Rolling with a smaller training partner – By George Atton

I am a 115kg purples belt out of GSA Alexandria and I wanted to share some of my ideas when I am rolling with the smaller people in the gym.

Firstly I need to be very aware that a sudden uncontrolled moved on my part could result in injury to my partner, also people train for a variety of reasons and having a larger partner crushing down on them for 5 minutes might not be their idea of fun. Jiu Jitsu is for life and I think it’s our responsibility to try and encourage and develop the gentle art for everyone

Basically I have two training modes, general and comp. In comp it’s all A game, I am not working on anything new and just working my bread and butter techniques from various positions. General training involves everything from just a gentle flow roll to working new techniques and trying to fit them into my A game. My general rolls are not about ‘winning’ but about training, evolving my game, sometimes it’s about helping my training partner and improving their game.

The Technically Adept Partner, When I am rolling with a smaller but technically equal or superior partner I will generally try to pass their guard, this is where they will usually want to be anyway. I will try to work my more technical passes like leg drags and X pass at the start. I try not to use too much weight at the start and let my partner warm up into the roll. Eventually I will try some of my heavier passes, such as smash pass or knee through, but I will be very conscious of not injuring my training partner. If I do manage to pass I will rarely put my weight through in side control, I am really working on catching things on the transition, so I need to let my partner move to get to that split second hole in the transition.

OK now when I get to roll with smaller less technical partners I do lots of different things, firstly I look at how their body language before we tap hands.

The nervous looking partner, I will try to make relax and usually pull guard on. I will let them start to attempt to pass, if the pass is technically working and their base is solid, I will allow it. My grips will be very light and I will be generally just using stiff arms to block the shoulders or hips, from here I will try to reguard by moving my hips. My movement will be methodical and not very explosive. If I get back to guard I will repeat the pattern seeing if they will adapt and change their strategy. My aim here is to get my partner to use the techniques they have been learning with confidence without the fear of me using them as a grappling dummy to show them how I have ‘mad skillz’. In guard I will test out their base and sweep if there is a big hole, but will bail from the dominant position fairly easily. I will probably attack the very same sweep to see if they adapt their base. Any submissions I will attempt here will be very slow and I will telegraph my attack allowing for them to defend, again if my submission is successful I will probably go back to it.

The bull at a gate partner, similar strategy again, but usually this partner has a bit more energy and I need to be careful he doesn’t hurt me or himself with his enthusiasm. This partner makes up for lack of knowledge with lots movement and strength. (I was this guy when I started). I will try to hold guard and sweep, but will probably hold the dominant position and let the partner use up a little energy pushing. If my partner is a little too vigorous I will probably say something and try to get him to roll ‘nicer’. My main concern being if they roll like that with other less experienced people at the gym they will hurt our fellow club members. One of the benefits of rolling with this partner is they will attempt some unusual stuff that might catch you of guard

The new toy partner has just started to get good at a new technique and is really starting to experiment with it. I will let them get their grips and get deep into the position and then move around. I will be looking at ways to counter the technique and also how to play off the transitions that could come from there. The level of resistance will vary here depending on the partners adeptness at the using the new toy

I really want to encourage my partners to persevere with whatever technique they are playing with and evolving, the more and varied techniques my training partners have the more likely I will not come across something new in competition.

The solid training partner, I will usually attempt techniques that aren’t part of my usual arsenal and consciously stay away from my A game. This will usually result in me being put into bad positions and having to really work my defence. Again if I do manage to get to a dominate position I will attempt a submission fairly quickly, either getting the sub or losing position. Other times with a solid training partner I will ask them if there is any specific thing they would like to train, or if they would allow me to work a specific technique.

My Grips, I can also use variations in grips to change the dynamic of the roll. From just using basic stiff arms to block passing or to using just my pinch grip to hold grips (allowing an easier grip break for my partner).

Bad Positions, I can also allow my partner to move into a dominant position to work my escapes.

Coaching, I try to minimise coaching during the roll. Rolling time is rolling time, I will sometimes attack the same weakness a number of times and possibly slow the attack down so my partner has a chance to make the adjustments required to counter.