Sparring is Training, Not the Worlds Final - alldaybjj

Sparring is Training, Not the Worlds Final

In a previous blog, we went over some guidelines for sparring that I found posted on the wall at the last academy I visited. At the time, I didn’t have permission to post the entire list verbatim, but now I do and will post it up here.

As mentioned in the previous blog, no matter where we go or what belt rank we are, we often have anxiety rolling with new or specific people because they either don’t know how to roll with others yet, can’t control their ego or emotions, or they think every live training session is the Worlds final and they have to win it.

This was especially true this week for me when two higher rank females (a 4-stripe brown belt and purple belt) came to train during the class I was teaching. Towards the end of class, we did some “King of the Hill” live training and I put two of my lighter weight white belts in their group. There was an initial sense of hesitancy on both sides, but at the end of the training session, everyone had fun, good rolls and nobody got hurt. Later after class, both women complimented the guys on how nice it was to roll with a white belt dude who wasn’t spazzy or trying to impose their will (and strength) on them. Unfortunately this isn’t the standard, although many of us (especially women) wish that it were.

Perhaps if guidelines for sparring were introduced when people first start to live train, it could change the way that they approach sparring if they actually make it a point to understand what the point of sparring is in the first place. In the academy where I saw the Guidelines for Sparring posted, at the Adamson Brothers Jiu-Jitsu in Seaside, Oregon, I can say that while I had initial anxiety rolling with new people, in the end I had super fun and technical rolls – which I could credit their coaches and professors for ensuring/enforcing these guidelines for sparring. This may not be 100% of the reason, but I think fostering a positive and learning training environment is key for growth in Jiu-Jitsu.

Ok so anyway… here it is:

Guidelines for Sparring by JAMES PUOPOLO

  1. Safety– When sparring it is the top priority to make sure you are doing so in a safe manner. Bending back fingers, slamming, illegal leglocks (toe holds, heel hooks, kneebars), grinding with elbows, etc. are not allowed during sparring. These are dangerous and are signs that you lack either the technical knowledge or emotional control to spar.
  2. Respect – This is the foundation for every interaction on and off the mats. Cursing, being rough, bragging, excessive talking during training, etc. are all signs of disrespect. These have no place at the academy.
  3. Mindset – The purpose of sparring is to improve and learn. These are always the foundation of any training session. Jiu-Jitsu is very difficult and requires us to challenge ourselves everyday physically, mentally, and emotionally. Try to sweat, smile, and learn every class. When you are finished training, I highly recommend finding 3 positives and 1 thing you want to improve. Writing these in a journal is a great way to help keep a positive and solutions-based practice.
  4. Mat awareness – Be aware of the space around you. Make sure to reset if your training takes you out of a reasonable area from where you started, close to walls, out of bounds, or near other groups.
  5. Relax – Sparring should be fun and provide an opportunity to learn; it is not a “fight.” Your mindset should be to apply techniques and improve. There is no way to “win” during sparring. Competitions are the place to try to test ourselves and win. Talk to Professor [James] if you are interested in competing.
  6. Tap – The best way to learn in Jiu-Jitsu is to train with partners who can submit you. The best philosophy for tapping when you are learning is tap early and tap often. It is not a sign of weakness as some might think, actually quite the opposite. Tapping shows that you are in control of your ego and open to learning.
  7. Partners – Selecting the right training partners help everyone. When possible try to train with partners who are around your same size and rank. If you are training with partners who are smaller, lower ranking, older, younger, make sure you are using an appropriate level of resistance. A heavyweight black belt can roll with a lightweight white belt and both can improve from the training, but only if both practitioners approach the training with the proper mindset.
  8. Feedback – It is appropriate to ask questions or give constructive feedback after the round is over. Never stop a round to help a partner or ask questions. Ask questions respectfully and in a spirit of learning. Giving feedback is important for learning, but there is a limit to how much is helpful and should be kept to 1-3 short tips. Be conscious of your rank when giving feedback. Lower ranking and newer members should be in learning mode and keeping teaching to a minimum.

If many, or if not all of these points resonate with you, please be sure to share this with your fellow teammates/training partners… and be sure to credit Professor James Puopolo with the knowledge drop. Happy sparring!

Lea Young

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Rich McKeegan - September 1, 2018

Great article and love the rules of sparring! Going to see how we can incorporate this in our academy.


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