BJJ: When is Rolling Like Screaming?

I am regularly involved on Jiu Jitsu Forums and Reddit, and the question of aggressiveness often come up. When should you be aggressive, at what point, etc. What I’ve come to realize is that rolling is a lot like speaking with others, and that aggression is like screaming. When people scream at me, I can scream back or try to respond normally – but in any case, it’s clear that it doesn’t match my conversation style, and their aggression doesn’t match my rolling style.

I’ve identified a few rolling styles – I’d love to know if I’ve left any out, and which rolling style you most often use.


Key points: Low-energy, enjoyable, not particularly challenging on either end, friendly, back and forth.


Key points: Dominates the conversation, excited to try things out, doesn’t pay attention to turn-taking, assumes that if the other person wants to say something they will.


Key points: Attempts to win in a logical manner, presents points and counterpoints, calculated, carefully assesses and addresses opponent, very focused.


Key points: Yells, uses volume if they can’t make a logical point, sometimes resorts to name calling or pushing.


Key points: Totally quiet, doesn’t respond well, afraid to speak up, afraid to be misunderstood, embarrassed when speaking.


Key points: Sets up the conversation for the other person to win or practice a key point, gives +1 level of difficulty based on what the person can handle, focuses mostly on the other person.

My personal rolling style is “coffee shop” – and several of the gyms I’ve visited are more like debate teams with a dash of (metaphoric) yelling. I recognize that if I never train debate style, I won’t be good at it, and yet at the same time, I really love rolling more conversationally and less competitively.

Jiu Jiu’s Question: Which style best describes your rolling? Did I leave any out?

Reminder: One more day for the COMMENT CONTEST! Winner gets a FREE pair of spats from OK Kimonos! Highest number of comments wins. Contest ends February 28 at midnight (end of the day!) – SEOUL time!

Note: Apologies for my lack of engagement this month. February has been really tough – losing a job, boyfriend moving away, starting a new job next week, changing gyms – it’s been a bit overwhelming and I’ve retreated into Candy Crush land to not-deal with things.

  1. Teacher, teacher, teacher. Even when I’m trying to debate or coffee with someone, I always end up sliding back into teacher mode. The worst part is that even when I’m getting schooled myself, my brain still keeps trying to slip back into teachering.

    • What belt are you? Are you an instructor?

      I’ve noticed that it’s easy to fall into funny habits. I need to work escapes so I spent a long time being really relaxed about ending up on the bottom – so much so that after a month or so of not caring about being on the bottom I’ve gotten rubbish (or should that be even more rubbish) at maintaining any top position. I’ve let myself get used to giving up positions.

      Is that what’s happened to you, but on a bigger scale?

      • Yes, I’ve been teaching martial arts for almost 30 years now, jiu-jitsu for about a dozen. Your example is spot on, too. I’ve gotten used to shifting my focus away from my own flow.

        • Ahh, that’s really interesting! I always wondered what it was like for instructors if they don’t get to roll often with people close to their own skill level. I’m sure your students really appreciate the tips you give them though.

          • Sometimes the instructors are the only ones that will roll with me …cry…lol. But as a person of larger size, I want to say THANK YOU to all the instructors that sacrifice their bodies for the their students. I always learn the most when I’m training with the instructors….especially not to smash ;p

  2. Debate. I’m not on the mat to win for the sake of winning. I’m there to learn, and I think that this is the way that’s best for me. I try to focus on using specific techniques and I try to learn the patterns of movement that set up said techniques, their counters, and so forth. My goal is to ask my opponent a question that he can’t answer.

  3. Cool concept ๐Ÿ™‚

    I emjoy friendly “screaming” debate – it’s fun, fast paced, challenging, great cardio and lets me know what my body knows (as opposed to techniques I have to consciously consider using). It’s amusing to see what weird positions come out of a scramble. But then I favor wrestling/ sub grappling and am relatively new to the laid-back BJJ thing. This style is not fun if the other person isn’t also into it.

    I am trying not to be confused by people dialing back for me – the obviousness of their waiting makes me wonder if they are waiting for something quite specific and if so, what? Dredging my brain for an answer – attempted mind reading – slows me down, so I’m trying to re-frame my approach to the situation. It also freaks me out when teachers look bored. I absolutely hate when I make a mistake and the person stops rolling to tell me and then spends the rest of the time setting up the scenario over and over … and then not rolling with me later because they got nothing out of it. I believe that each participant should find a reward of some sort in every roll, no matter the level difference.

    Coffee shop is great for a warm up and I’m planning on doing a lot of it if I can find willing partners once I come back from my current injured status. There’s this thing called Chess Game that a wonderful lady taught me at a camp a few months ago that is an exaggeratedly slow version of this and it’s an amazing learning tool.

  4. Argument trying to move into debate. Would like to get to coffee shop mode. Good luck with all the changes!

  5. I think I’m naturally an ARGUMENT!! (too much yang all my life), but I’ve got so slow that I seem like a coffee shop.

  6. Hmmmm…I’m not sure where I would fall on this spectrum yet. I agree with most of these styles but I have a feeling there are a few in between perhaps one that relies off of pure instinct, less aggressive (I roll with many people like that) as well as people who interrupt, for lack of a better term.Presenters are definitely my favourite to roll with because I learn the most from them. I think there must also be a sub category of Teacher for people who have a tendency to stop the roll and “teach” if they feel you are getting the better of them. I encounter these folks all the time and they definitely stand out from people who are genuinely trying to teach you. They stifle learning and have a tendency to only be concerned about placing themselves in an advantageous position as opposed to helping other on the mat. Either way. Interesting thoughts.

  7. When I first started, I think I had my own category apply named “HULK SMASH!” But now after several months of rolling with blue and purple belts…and gamma radiation treatments (j/k) I am now at a debate practitioner (or try to be). And when I roll with smaller partners I try to be the teacher. I don’t mean to say that I know a lot…or anything for that matter, I just really enjoy position drilling with partners and focusing on the small details.

    Good luck with all your life changes! And remember what Conan said…”To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” wait wait wait…wrong quote. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” <-That's the right one for sure ;p

  8. I actually find that my style changes depending on which group I’m with. So if I’m with a bunch of people that are waaaaayyy higher ranked then I am so shy I get embarrassed just thinking about it but if they’re new or looking shy I slip into a teacher/coffee shop mode. Like I really don’t want to scare them or anything so I just try and be as low key and casual about it as possible.

    XD Sumochris -any roles in the avengers coming up?

  9. I roll differently with different people. My instructor keeps things really slow and gentle when he’s rolling with me, and it is almost a debate in that he’ll put something forward and then give me a chance to answer it. If he thinks the answer is wrong he’ll be forceful in making his point back, otherwise the point is acknowledged and we’ll move on.

    I coffee shop roll with people who are newer/less experienced/less competitive than I am – I’m still new myself so there aren’t many people in that group, but there’s a couple. It’s hard for me to set that tone because it goes against my natural personality, but it’s interesting to occasionally slow the pace down.

    My favourite rolls are friendly arguments with upper blue belt guys – they’re fast paced (well, they feel fast too me) and competitive, and I really feel like I’m being challenged. The guys seem to enjoy them too, because they get to play with techniques that are new to them and get some resistance. The techniques would never work at all if they tried them on someone of their own belt level, and they get to iron a few of the most glaring weaknesses out with a relative newbie.

    I don’t mind the occasional screaming match with someone close to my size and ability level – they’re good for preparing you for competition. The risk of injury is a bit too high for me to want them every week though.

  10. I am so new that I barely even know which style I am but am pretty sure it’s coffee shop for me too. I spend a lot of my day behind the computer screen coding, so once I am out from behind there, I’m just happy to be moving around and chatting.

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  12. SNAKE OIL SALESMAN Key Points: Compels, cajoles or โ€˜tricksโ€™ others into accepting an outcome that is entirely in their favor, at the expense of the other party. Basically, one of those high level rollers that is able to influence your behavior during a roll and fool you into doing exactly what they want you to do, at which point they capitalize.

  13. Good point with this comparison to discussion.
    At my academy we have “slow rolling” as a part of the warm-up, and “normal rolling” as the last part of the class. Usually the slow rolling is a kind of coffee shop. Sometimes it goes exactly like such slow discussion – A syas something, lets B say something else, than B asks something, A replies and so on… On the other hand when there is a huge difference in technical level even a “coffe shop talk” may be in fact a “presentation” done by a “teacher” (as a mere white belt I have experienced it so many times…).
    During the rolling at the end of class I tend to be a debate guy. If possible I try to stick to certain ideas I want to test, even i fthis means letting my partner to dominate (e.g. I want to work on my side control escape). The reality is however that if rolling with higher belts I have no time for debating as I desperately fight for air :).

  14. Great analogies!
    As a white belt I’m somewhere in between Laundromat and DMV.

    LAUNDROMAT- watching as people quietly and neatly fold their clothes while you’re pulling lint out of your pockets looking for that one last needed quarter, queasy from the detergent fumes and realize you lost your house keys.

    DMV- You sit nervously waiting with the other freaks, scared to get up, scared to use the disgustingly gross bathroom fearing that your number gets called. Sometimes when you go up to the counter you’re told you’ve got the wrong form- sometimes it’s over quick and easy and wasn’t so bad.