At some point in your jiu jitsu training it will be time for you to start participating in open mat or sparring sessions, often referred to as “rolling” in jiu-jitsu. Some schools don’t advise it until a student has sufficient background, which may vary from just a couple months to several months of practice. In any case it’s an integral part of the learning process, and it will put you on the path of increasing your proficiency in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Initially your training may start with technique learning and repetition, but eventually your training should consist of these 3 basic parts: Technique learning with repetition, drilling, and sparring.
Some people have the mindset that sparring is just for those who desire jiu-jitsu competition. That is far from the truth. Sparring has many benefits as I will share some with you, whether you’re intending to compete or not. Nothing else prepares you for a real fight, or competition as well as live sparring. It’s a great way to get and stay in shape as it is a high cardiovascular workout. Keeping your body in shape has all the health benefits, but more importantly if you are attacked on the street you’ll have the endurance to properly defend yourself and go the distance to achieve a successful outcome, likewise in competition.
Regular sparring also gives you the chance to practice the techniques you have learned. It gives you the opportunity to try your stuff out against a live, resisting opponent, as opposed to your partner typically being more cooperative when just practicing techniques in class. Sparring also helps improve the timing of applying your techniques, and your reaction time to your opponents movements and behavior. Throughout the sparring match your body will be in a number of different positions, and you will learn how to react and deal with all of those situations that may come up in a real fight, or in competition. You will get in bad positions especially if you spar with higher ranking students, and that’s when sparring also will help develop your patience and teach you to not use your strength, but rather rely on your technique and skill. Sparring also helps develop your strategic thinking and to anticipate your opponents movements. You will learn to always be one step ahead of your opponent as you will be able to plan out a sequence of moves in advance, or you will be able to defend off some action of theirs in advance.
The more often you spar the better off you will be when or if the time comes for you to use your jiu-jitsu, whether it’s in competition or if you find yourself in a real fight. A student once told me who was attacked out on the street that because of his frequent sparring and drilling in class the actual fight felt he was training at the academy. He felt comfortable, didn’t panic, and his jiu-jitsu reflexes just kicked in. The last thing you want to happen in the fight is for it to feel unfamiliar or awkward. You have techniques in your mind, but you’re not comfortable or polished in combining them in sequences, or connecting the dots as we say. This can be a bad feeling and a bad outcome.
This article is intended to tell you that you need to incorporate sparring into your training regimen. How to spar and things to consider while sparring to get the most out of your training is a whole other topic. Meanwhile, keep polishing your techniques, and find time to incorporate sparring into your routine.
Good Luck - Greg Eldred