The longer you train BJJ, the more likely you are to encounter a well-known but frustrating phenomenon: the “Let’s Roll Light” guy. But be warned, the phrase “Let’s Roll Light” can often be shrouded in even more vague pre-sparring statements such as “Let’s just flow today” or “My ______ is injured, so let’s take it easy.” If you hear any of these statements right before you slap hands on the mat, we want to make sure you’re properly prepared.

The first time you hear this—typically as a naïve white belt—your guard drops completely. You feel like you’re in for a relaxing roll, a zen-like moving meditation that allows you, with a willing and noodle-armed partner, to execute those tough techniques you’ve been struggling with in real-time to perfection. Sometimes it happens that way. But sometimes it’s the exact opposite.

As any experienced grappler knows, the phrase “Let’s Roll Light” is much akin to the blaring of a wild siren. Too often, “Let’s Roll Light” precedes a grueling mano y mano test, a round far more intense than the ones that ironically don’t start with the phrase. All of a sudden, the guy you thought was going to “roll light” has a wicked kimura grip on your arm, and is repeatedly trying to wrench your hand from your belt (which you’ve latched onto for dear life), as veins bulge across his forehead in violent determination. The good news is that after it happens to you once, it won’t happen again. So the first lesson of today is if a visitor or new training partner utters those three words, keep your guard up, not down.

There are a couple of strategies for dealing with the “Let’s Roll Light” guy. Preemptively, clarifying what “light” means will help you avoid any confusion. One specific way to do that is to respond with this simple question: “So we’re not going for any submissions this round, right?” How your partner answers that question will help you glean his or her true intentions. More importantly, agreeing on “no submissions” puts a more concrete rule in place, one that is not as open to interpretation.

If you are a first-time victim of the “Let’s Roll Light” guy, then your options, unfortunately, are dramatically more limited. The first thing to do is put your ego aside and do what we often preach here: tap, if forced to. Often in this situation a grappler will be even more stubborn when caught in a submission, simply because he or she feels like they’ve been duped. But it’s not worth the risk of injury. Just tap. Then have that clarifying conversation. Or choose to match your partner’s intensity with the veil of “Let’s Roll Light” lifted.

Unfortunately, understanding the “Let’s Roll Light” guy is a futile endeavor. Truthfully, he doesn’t do it on purpose, or to launch a well-planned sneak attack. He doesn’t mean to roll so hard. He just doesn’t know any better—or how to yet. In fact, if you outrank the “Let’s Roll Light” guy, it’s your job to train him how to roll light. If you don’t, you might want to keep your guard up a little longer until he proves he understands what “light” really means. As we’ve noted, you’ll only make the mistake of rolling softly with a “Let’s Roll Light” guy once.




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