To be a true BJJ practitioner, you should know how to roll with partners of any shape, size, age or gender. By learning to roll with everyone, you get a better understanding of BJJ and develop a more comprehensive game. Some men, especially at the more inexperienced belt levels, feel a little apprehensive rolling with women. They might be afraid of hurting them, or worried that they might be accused of improper touching. They might also believe that female partners wouldn’t give them enough of a challenge. In a way, we understand where these concerns are coming from. But they can be easily rectified or dispelled.
Below are some suggestions for men on how to roll with female grapplers, in a way that will benefit both parties.
Technique over strength
Rolling with a woman is not that much different than rolling with a smaller male grappler. Focus on using technique rather than relying on your natural strength to power through. If all you want to do is just smash your training partners with pure muscle, it won’t help you or your partners progress much. You won’t be able to see and practice the many transitions and set-ups as you are too focused of powering your way through everything.
Use this opportunity to work on areas of the game which you are weaker at. For example, if you are already great on top, you don’t need to keep your smaller training partner in mount or side control forever just because you can. Allow them to sweep you or escape and then work on your guard or bottom game. Working on the weaker parts of your game with a smaller training partner is great for you as you have more room to explore, make mistakes and refine your techniques.
Give enough resistance
On the other hand, women are not as fragile as you might think. Some guys become overly cautious or totally passive when rolling with women. Being completely inert is just as bad as going too hard during a roll. It’s boring and doesn’t help your partner at all. They might as well roll with a grappling dummy! Try to find a good balance between using pure muscle to overpower a move and giving enough resistance to offer up a challenge.
Of course, if the opponent is a 100-pound female on her very first day of BJJ training with no prior athletic experience – you might have to really dial back the strength and intensity. But for females who have been training regularly, be a good training partner and help each other learn. You won’t be doing them any favors by allowing them to get away with mistakes and build bad habits during rolling. For example, if you know their sweep was not right, don’t just fall to the side like a feather. Provide some resistance or she will just keep repeating the wrong sweep technique, thinking that it works.
Strike the correct balance
With all that said, we recognize that it’s easier said than done to strike that perfect balance between going too hard and being too passive. In general, the longer you train BJJ and the more experience you have rolling with people of different sizes, the better you will get at gauging how much resistance to dish out.
But how to speed up the process? Open and honest communication often does the trick. Ask your training partner for feedback. Did she feel constantly smashed and out-muscled during the roll? Were you yielding too much? Would she like you to dial back on the intensity or give more resistance?
Do note that communication is a two-way street. For female grapplers, we must be willing to offer our honest feedback. Don’t be afraid to speak up, but don’t be overly antagonistic. We try to give our training partners the benefit of the doubt when he/she does something wrong. But if your partner keeps repeating a bad behavior despite feedback, that’s when something needs to be done. You might need to be more firm with the partner or bring up the issue with the instructor/gym owner.
Don’t be condescending
Yes, you might be able to overpower a female grappler with pure strength but please don’t underestimate her. Don’t tell her condescending things like “oh I can roll with you next as I need a rest/a light roll”, “I will not use my hands when rolling with you”, “I will close my eyes when rolling with you”, etc. This is disrespectful behavior that has no place on the mats.
BJJ is a close contact sport and every grappler who steps onto the mat is aware of this. It is not at all awkward unless you make it so. If you accidentally grab a female’s breast or butt during a roll, you don’t have to freeze, run away screaming or go crazy with the apologies. Say a simple “sorry” if you want to, and move on. Accidents happen during rolls. You might knock your partner in the eye, knee another in the balls, tug some hair or crack some fingers. As long it was not on purpose, we know it’s just part and parcel of a physical sport.
Of course, intentional groping, sexual comments and suggestive eye contact are all big no-nos on the mat. Don’t be that guy or you will find yourself kicked out of the gym.