You should judge a grappler less by how feared they are on the mats and more by how loved they are.
Although not a necessary developmental phase, many of us become feared on the mats at some point along our journey before we are loved, if ever. The ability to harm comes quickly, but the ability to protect both yourself and others comes slower.
Some of us will sit solo during class for long stretches because we are feared. Our teammates fear a chipped tooth, twisted ribs, whirling limbs and reckless bodyweight placement. Our jiujitsu is good enough to hurt someone but not good enough to maintain safety for ourselves or our partners. Our growth slows, stuck in “good” gear as our mat time diminishes alongside our diversity of partners. The resulting technical plateau is real. Until we bridge this gap, until we’ve earned the confidence in our grace, we’ll always be in line waiting for a partner.
The goal is to have a line waiting for you. To have the trust of our teammates to protect us during a roll. To protect us from each other and from those around us. To keep it playful and technical.
Not feared? Avoid this phase by keeping it playful, make our objective to roll with our partner, not against. Even if we don’t know where or how to move, let’s do so in a way we would move with a child. Even if you’re getting your ass kicked each roll, you have the privilege of partners lined up ready to kick your ass, and that sharpens our game. Being feared shortens this line and our game stagnates.
Feared? Use the already limited rolling time and partner diversity to work on exactly being unfeared. The race is on to achieve this before we lose both the mat time and remaining partners altogether. We should build our resume to include significant time without incident, building the trust with partners and potential partners. Use those that are left to prove your grace, to earn the trust. This takes time as the trust is built, but during this time your game evolves alongside their trust.
Loved? Show the way, lead by example. Mat enforcers don’t work. Show grace regardless of our partner’s phase of training. Demonstrate personal versatility, adjusting with each partner. Take each roll as an opportunity to practice grace, demonstrate control, show the experimentation and play that makes Jiujitsu sustainable.
Sustainability is longevity, and longevity is THE key to success in and through Jiujitsu.
Better to be loved than feared.