There are many different opinions in the martial arts world about how to properly train in Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Some instructors believe that it is important to train hard and competitively with your training partners, others believe that the best way to improve is by staying relaxed and technical during training.
Both of these training styles are important to implement. The best approach is likely a combination of the two.
Can you really improve by rolling light?
When asked to roll light, most people simply think it means that one person will sit there doing nothing while the other person goes through attacks.
This is completely the wrong way of rolling light and technical. You should be slowing your game down completely, while avoiding using strength in your technique.
Once you acquire a position, there is no need to hold and maintain it, you already have it, so move on to the next progression or allow your partner to set up an escape. Light rolling should actually look similar to a demonstration.
You break guard, and pass to side control, and while there, maybe your partner initiates an escape. If not, you establish control and set up a submission or move to a new position. It is an art form, it should be very free and loose.
The fact that it is slowed down will allow you to think 2 or 3 moves ahead, you can anticipate and plan ahead. This is where instincts can be built, it is very important to do this type of “flow roll” to improve your game.
When to keep it light.
Now that we have established how one can benefit from light rolling, we need to decide when is best to use this type of training. It can be used as a great way of warming up, and if you can find a willing partner during the normal sparring session who likes to flow roll, then that is also a good time.
The more you practice this way, the more you will start to enjoy it. It is respectful to start out by rolling light when you are going against upper belts. When you roll light, you allow the higher belt to dictate the pace and the effort in the roll.
Some higher belts will go full-bore, and you can do the same once they have established that.
Others will appreciate the opportunity to roll light and keep it technical. You can do this yourself with the lower belts, lighten up to the point where you are forced to use your skills instead of just smashing your partner.
A good time to use light rolling is when you are a few days out from competition, this will help you get your mind ready and avoid physical injury.
Iron Sharpens Iron!
There are grapplers who only roll hard, in fact, that’s what most of them do. There is one tried and true quote that is exemplified here: “iron sharpens iron.” If you want to train to compete, you need to train as if it is a competition.
Your reactions will be too slow if you do nothing but roll light, you will not be accustomed to the pace and effort required for multiple matches lasting 5-10 minutes each.
Rolling hard will improve your cardio and test your willpower during those long sessions in the gym. You can learn a lot about yourself when you are put into deep water.
It is best to learn those lessons in training where there isn’t so much on the line, and you will feel more comfortable and confident in competition after knowing what you have been through.
There is no universal way of training that will work for everyone. Some practitioners may excel when they do nothing but roll hard while training, or vice versa.
Combining the two methods of rolling and finding what works best for you and your style of Brazilian jiu jitsu is your responsibility. When all of your strength and energy is gone, all that remains is technique. Technique prevails when all other things are equal.
If your technique is lacking, maybe it is time to try out some light rolling to slow it down and fill in the gaps. If your technique is effective, then keep on grinding and roll hard.