One of the best things about training in Southern California is that I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to the training partners in my environment. I have my choice of whatever size and level training partner I want; whenever I leave or travel to another gym, however, I’m reminded that my experiences with an excess of size and skill-appropriate training partners is the exception rather than the rule.
For many people, learning how to train with everyone is a necessity rather than an intentional choice, but being capable of training with everyone and doing so regularly is something that is important for BJJ practitioners of all levels.
For ease of discussion, I’ve decided to discuss this issue by approximate belt level; however, these are just guidelines, and you should apply the lessons as they pertain to your situation.
When you’re a white belt, you’re still in the process of learning which way is up when you’re sparring. It can take months before you pull off a submission in training, and that’s perfectly fine.
Training with people of different levels and different sizes is essential for understanding the different ways that different bodies react to the same technique.
Training with other white belts gives you the opportunity to try techniques that you’ve learned in class, and training with everyone else will often provide some much-needed perspective on how to move and defend effectively.
White belts need to train with everyone and they need to learn to tailor their training to the person they’re sparring with.
Blue and Purple Belt
I am hesitant to lump blue and purple belts together, because there is such a vast discrepancy between the new blue belt and the experienced purple belt. However, the path from blue belt through purple belt is part of the same phase of development.
For blue and purple belts, training with white belts (or less experienced people of any belt level) can provide a much-needed ego boost. Bigger and smaller training partners allow the practitioner to hone his or her technique based on body size, skill, and strength level.
Brown and Black Belt
Once we get to brown and black belt— unless we’re very fortunate indeed— most of our training partners are going to be people of a lower level or of a different size.
For me, it’s very rare to find another female brown or black belt to train with, let alone someone my size, so I have to make do with a wide range of different training partners to approximate competition. When we reach this level of skill, we’ve become part of a group that is, by its nature, small.
I’ve read over and over again that most people quit at blue belt, although I’m not certain it’s accurate— so for brown and black belts, I suggest training with every brown and black belt you meet.
When you reach a level of proficiency in which you’re winning nearly every round, it’s time to tailor the benefits you get from a training round to the skill level and assets of your partner. This is a conscious choice and one that should be made before you begin the round. It applies to people of all skill levels to a certain extent.
White belts, for instance, might be solely trying to survive and avoid hurting their partners, but these are worthy goals. The most important thing is to learn to value the potential benefits of every training partner, regardless of size or skill.
Some level of altruism is important in a productive training environment; we have to give a little to get benefits from training with a varied group.
About The Author
Chelsea Leah is one of the top female Black Belt Jiu Jitsu competitors in the world and one of the senior instructors at the Art Of Jiu Jitsu in California.
Among her many accomplishments are 2014 World Champion (Brown Belt), Metamoris Competitor, FIVE Super League competitor, and multiple IBJJF Gold medalist.
For more information about Chelsea visit her blog at http://chelseabjj.com/