Rolling vs drilling is one of the most consistent debates in modern BJJ. How BJJ Works defines rolling as, “an all-encompassing term for sparring or drilling at varying degrees of intensity.”
In case you didn’t know, drilling makes a move. In most classes, the time spent rolling and drilling is usually around 50/50. However, some professional BJJ fighters have different opinions about how much to drill compared to rolling.
So there’s no clear-cut answer. They are both very important to your training and practice. So let me break down how I view these two things.
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Drilling is about the brain. It’s when we learn new techniques. It’s when we set patterns and learn sequences. This is the time to talk, reflect, and ask questions. If there is something you don’t understand, we’ll use practice time to figure out where you’re having problems and how to fix them.
For newer students, more time should be spent drilling than rolling at least starting out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be rolling at all, but you have to learn the moves before you’re going to be successful in a roll.
But because you are thinking about what you’re doing during drills, you can’t train your instincts. When you know what to expect, which you do during drills, you can’t train your instincts. Just knowing what to do doesn’t mean your body will be able to do them quick enough to keep you from getting choked out. That’s where rolling comes in.
Rolling is a live application for what you’ve learned. This is where you take the things that you’ve been practicing, the new techniques you’ve been drilling, and seeing if you can actually use them. Rolling is the time that you should feel things, not think things.
You develop your instincts and muscle memory, those neural pathways that automatically go from the stimulus to the spinal cord without having to travel to the brain and back. You don’t have time to think. These movements become immediate and deeply rooted.
It also forces you to learn the right timing and rhythm of the movements that you are learning because the rolling is dynamic. It’s changing and you can’t plan what to do next. And dynamic movement and thought processes are important to your general health, not just your Jiu-Jitsu practice.
Even if a roll doesn’t go the way you hope, set it aside. If you can’t work out the problem during the roll, keep going and see what happens. When you’re done rolling, start thinking about what went wrong. Was it timing? Rhythm? Distancing? Maybe you just need to drill the technique more because you don’t have it down as well as you thought.
Rolling Vs Drilling: Which is better?
Fundamentally, if you are not pushing yourself with either your rolling or drilling then you are not training properly. You will not progress.
Rolling (or “sparring” by another name) can make you tougher. It allows you to see if you know your stuff. Drilling improves your technical knowledge. It can give you both the building blocks to develop a technique and then fine-tune it.
This chart explains some ways one can view rolling vs drilling in BJJ:
|Major Advantage||Major Disadvantage|
|Rolling||Improves toughness and actual application||Injury|
|Drilling||Improves technical ability||Less realistic|
Rolling Pros And Cons
Drilling Pros And Cons
For a brand new student, I could say you want to drill more. You’re still learning the basic moves, the rules, and the foundation of BJJ. If you try to tackle those abstract concepts before having a concrete foundation, you’re never going to understand it.
As you build a foundation, you can start to take that knowledge and grow it into the more abstract concepts that happen in real-life applications. So you start to roll more and more. You drill a little to learn something new and you roll a lot to reinforce it. For the most experienced, you might never have to drill again.
So the short answer is that you need them both. Examine where you are in your own practice and which is benefiting you more. Whichever it is, that’s what you should be doing more of until your knowledge and practice expand more. Learning is a constant cycle if you’re doing it right.