Hey Yo! Does your professor “CoachRoll”?

Coach roll! To my surprise I recently discovered how alien this concept is in most BJJ academies. BJJ Professors are all unique in their approach to transferring the art to their students. Some only coach during class, others point and grunt, some roll with students, some don’t, some are open to answering questions from students, some are so intimidating that students wont dare to ask questions, some physically maul every student they touch, others glue their back to the wall during rolling sessions. The intent of this article is not to suggest that any Professors are right or wrong in their approach. It is simply to raise awareness for what I feel is the most powerful tool any BJJ Professor can employ with a student. In the words that follow, ill explain exactly what “Coach Rolling” is and why I think it should be the most often used learning tool but first I want to identify a few different types of professors that a new student may encounter. Academy ownership has brought with it a unique set of challenges. For years I trained only for myself and had little concern for the politics that are involved in the BJJ life. Upon opening an academy, I was forced to navigate the political waters of Jiu Jitsu. The first and arguably most dangerous situation I encountered was that of student transfers from other academies or professors. I will post another article that is entirely dedicated to this subject in the coming weeks but this event has shed light on the inner operations of other academies. More specifically, the types of BJJ professors and how they behave with students. Surprisingly, a majority of transfer students between the ranks of white and blue indicate that they had never actually rolled live with a black belt. They explain that the bulk of their rolling sessions were limited to blue belts or white belts. Purple belts often indicate that the bulk of their sessions are limited to purple belts and below. Purple belts often indicate that they have rolled with a black belt at their academy on several occasions but it is not the norm and happens very infrequently. Most students, regardless of rank, tend to suggest that the various ranks tend to band together and mutually exclude other ranks within the academy. What I mean is that blues tend to stick with blues and below, while purples stick with purples and below. Brown and Black belts tend to stick together and are largely exclusive of lower ranks. This is surprising to me. The academy I was raised in was totally different. My Professor generally always rolled for at least a few minutes with every student in class at least once a week. 20 years later I have immense respect for his efforts at rolling with all of his students. Imagine teaching two classes a day with twenty or more students. Keeping up with that number of people requires an overwhelming effort that I only recently came to appreciate after having done it myself. I digress. Lets go back to the types of professors point I touched on earlier. Many of my transfer students indicate that black belts in their academy are largely non participants when it comes to rolling. They even go so far as to suggest that the only way they may get time with a black belt is if they purchase a private session. My first thought when hearing this is how difficult it must be to ensure that a professors unique style of jiu-jitsu is passed down to his students. Each coach has a style, a fingerprint if you will. I have always been very proud of my unique style and I have worked very hard to develop a game that is the antithesis of what I would call “traditional jiu jitsu”.  I love hearing people say “I have never seen anyone move this way” or “This is the exact opposite of what I have been told to do in this situation” or “This is totally alien to me”. The more times I hear students throw a WTF while i’m rolling the better. It is that confirmation that drives me. It is this approach that ensures BJJ remains a living breathing thing that will continue to evolve. I want my students to go to another academy or a competition and someone, somewhere, will watch them and know right away they are a product of mine. I want to see my students take my style and make it their own. I love seeing elements of my game come out in a body type that is nothing like mine. I love seeing someone long step when they shouldn’t. I love seeing one of mine invert-bolo and take the back in the middle of a standing guard pass.  I don’t want cookie cutter BJJ. No differently than someone reading this article wants a house that looks exactly like the one sitting beside it. When was the last time you saw that? What methods does the non participant professor employ to pass on his unique tendencies and traits? What about the professor who only rolls with his students during private sessions? How does a student learn what “THE MANGLER” professor likes to do in certain situations? What about the FLOWTOHELL professor that uses you like a piece of cardboard for an 80’s break-dancer? Each of these professors are nothing more than overwhelming if they don’t make use of what I call Coach Rolling sessions.

This paragraph may be difficult for an unaffiliated person to comprehend but try to follow me here. What is coach rolling? Imagine having the ability to reset your jiu jitsu programming in real time;  essentially having your programming reset in every situation to what your professor would do. So we have a live rolling session, and at every point you do something contrary to your professors tendencies, he stops the tape, hits the rewind button, cut and paste a different technique and hits play. Don’t confuse this with a Professor simply saying “do x here” or “do y there”. Were talking about pausing the session, deleting a programmed response and inserting another, then hitting play. I’m betting that nearly every professor knows employs or embraces this part of the tool to some degree, but the real question is do they take the student back to the same situation over and over in the same session to reinforce the new programming. Now, how competent is the professor. Is he capable of doing this with more than one technique? A typical coach rolling session with me will identify as many as a dozen or more tendencies that I insert, revisit and reinforce. Possessing the competency to navigate an infinite number of paths back to a specific situation repeatedly is one thing, but doing that with a dozen or more techniques in the same session? That’s another level of instruction. While this may sound braggadocious, its not! I would venture to say that most high level professors worth their salt are capable of this. This statement will likely cause some consternation but ill say it anyway; not every black belt is a competent coach. Moving on. My path to black belt was about 3.5 years of training 5 days a week at multiple daily sessions. My coach made use of this tool and I can honestly say that it is the single biggest reason my progress came so quickly. Now that we’ve identified the elements of coach-rolling, and raised awareness, its time to ask yourselves a question. Are you benefitting from this powerful tool? If not, why? What kind of learning environment are you in? Is your professor one of the above described personalities? What are the projected repercussions to your bjj progress. These are evaluations you must make and questions you must answer for yourselves.

Professor Coy Clements

Sidewinder BJJ

Owner / Chief Instructor