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Often, and rightly so, beginner grapplers will ask “How do I start a roll?”

A good question with more than one answer that can depend on your ability, tendencies, body type/size etc.


If rolling with someone significantly smaller than you or with a considerable disadvantage in skill, start from a disadvantageous position. Begin the roll with your partner on your back, in bottom side control, even in the guard if that is part of your game that needs work. Allow them to feel positions that they otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to and as you work back to where you feel your game is optimal. Being a bigger player especially, you will have little trouble feeling and smashing guards of someone that is not your match physically and/or technically.

Being big you will always have an easier time with the offensive aspects of grappling especially from the top. There is always a guy that swings a bigger stick and if your grappling repertoire consists entirely of you being the physically imposing player, you will learn quickly that the gentle art is that of tact and finesse and there is developmentally little room to advance past the stage of smash and grab. That and you will most likely get hammered and have to rethink your entire progress to this point. Choose wisely.

If this isn’t your cup of tea and you’re still unsure, then let your partner dictate. That might sound like you’re taking a back seat in the roll, however, this can be performed very subtly. If your partner sits back, come up to your knee/s. If your opponent comes up, then sit back and play your guard. At such an early stage it is more important that you just START THE ROLL. If they come up to a knee and you hate playing guard, guess what? You’re playing guard.

If/when the day comes that you wish to compete or (god forbid) you have to use grappling in a real life confrontation, your attacker or opponent will not ask you how you will prefer the situation to go.

If you like playing on top and hate your guard, then it probably needs work and vice versa. You can lie to yourself but the mats have a unique way of smacking the reality into you.

So if you are unsure as to how to start a roll:

  • If you’re bigger or more technically capable than your partner, start from where you are weakest or defensively unsound
  • If this isn’t to your taste, play with whatever is presented to you at the time and just START THE ROLL.


Jake Anderson

BJJ Grappling Improving Technique

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