Why we roll
One of the reasons some people are so attracted to jiu-jitsu is the concept of roll. And by roll I just don’t mean sparring, but rolling. There is a subtle yet very important difference between these two ideas, which has to do with the fact that jiu-jitsu is, after all, a gentle art (“arte suave”). The beauty of jiu-jitsu in general, and of the roll in particular, is that although with potentially dangerous consequences (or submissions, as we all know them), it can leave you unharmed in the end. This is why it’s gentle and this is why we love it.
Rolling is not violent, compared to a sparring session for a striking art. It doesn’t involve brute force and short bursts of power, but a different and somewhat more complex awareness and control of your own body and of the body of your partner. Anybody can throw a punch and hit someone, but it takes a certain degree of skill and finesse to be able to roll and to avoid using strength and taking advantage of what your partner is doing.
Some people call it human chess and consider it superior, in this regard, to boxing. But boxing is just as comparable to chess as jiu-jitsu. Both involve planning your moves against another live being’s moves, taking advantage of their positioning, guessing their intentions and exploiting opportunities in their game. But it’s different types of chess we are talking about, with different types of movements and yes, in this regard jiu-jitsu is much less limited and much more fluid. If boxing has a certain number of moves available, jiu-jitsu has at least ten times more, and this is the reason why rolling might seem more complex.
But it’s not the only one, so let’s get back to the focus on gentle. Not being punched in the face also means you can take a shower, put on a suit and go back to work after training like nothing happened. Like you didn’t just get in a fight. because you didn’t just fought, you rolled. And rolling does not absorb shocks, it does its best to avoid them. And although it can be hard, it is usually not brutal. bloody, or messy.
Rolling can also be neverending, as it allows you to conserve your energy and damage does not pile up until your body breaks down, while a striking sparring is never a zero sum game. Someone gets hit and those punches and kicks must land somewhere and do some real damage. Whatever level of protection you are wearing, whatever restraint is in place. The goal is to hit while avoiding to get yourself hit.
In a roll, on the other hand, he or she who controls the roll controls the outcome, but it’s still a roll, and by design, it’s not supposed to end.
And with the quality of your roll comes the quality of the friendships you develop on the mats. And these can be good, enduring friendships. Because once you’re comfortable enough to roll with someone, you’re already able to communicate with them on a much deeper, more intimate level. A roll opens you up and gets you to trust your partner, but it also gets you to know each other. You can’t fake a roll, and the way you react in it is usually the way you are in real life, outside the gym, outside the roll. If you’re nervous, your roll will suffer and it will show. If you’re happy, your roll will be better. If you’re scared your fear will get you tired fast. There’s no hiding during a roll, and we all know it, and this is another reason why we love it.
This is how the jiu-jitsu lifestyle begins, and this is also how it ends. With a roll. And the better your roll, the better your jiu-jitsu, and the better yourself.