BJJ Matches: Context, Starting, and Sparring Info

When you first begin Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you may not understand what exactly a match, rolling, or sparring is. What is the difference? How do you start? How hard should you go? It seems simple enough, but there are a few nuances that will help you get the bigger picture.

1. Understand the context of the roll.

Before you start the match, you should consider the context of the person you’re rolling with, where you’re at, and the social dynamics at play. In order to keep yourself and your training partner safe, you need to be aware of the specifics that make each roll different. Depending on the variables, you will likely want to approach each roll slightly different.

New Training Partners

When you first roll with someone you’ve never been paired with, it can sometimes be a bit awkward. If you’re unsure how to act, here are some things to consider and some general guidelines to follow for each situation:

  • Is this person bigger? Give more pressure.

  • Is this person smaller? Give less pressure.

  • Is this person more experienced? Bring your A game.

  • Is the person less experienced? Work on your weaker techniques.

Regular Training Partners

If you are matched with someone you regularly train with, the range of social dynamics begin to narrow significantly. You will probably feel more comfortable sparring with this person, as you will likely know each other’s games and patterns.

Competition Match Opponents

When you’re at a tournament or competition, a number of things will be different than a typical sparring session at your gym:

  • Prepare for a higher level of intensity: Your level of intensity should and probably will increase. You will likely not have control over this due to nerves and adrenaline.

  • Let the referee worry about your opponent: You do not have to worry about your training partner. It is the referee’s job to keep your opponent safe. Do not stop until the referee stops you.

  • You will get tired much faster than normal: You might be thinking you have pretty good cardio, but you’ll be amazed at how winded you get during a competition. Remember to keep breathing, because you’ll probably forget at some point.

  • Your opponent might try to fight dirty: This won’t always happen, but be aware of the tricks that your opponent might try. Examples include lightly tapping out so that the referee won’t see it.

This is the one place where social dynamics go out the window, and you no longer have to hold anything back. Of course, you should still conduct yourself in a respectful and responsible manner, but you should not be thinking about your opponent’s safety during the match.

Competition Training Partners

When preparing for a competition, it can be hard to walk the line between a good training partner and doing what is necessary to get yourself ready. As mentioned above, you shouldn’t be worrying about your opponent during a competitive match, and it can be beneficial to try and simulate that when preparing for competition.

Ask a training partner you trust if you can ramp up the intensity for a few rounds, and ask your coach if they can referee the match. If your coach knows that a competition is coming up, they may help you simulate this in a safe and controlled environment. You should never attempt to simulate a competitive environment without everyone being on the same page beforehand.

2. Establish how to start the match.

Depending on your goals and what techniques you are focusing on, you will likely want to change up where you start a match from.

  • Standing: If are you are preparing for competition, you will likely want to start the match from standing. This is a great way to work on takedowns and takedown defense.

  • Knees: When you aren’t starting from standing, you may choose for one or both grapplers to start from knees. This can be a beneficial way to train from a mutually neutral position.

  • Sitting: One or both grapplers can start from sitting, or one can sit and the other can stand or start from knees. This is a good way to train safely or focus on your guard passing or passing defense.

3. Touch hands (or don’t) and begin the match.

The point of touching hands is to signal that the match is officially starting. This way, neither player can attempt to gain an immediate advantage using the element of surprise. While touching hands is an important social element of each match, you should be aware that not everyone will follow it.

It can be seen as good sportsmanship to touch hands before the match starts.

Some people consider touching hands before a match to be a sign of sportsmanship, and some coaches may expect their students to always conduct themselves in a manner that well-represents the gym. For these people, they will probably be the first to reach out and extend the offer.

It is not a requirement to touch hands before the match and you should be careful.

It is important to understand that touching hands is not a rule, it’s a principle, and you should always be prepared for an opponent does not abide by it. This does not make them a dirty player or a bad person. It just means they don’t care about the social dynamics. Be aware that it’s a possibility, and you’ll never be surprised by it.

There are many ways to touch hands and indicate that a match is starting.

Whoever extends their hand first will likely try to indicate how they intend to touch hands. Some of the more common methods include:

  • High Five

  • Slap Hands

  • Fist Bump

Usually, one player will start by reaching out their hand in some manner, indicating that they wish to touch hands to begin the match. If the other person has not done so, you don’t need to feel obligated to do so, unless it’s important to you or your coach.