roll, for a full 9 minutes we fought counter to counter, transition to transition and position to position. While we lay exhausted on the mats afterwards, both of us revelled in that sensation of spent joy knowing we had just given it our all and both of us had come off better for it.
By raising the intensity, putting aside the niceties we usually rolled with, we elevated our level of rolling and opened our games up; creating more opportunities to grow in our training.
Personal anecdotes aside; I think that being nice can slow your progress. When we start to go through the motions with our regular training partners, our rolls tend to start looking the same. We give our partners opening and opportunities as we try to make the roll more ‘enjoyable’, but in the long run this could actually be hindering your training!
Our regular training partners should be the ones we feel comfortable enough with to turn up the intensity without having to worry about ‘offending’ them or ‘being nice’. Of course, I am not advocating going in with the intention of hurting anyone or being excessively rough- we shouldn’t be doing that with anyone- but I do recommend talking openly with your regular training partners to make sure that they are on the same page as you, after all you don’t want to lose good training partners because they perceive your actions in the wrong way.
Since I have started to reflect this in my own training, I have found success executing techniques that before I really used to struggle with. I have noticed an improvement with my passing, the maintaining of dominant positions and the finishing of submissions. Of course, this works both ways; when my regular training partners turn up the intensity and force me to work better defensively they often come out of our sparring sessions having imposed their game plans more effectively too!
It’s a win-win, especially when it comes to hard competition training. There will always be a place for ‘nicer’ rolls, where we flow with less resistance or concede positions or sweeps, but sometimes there is nothing better for improvement than tough (but technical) training. Whether you’re a hobbyist or a competitor, I think it is crucial to vary the intensity of your training, that’s what this all comes down to essentially anyways.Variation will always lead to improvement, often we are not hitting that dreaded ‘plateau’; we’re just not varying our training, we’re getting bored and simply going through the motions rather than being totally present, experimenting and changing up our training methodologies.
So the next time you feel like your training is getting stagnant, or you’re not giving your regular training partner the best training, try changing up the intensity and put aside being ‘nice’ and get back to learning & improving alongside your friends.