What it Feels Like to Roll With Each Belt Color

In February there was a slight schedule shift in the technique and sparring classes. What it meant was we had more whitebelts showing up for sparring on Monday and Wednesday nights. It’s still taking some getting used to, because for the first few months of sparring I was working solely on survival as I’d continually face blue, purple and even the occasional brown.

But now that I’ve had some time sparring with other whitebelts, I’ve thought about what it’s been like to roll with each belt.

White:

It’s all about the win. Rolling with other whitebelts is an interesting experience. The newer whitebelts seem to come in and want to prove themselves. It rarely seems to be about working a particular move or position, but instead trying to see if in they can pull off a submission in the next 4-5 minutes.

Blue:

Relaxed but determined. Blue belts tend to be more relaxed. Part of it is that they’ve been sparring for longer than me, so they’re used to it and know how to move without consuming all of their energy. Part of it is that they’re learning some of the intricacies of BJJ and so they want to work on that. They may or may not have figured out their style of BJJ yet, but they’re willing to learn. They don’t always go for the jugular, they’ll let you work some, but they’ll also submit you, if for no other reason than to remind you that they can.

Purple:

Focused and teaching. Purples seem to fall into two categories: focused and teacher. It’s not that one guy can’t be both, but it seems that one roll can only be one or the other. When a purple belt is in their focused stage, they have a definite gameplan or style they’re trying to work. They’ll let you work too because they are trying to see how this gameplan stacks up against all comers (even those of us who do clueless things from time to time.) The other side of the coin are the teachers. When a purple is in a teaching mode, they’ll let you work and struggle to see what you’ve got. They might let you get to a dominate position to see how you’re going to transition from there, or they might put you in a bad position to see how you react. Then they’ll tell you some things that you can do better, reset and see if you can pull them off.

Brown:

Let’s see where  you are. The brown belts I’ve rolled with seem to put you in a position that either they know you should know, or they want to see if you know. For example, they’ll get in mount and start working to take an arm, because they know you know the armbar defense, and they want to see how you execute it. They seem to be least worried about submitting you, and more interested in seeing how you’re progressing.

Keep in mind a few things. First, this is my experience as a white belt rolling with these guys. As I progress through the ranks, I fully expect the interaction to change. For example, I’d expect purples roll with blues different than they do with whites.

Secondly, belts are a sort of spectrum. To some degree you can see this with the stripe system. Each belt has 4 stripes before being eligible for the next stripe. So while two people might both have blue belts, one might have no strip (closer to white belts) and one might have 4 (closer to purple.) So a 4 stripe blue belt might already be showing some purple belt tendencies when rolling, and conversely, a no-stripe blue belt might be showing some white belt tendencies.

Overall, it’s great to be able to roll with all the different belts because each one brings a different challenge to my own game. Rolling only against other white belts, would rob myself of the opportunity to grow and learn from the guys who have been there before.

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