The Accidental Mat Bully In BJJ Class

I have met some amazing people through Jiu Jitsu.  Most people are super respectful when they roll.  Unfortunately there is a very small portion of the population who isn’t. This group of people tend to be those that go as hard as possible when training. They can easily become an accidental mat bully!

There is a just a fundamental miscalculation they have made.  The accidental mat bully isn’t trying to be mean.  Once the realization they are making a mistake comes to their attention they are often able to fix it.  Thank goodness, because trying to navigate this problem is a nightmare for instructors.

You aren’t an accidental mat bully in BJJ class are you?

In rare case an accidental mat bully decides not to change once this has been called to their attention.  They go from being an accidental to an intentional mat bully.  Now the gym owner has to face the hard reality of kicking a student out of the academy. The only alternative is keeping them and having the gym culture suffer the consequences of attitude and injuries.

Training Hard




Profile of an accidental mat bully

When the accidental mat bully is matched up to roll, they always go 100%.  Intensity is the name of the game.  Winning is the focus, and by going hard they are building mental toughness and their desire to win.  They may even view those who only roll flowy as mentally weak and unmotivated.

What they decide is that to move through the ranks you must annihilate those at the lower ranks.  If you can beat a blue belt you must be a blue belt, so beating blue belts is the initial goal, and beating up white belts is the stepping stone to get there.

Sometimes in their journey they noticed that others around them getting injured or even suffer injuries themselves.  That’s just part of the cost of being great they tell themselves.  The harder I can go, the more successful I will be.

This person, unfortunately has found some truth, but has made a huge logical fallacy.  While there are advantages to being stronger, more explosive, and even more determined than your opponents in the short term, it isn’t always the best plan for the long term.  Someone like this can actually become a huge liability for a gym’s culture.

Hey! What are you plotting over there Jiu Jitsu guy?

What does “going too hard” even mean?

This isn’t knitting class, this is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu we are talking about.  Everyone should expect it to be rough and tumble right?

For sure!

But you also have a responsibility to take care of both your partner and yourself on this journey.  Even if you are a somewhat selfish person, you can’t improve without partners, so you need them to make the journey with you!

Find Your Speed Limit

When you got on the highway for the first time driving you probably were terrified to go 70 mph after only puttering around in town.  Driving down the highway at 50 mph felt like light speed and you barely felt in control of the vehicle.

Now, years later, driving is second nature, and you worry about getting pulled over for speeding.

Jiu Jitsu is the same way!  Some people don’t feel that healthy respect for speed and safety.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is a rule you should consider.

You should never move faster than you can keep you and your partner safe in regular training!

Unlike a treadmill or weight set, a replacement partner can’t be crafted in hours.  Quality training partners take years to create.

So what does training too hard mean?  Going so fast that you can’t safely control the action.

With brand new white belts as a brown belt, I choose to roll especially slow. Now they feel safer and will move less spastically.  The chances of me catching an accidental elbow are reduced, but they also get a chance to try to work on the moves they just learned and actually get better.  I am growing my training partners in this way.

When white belts rolling with other white belts, be careful!  If you aren’t both in it at the same pace for the right reason bad things can happen.  It can turn into a secret race of who can get injured first.

(Note: There is a time and place for going hard.  If people are training for a competition, they SHOULD be going hard almost every round. I’ll address how that fits in at the end of this post.)

Be a member of a team

Rewarding Bad Behavior

The unintentional mat bully wins out in the short term.  Rolling with the other people their same belt or slightly higher they may have success. In order to keep the round safe, the opponent is often slowing things down on their end.

When the unintentional mat bully beats that technical guy in class (you know, the one the instructor is always encouraging for doing a move right) they feel victorious.

Sure that guy over there knows the steps, but who just did the move better?  They feel they are truly testing themselves.  The crucible of legitimacy is being forged daily.

Maybe the key to improvement is get the general gist, and then “enforce their will” and to make it happen.  Going ham-sandwich on their opponents must be the secret sauce to propel their BJJ Journey ahead of their peers.

This person is rewarded for this behavior.  Strength and explosiveness are factors in Jiu Jitsu every bit as important as speed and weight.

The unintentional mat bully’s mistake is not realizing that attributes (Strength, Speed, Explosiveness, Flexibility, etc) are meant to augment a Jiu Jitsu game and not be the entirety of it.

Master the basics of escaping side control, then make that even stronger by using your flexibility to open up more options.  Fix your footwork, then unleash your speedy guard passes.

Just by bending your leg in weird directions you could escape and have quicker success than by putting in the time to master an unfamiliar series of movements that make up a hip escape.  Just diving around until the guard is passed would be much easier than mastering an x-pass, and knee slice, and double under series.

Take the time for sustained growth instead of accepting quick results.

The problem

At a certain part in your journey you will run in to people who have spent their time honing techniques that will shut down your attributes.  When the bottom player becomes a master of grips, the speedy guy’s game suddenly starts to fall apart if he hasn’t also been building grip break techniques.

Once our opponent feels comfortable stifling our game, “going-hard” can be used to make us wear ourselves down.  These previous strengths become a liability.

Line Drills

The problem is, they don’t become noticeable liabilities for some time (6 months – a year).  Now a grappler starts to feel like maybe they have made a mistake and wasted time it is so disheartening they may even quit BJJ.

You MUST build a game that is independent of these variables.  Because all of these attributes can easily be nullified.  Eventually age will minimize these attribute’s effectiveness, but much before then, we will run into others with advantages in those areas.

Things like strength and technique are a baseline and only matter when someone has an advantage in one area or the other.  A huge strength advantage will cover some of a technique gap, and vice versa.

Build a game around solid technique. Imagine “going hard” or other attributes as an accelerant.  These areas are the gas you put on a fire at select times.  This probably should not be the default mode.

Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable object

When an unintentional mat bully rolls with upper belts they may try to go hard as well.  Sometimes the upper belts are letting them work a bit and then the accidental mat bully escapes submissions and thinks they are really doing it right.

“I’m only a white belt and I got out of that purple belt’s armbar.”

Eventually, the upper belt feels out what is going on though.  Now, the accidental mat bully has put the upper belt in a position where they start to feel the need to be an enforcer.

Drilling Moves With A Partner

An enforcer is different from a bully, because they set the boundaries for the society.  The enforcer protects those unable to protect themselves.  Once enforcer mode comes out, things aren’t good for the accidental mat bully.  Now they get demolished.

Sometimes it takes a number of times losing this way before they realize they have been demolished.  “The first time was probably just a fluke.  Wonder why that upper belt was so mad at me?”

Many people after this happens realize, “oh, that is what that feels like.  That isn’t very fun for either of us.  I liked it way better when we both had a chance to work.”  They stop trying to use muscle to dominate their opponents, but instead want to be able to use technique and dominate with minimal effort like those upper belts were doing to them.

Eventually they realize that if they try to go hard with these enforcers the rounds will feel really long.  But, if they relax a bit and focus more on the technique, then the upper belts may let them work instead.  And that is way more fun than getting crushed.

The Aftermath Of Mutually Assured Destruction

This experience should be thought of as a crystal ball predicting that eventually without adding additional tools to the toolbox, this what all rolls will be like.  Also hopefully the connection is made, that this must be how their other training partners feel rolling with them.

It is time to make some changes.

There are one of 3 common results we see  an upper belt doing their enforcer job

1.) Stop training completely

Some people quit Jiu Jitsu when they get to this stage.  It feels like they’ve wasted time training “wrong” and undergone injuries and pain for nothing.  They’ll never be good.

There is a problem with the ego.  The desire to be strong and win gets deflated after the upper belt goes hard. Excuses start to form like “I could be even better than that guy by using my athleticism if I wanted to put in the time.  But I just don’t want to dedicate myself to that much effort right now.  There are other more important things.”

This same grappler only weeks before was talking about living the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle and proud of catching their peers in submissions.after

2.) Stop rolling so hard with everyone

This is the definition of the unintentional mat bully.  They are remorseful and just didn’t know how their actions was affecting the training of themselves and others around them.  Once their eyes are open to these facts they make instant adjustments.

Bring On The Squish

3.) Stop rolling so hard with upper belts

This third option almost got the message, but has prolonged understanding it.  Every time from now on, when this person trains with upper belts they are respectful.  Those upper belts have passed the legitimacy test.   Now, focusing on improving technique comes to the forefront when training with these guys.

In this way, they are less likely to trigger the “enforcer” tripwire.  Now, they ONLY choose to go hard against other people closer to their skill level.  This is NOT the point of the lesson the upper belt was trying to show you!

I understand though, it can be an honest mistake.  The accidental mat bully interprets a slightly different pecking order in the academy.  Someday, they will be near the top, but not yet.  So working over the lower rungs on the way up seems to be part of the journey.

What they seem to decide is that, going physically hard has been proven to work.  They recognize technique is important too of course.

I will continue to work on my technique AND as much physicality as needed to beat people my own rank, but will focus purely on technique with the upper belts.  See, their technique is better, so I’ll be getting in sharper reps with them, as opposed to wasting my time on poorly performed techniques from my peers.

Now, things have gotten much more complicated.

BJJ Mat Bullies In Stealth Mode

People who always go hard are easy to spot.  As the instructor is rolling, and has that student for a round, right away it becomes evident.

But, the person that rolls hard with the lower belts but not with the instructor or upper belts can stay in stealth mode.  I feel that instructors should definitely be regularly rolling with their students, but one downside is the instructor can’t be everywhere at once and while training with other individuals, can miss this behavior.

The accidental mat bully isn’t trying to be sneaky.  They based their decisions off the idea, that going hard is an important part of their training.

Mat Bully Picking On Kids

The 3 Clues You May Be An Unintentional Mat Bully

1.) The accidental mat bully keeps hurting their training partners.

Maybe the people you are training with aren’t just frail?  Maybe you are doing unsafe things in an unsafe manner.

2.) The accidental mat bully keeps hurting themselves.

Injuries happen in Jiu Jitsu, but the more you can minimize them the better. Most people I know that have made it to the upper belts have done so largely via injury maintenance.  If you are popping your own elbow waiting too long to escape armlocks, you are jeopardizing your journey.

3.) The accidental mat bully starts to run people away from the gym and doesn’t have many partners to train with.

Students will start to tell the coach that “you go too hard,” or the even more lightly veiled “he is pretty intense.”  Once the sentiment starts to spread “Yeah, I avoid rolling with him,” you’ve created a problem.  Most people won’t say anything to your face until the scenario has gotten way out of control.

That’s why I wrote this article!  Please do some self reflection.  I know gym owners who have had to ask people to leave because they were hurting the experience of other students.  If it comes down to asking one student to leave, or letting that person hurt and run off a handful of other students, the decision should be a no brainer for a gym owner.  But please don’t put ever put them in that position!

I just wanna berimbolo, bro

I said I’d get to the times when going hard makes sense, and now I’m finally doing it.  Listen, what we do on the mats isn’t patty-cake, it is simulating murder repeatedly.

Some people have it in their personality that they are so competitively driven they have to go hard.  Taking occasional light rounds against someone newer just isn’t in their DNA.

Great news, that isn’t a problem at all, you just need to recognize that not everyone feels this same way.  Using people that don’t want to fight to the death as your punching bag definitely makes you a bully.  Taking out the frustrations of your day on an unprepared partner isn’t ideal either.

Jiu Jitsu Flex Dorks

Instead, go only with other people your belt on a mission, upper belts and people better than you.  This is a spectacular way to improve quickly.  Going hard against people better than you will start to sharpen your game to a fine point very quickly.  Your defenses will be on point.

Be the guy always asking the instructor to roll.  Dive into the fire.  If your personality truly feels this way you’ll get much more out of choosing this than dodging him to go pick on some white belt you know you can hit the move of the day on.

Unfortunately training intensely all the time is also a great way to get hurt if you are trying to push your body beyond your ideal boundaries.  In my interview with Yuri Simoes he said everyone should learn their body then add intensity later.

If you aren’t training for a competition, you shouldn’t be going as hard as possible all the time.  If your camp starts 6 weeks out, make sure to communicate with your training partners as to what your goals are and be selective.  Pick out those who can handle it and keep you both as safe as possible.

Select the right training partners to get the best training in while keeping it safe.  If I’m preparing for a tournament, picking out the first day white belt to roll hard with, is a huge mistake.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be trying to win, what I’m saying is that you should minimize your reliance on attributes and focus on techniques.  Maybe train at your maximum 80% of the time, or even 50% of the time.  Whatever makes sense for you.

Train in a way that makes you happy, but if you are an accidental mat bully your journey will probably be cut short.