Slow Your Roll

“Beware the fury of a patient man.” – John Dryden

“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”- Steven Seagal*

Some combination of panic and pride often compels us to rush through our rolls as novices in BJJ. This proves a pretty useless approach to success never mind growth unless you’re content steamrolling newbs, the infirm, the tired huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Against higher belts it’s also a surefire way to get methodically picked apart like your grandma’s Thanksgiving turkey.

White belts are often accused of spazzing into some oblivious void of no return and rightfully so. However, while blue belts (and even some purple belts) may not spaz as much, we do love to force our way through our rolls with little foresight or sense of purpose. Often we just jam random techniques at completely inopportune moments to no avail. In either case, there comes a point where one must actively try to simply do BJJ and not rely exclusively on athleticism or mild retardation.

“Patience precedes precision.”

My old coach would often shrug and laugh as we would huff and puff our way through each and every roll as white and blue belts. He insisted time and again to focus less on speed and strength and more on seeing the proverbial chessboard in front of us. He’d argue that the aim of BJJ was not so much to overpower your opponent as it was to outwit and outsmart him. To be sure, all of my coaches value speed and strength just in an efficient, tactical manner rather than some spasmodic equivalent of Robert De Niro in Awakenings (Side note: De Niro’s the man, especially in Raging Bull and Heat, but his performance in Awakenings veers toward Simple Jack territory imo).

My coaches insist that our opponents offer an array of openings and opportunities if only we could slow down enough to see them. It’s all too easy mid-roll to become monomaniacal for either a finish or an escape. Unfortunately, we end up mindlessly rolling like our gi is on fire. Slowing down does not imply turning into a sack of potatoes on the mats either. It means implementing a certain amount of patience in your game.

Patience may seem an odd virtue in BJJ or any other combat sport, but you’ll see all the top players employ it to their advantage. Patience precedes precision. Watch highlights of Rafa and Gui Mendes. Obviously, their skills are on some cosmic level next to Shiva and Thor. Still, one can glean just how smooth their respective games are because they implement patience alongside world-class athleticism and expertise.

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Tolstoy

Even top athletes who rely almost exclusively on speed and power demonstrate patience. The best running backs in football are not only known for their athletic prowess, they’re known for patiently following their blocks for openings before exploding down the field. BJJ is no different. Reckless speed or power is often so much piss in the wind. Inevitably, you end up hitting a wall of fatigue or you get caught. Efficiency of thought and movement are far more important.

If you just can’t get yourself to slow down a bit, I highly suggest taking notes on your rolls right after training. You’ll start to see all sorts of missed opportunities as you ponder over your training sessions. This will also help slow down your rolls without getting caught in analysis paralysis.

After a fair amount of judicious note taking, my passing game is finally showing some growth. I experienced quite a bit of stagnation due to impatience and mindlessly trying to force the pass. Thankfully, I’m no longer trying to knee cut my way through each and every single type of guard presented to me. It’s difficult, but I try to process what guard is in front me then commit to a pass or combination of passes. I mean suddenly there are toreandos, leg drags and smash passes to compliment my knee cut because I’ve slowed down just enough to consider what’s being presented to me.

Have you tried slowing down on the mats? Do you have any tips on slowing down while rolling?

*This quote is attributed to either the Navy SEALS or some fabled coral belt. I just split the difference and attributed it to Steven Seagal since he’s obviously some combination of both but even better /s.

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