GB Student Question: “Can I get better by just rolling a lot?”

A Gracie Barra student writes in and asks “I see some of the purple, brown, and black belts just come at the end of class for rolling… How important is it to go to the technical part of the class? Is drilling important?”
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The short answer is: It is important to go to the technique portion of the class and also to drill.
It’s true that many more advanced students want to just show up at the end of class for the rounds of rolling. For guys who have been around the mats for several years, already have a solid grasp of the basics, and have a solid idea of what their game is. With enough technical knowledge, much of their improvement will come from developing the anticipation, timing, and recognition of the openings that come from live rolling.
And you will develop a lot of mental toughness and your physical attributes through rolling.
Plus rolling is just plain a lot of fun!
That said, when we want to add a new technique to our jiu-jitsu (or sharpen an existing technique that we know), we need to first learn the mechanics of the movement, receiving correction from the instructor, and then perform a lot of repetitions with a cooperative partner until we have drilled the movement pattern into our muscle memory. It is a rare student who sees a move once and then can right away use it successfully in live sparring.
Most Gracie Barra classes conduct some positional or specific rolling for whatever position was taught in that day’s class. An example of a Side Mount class would be limited sparring where the two training partners start in side control with the rules to be escaping side control on the bottom and the top student controls the position and tries to submit. You reset in side control once the objective has been reached by one of the partners. This is a great way to maximize the time spent training in that specific position. We might look at this as drilling the technique meets live sparring.
I’ve interviewed many of Gracie Barra’s top competitors on the GB Blog and all point to specific positional sparring as a key part of their tournament preparation.
As a brown belt, I often attended the Fundamentals classes at my GB school. Many of the white belts were puzzled why an experienced brown belt was attending a “beginners” class? “Why aren’t you going to the Advanced class? Isn’t the Fundamentals a waste of time for a brown belt?”
No! My jiu-jitsu game was more focused on the basic techniques done with precision and applying the fine details to make the technique as efficient and effective as possible. Secondly, even the basic straight armbar from the mount has many fine details that turn the technique from a loose, awkward movement into a dangerous, submission that works even on high-level black belts. My head instructor could always add additional tips to further sharpen my straight armbar to a black belt level.
So to come back to the original question: while open rolling is great (and absolutely necessary for your jiu-jitsu) often learning and drilling in class provides the most benefit to our jiu-jitsu. Don’t skip the technique portion of the class!
See also on GB Blog: GB Values: Goals and Discipline with Master Carlos Gracie Jr.
Writer: Mark Mullen, Gracie Barra Black Belt