Sparring with Black Belts

Carefully apply pressure

Like most black belts, I have made the journey through every color of belt. So understand, I have been in your belt! Over the past nine years that I have been a black belt, I have made a few observations about how lower belts approach sparring with me. It’s not everyday that I choose to spar with blue belts.  I would say that 50 percent of the time I try to choose different white or blue belts to roll with and the other 50 percent of the time I go with the most advanced guys in the room, varying from purple to black. If I am feeling really good, I go talk to Rener and Ralek.

One reason I spar with white and blue belts is to expose them to what they will encounter as they progress on their jiu-jitsu journey. I know what they have learned, so I know what they have yet to learn. If I can sharpen their reflexes or get them to panic a little less in inferior positions, that is a huge victory.

Scenario: I choose a blue belt to spar with.  We shake hands and connect, the blue belt immediately tenses up and either pulls guard or attempts to push me on to my back.  I understand exactly why they have tensed up, it’s what I do when I dance. A blue belt is using a fair amount of energy to keep from being submitted and to keep me from advancing my position. I feel the main reason for being so tense is due to fear of the unknown (and the attempt to make up for the technique they do not have). To the student, what I am going to do IS the unknown. They want to put up a good fight with hopes of impressing me, and maybe a small part of them hopes to actually surprise and defeat me!

1. Often, the energy that is being used by the blue belt is not backed up with sufficient technique, at least not enough to survive and defeat the black belt.

Q: Is it possible that the blue belt being so tense not only slows them down but also keeps them less aware, and therefore, is helping the advanced belt land more submissions?

Q: Is it safe to say that if you become more aware you will see things in a different light and the unknown will begin to fade away?

 2. Frequently, the blue belt would like to be the best training partner possible for the more advance belt with hopes of having more opportunities to train with black belts.  They figure that the way to the top is training with the best.

Q: Is it likely that a blue belt that slows down their movements, becomes more observant, and seeks to observe and study their opponent will be submitted less, and therefore, be more of a challenge for the more advanced belts?

Q: Do you feel that If you become more difficult for advanced belts to submit, they will choose you more often to roll because they appreciate the challenge?

Q: Is it possible that at a blue belt or purple belt level, you become so aware, that the more advanced belts are unable to defeat you and this causes them to avoid rolling with you? Is this a good problem to have?

3. Believe it or not, it is going to be difficult for a blue belt that has been training for a year to advance past a black belt that is the same age, same weight, and has been training for eight years longer?

Q: Are you trying to defeat a Black belt before you are even able to survive against them for 10-20 minutes? More often than not, the answer to this question is YES!

Final Thought.

Most jiu-jitsu students I believe have this idea that they must train regularly with more advanced belts and put up a good fight.  My only concern is that the expectation of performing well against an advanced belt actually keeps the student blinded longer and losing more often. This is part of the reason why I believe it takes some people ten plus years to get a black belt. Stop searching for submissions and you will find them in no time.

What if I told you that when you are 60-70% caught in a submission there is tremendous benefit in you allowing yourself to lose, rather than fighting for your life to escape?

If your goal is to become comfortable in all positions so you can relax and learn faster, you need to first believe that the worst thing that can happen to you is that you will be submitted. If you have a problem being submitted, you are in the wrong game!

Lets say that it takes you being submitted 10,000 times to reach the black belt level. There are two ways to go about reaching this goal. First option is to take every sparring match very seriously and pull the blinds right over your eyes as the submissions occur.  Second option is to roll with a level of awareness and admiration for the techniques where you begin almost allowing yourself to land in dangerous positions just to observe or study your opponent’s technique.  In essence, observe yourself being submitted 10,000 times, as opposed to fighting blindly to avoid them, and your level of comfort will increase drastically. I know what you are thinking, yes, I do believe there is a time to spar at 100% and take everything while giving nothing.

With this approach you don’t explode out of danger, you allow yourself to be defeated and learn the set up that got you in trouble so the next time you can defend a few steps earlier.

The fact that I spar like this is not impressive, it’s almost expected. Impressive is a blue belt or purple belt adopting this mindset. I look forward to the day when I see blue belts sparring like black belts.

The only way to grow forever is to start playing. Participate in the KeepItPlayful movement, where winning and losing become secondary because YOU are growing.

Don’t train, play

Ryron Gracie




About KeepItPlayful

I keep it playful for a living.
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129 Responses to Sparring with Black Belts

  1. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this website. It’s
    simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very hard to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and appearance. I must say you’ve done a very good job with this.
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  2. sofia says:

    Articolo molto interessante di sicuro non sempre i soliti consigli triti e ritriti grazie per lo spunto.

  3. Firas Al-Sharawi says:


    Thank you for a very inspiring article! I am a mid blue belt and amateur bodybuilder, and all I can tell you is that this philosophy works really well! In my early days in JiuJitsu (2011), I had my mind set on muscling out and forcing my opponent and holding him down, and applying submissions with explosiveness, but it was then when I realized that my energy drains quick! and being tapped out was so easy! Keepitplayful made me fall in inferior positions, do observing, surviving and flowing around, all that had me understand the techniques required to survive and then catch the chance to submit my opponent, with low to none energy used!
    Keepiyplayful is one of the best concepts ever! I had to read all your blog to finally get the clear idea of the real JiuJitsu!

    thanks a million! keep it rolling !!

  4. Ryron,
    I’ve been training with a black belt, Steve Toyryla, here in Falls Church, VA at a place called Krav Works. Although I love sparring with black belts, I feel so belittled every time we spar. As a matter of fact, I really do not know the best way to spar with a black belt. Like you said, most blue belts tense up. I don’t do that at all. Instead, I feel like I am too lifeless and therefore do not learn as much.

    I guess my question is, how does a blue belt spar with a black belt to achieve the most benefits from the roll? Should I JUST defend? It seems like Steve knows every attack I am going to try!

    Thanks Ryron!


  5. Thanks Ryron, this is really good advice. I just started my JJ journey a little over a year ago. I’m a two stripe white belt, and I believe this philosophy of “don’t train, play” will help me a lot. I definitely tense up when I roll. Will try to “keep it playful” more often! Thanks. Ryan

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