Unlocking The Bonus Levels – Adding Secret Games To Rolling –

Progressing through Jiu Jitsu has opened up Bonus Levels for me.  As I become more and more comfortable with Jiu Jitsu the more I can start to open up.  It has been a journey though for sure.

I was nervous the first few times I ever rolled.  But eventually I started to figure out what I was doing and get into a rhythm.  Over time I’ve become harder to submit, and moved up from the worst grappler on the mat, to one of the best grapplers on the mat.

When I was new, just avoiding mistakes kept me busy for a long time.  Eventually I learned what to focus on though and began to have some success.

After years of training, sometimes we can get in a bit of a rut in rolling.  This is magnified as we move through the ranks.  Trying to find ways to add some fun back into your Jiu Jitsu?  These Bonus Levels may keep things mixed up for you.

But first…a reminder

As we go through these I want to remind you that there are always 3 rules for training Jiu Jitsu

1.) Keep Yourself Safe

This is rule number one only because it is the one you have the most control over.

2.) Keep Your Partners Safe

Improvement without a partner is impossible in Jiu Jitsu.  Help take care of your partners even in positions where they neglect protecting themselves.

Also, in this case partner doesn’t just mean the person you are rolling with but the surrounding groups of other grapplers rolling as well.  Gym ettiequte is that a lower ranked group of grapplers should ALWAYS move for a higher ranked grappling pair.

3.)  Have Fun Winning

Enjoy yourself!


Well Player 1,
onward to the….

7 Bonus Levels For BJJ

Jiu Jitsu Bonus Levels

What do I mean by Bonus Level?  Well in video games there are sometimes some sub-games that can be played to vary up the entertainment.  Sometimes these games are even hidden so the average player would never know they even existed.  

In Jiu Jitsu these Bonus Levels are some different ways to mix up rolling and focus improvement on micro-skills like pressure sensitivity, problem solving, and strategy identification.

Eyes Closed.

In day to day life we rely so much on our vision we may just assume it is essential for Jiu Jitsu too.  Jiu Jitsu however is mostly based on feel.  Becoming sensitive to the shifting weight and pressure by relying less on our vision can be a huge asset to improvement.

At first rolling with my eyes closed is more challenging than just “seeing” what is happening. I recommend someone new to this concept to start using this concept only in certain positions to start.  Bad spots like the bottom of side control or mount tend to be natural spots to begin implementation.  When you’re getting squished, what is there really to see anyways?  Slowly add this to feeling your way through over movements as well.

Remember rule number 2 from above especially with this Bonus Level.  Keeping my partner safe is a huge priority.  Elbowing my friend in the face because I was trying something weird is no excuse!Eyes Closed While Rolling BJJ head down

Sometimes when closing my eyes there is a spinning sensation but after adjusting I find it is often calming to close my eyes.  I’ve worked my way up to rolling entire rounds with my eyes closed.

To keep things safer I wait until we have made an initial clench before closing my eyes.  Since my opponent is within arms reach and not just anywhere in space I can feel my way through the positions the rest of the round.

Interestingly enough, many opponents never notice my eyes are closed even for an entire round.  Sometimes when they do notice, they may actually stop the round and ask to make sure I am OK though.

Improve your sensitivity to weight shifts and the feel of positions and transitions with this Bonus Game.

No Arms

Sometimes it is really fun to challenge myself by rolling without using my arms.  I have seen others tuck their arms into their belts but I prefer to have mine unentangled for my own safety.

Rolling with no arms is one of the best ways to become aware of body positioning and where errors are being made.  A reliance on grips for guard retention is quickly exposed and must be replaced with solid hip and leg movements.

Passing without arms becomes very interesting and helps build better habits.  Instead of trying to force a guard pass that isn’t really there, I have to stay in the pocket with smart footwork, avoiding entangling grips until my opponent creates an opening for me to bypass the guard.

This bonus game is a great way to build an understanding of which positions I can control with no arms, which means in a regular roll, positions where my arms should be very free to attack.  The interesting part about no arms is the problem solving that I have to go through.

Places like inside my partner’s closed guard become horrible places to be stuck.  Fighting off cross collar grips with no hands to me actually seems much worse than being mounted.

Jiu Jitsu Expo Lucas 2 Thumbs Up

Defending collar chokes and back attacks with no arms has helped me appreciate the angles of safety I need to move to.  Constant movement is also a big part of staying safe.  Once my opponent starts to settle into a dominant position, I’m probably not going anywhere.

Another interesting revelation rolling with no arms has taught me, is that since I’m not using my arms to reach for grips or control they are actually much safer and rarely get attacked.

Unlike rolling with your eyes closed, when you roll without using your arms, your opponent will definitely notice!  Some may find it a puzzle all in good fun or even an opportunity to finally choke you.  Some may take offense and roll extra hard.  I recommend being choosy who you decide to work this tactic with.

Working with no arms is a really great chance to improve using your head, core, hips, and legs to adjust your body to ideal positions.  Mastery of this skill frees up the arms to go out on missions of strangulation!

Pro Tips

There are a few submissions you can catch with no arms.  I’ve found that triangles and omoplata’s are the most feasible, with armbar threats as a good option to force a reaction (With no arm to control their arm, finishing should be super hard).  

I recommend starting off no hands no-gi with people at least a belt level below (two seems ideal).

I saw this video of Andre Galvao showing how to attack a triangle without using his arms years ago and it is invaluable to become a “no hands master.”

How to triangle someone without using your hands…

One Arm

Picking out to only use one of your arms for the whole round is another interesting variation.  If rolling with only one arm, I will typically tuck the other into my belt.  I actually prefer rolling no arms to rolling with one.  The dangers of extending this arm into armbar, and triangle scenarios creates more trouble than not using it at all.

Something I do like especially about “one armed rolling” is the benefit it gives my opponent.  They get a chance to solve a very solvable problem.  Which way they are attempting guard passes should be partially dictated by which of my arms is restrained.  The types of positions they choose to play should allow them to work around my free arm if they are able to think through the moment.

Rolling with one arm helps build the ability to think on our feet and adapt our game to purposes instead of  rehashing step by step choreography.

Watch Rener Gracie Roll 1 Handed

Weakest Position

The first few Bonus Levels were focused on advanced practitioners rolling with less experienced partners.  This one is for everyone.

I look deeply into my soul and decide where I really stink.  Is my go to back escape to give up the mount and then escape mount because I feel better there?  Sounds like I’m using a crutch and I need to improve my back escapes!

Javi trying to flip the truck on me

During rolling I will make conscious choices to open up an avenue for my opponent to take my back.  (If I’m too obvious about this sometimes my opponent will feel like it is a trap and not do what I want! )

In this case I want them on my back trying to submit or hold me so I can work on improving my defenses in the hardest places.

If I’m mostly a guard player, I’ll work on my passing and staying on top as much as possible.  The results initially will be worse, but over time I will strengthen a position.  Without honing these weak spots by focusing on them, I probably won’t ever patch them organically.

Working to improve our weakest positions is a great way to shore up our liabilities and improve our skills.

Weakest Submission

Work on that new submission you are wanting to add to your game.  Don’t feel confident with a kimura?  Settle on a specific setup from a position that you see frequently and work on landing it from there.  Once you have some muscle memory around that attack series, diversify and find some other positions to attack the kimura from.

This is how you diversify your game over time.  My advice is to try this and after a few days or weeks of working the same submission, either add it to your game because it is working for you, or discard it again for the time being.  In this way I can recycle back around to a technique that just didn’t click yet in a few months and try it again.

You may find a particular setup works better than others for you than others.  If you find one that clicks, keep working it and it will fit into your game in no time.

It’s all a matter of time, but eventually they will all click.  For now I’m just starting with the ones that come the easiest to me.  Why create resistance to growth?

Move Of The Day

Everyone’s radar is centered on the “move of the day” after class.  Trying to land it won’t catch anyone by surprise.  If there is one move they don’t want to get busted with, it is the “move of the day.”

I won’t be able to sneak up on them with a fancy setup because they will see it coming from a mile away.  Also, I’m probably still trying to remember to apply all of the details.  That’s why gunning especially for the “move of the day” during rolling is so satisfying when I’m successful.

This mini-game helps build the ability to gameplan an approach to a problem from more indirect means.  How do you sufficiently distract your opponent to get a chance to advance to the “move of the day” despite their defenses?

When They Almost Catch The Move Of The Day Oh No No Giraffe

Annoying Submissions

There are a few submissions (and sweeps) that really make you feel like a chump.  I can’t think of anything as satisfying as a good hijinx attack to remind me of how fun Jiu Jitsu is.  I’m not really sure what that says about my character, but it definitely is true.

The examples are numerous.
  • wrist lock
  • twister (super illegal)
  • gogoplata (who wants to get choked by a foot!?!)
  • ankle lock from – tricking back control into crossing ankles
  • baseball bat choke during the guard pass or back take
  • anything worm guard
  • etc.

Who Goes For Wrist Locks, You Cheater

Card Games

So far all of the Bonus Levels have been ones you can play without having to let anyone else know what you are doing.  There are some card games however that involve the entire class.

Clue Dinosaur

Each card in a regular deck (or a special Jiu jitsu deck) of cards represents a submission.  Maybe the queen of diamonds is bow and arrow choke, and the jack of hearts is armbar from guard.  Everyone who is rolling draws a card in secret and looks at it but doesn’t tell anyone what their card is.  The rule is you can only attack with the submission on your card, and no others.

There is a murder mystery aspect to realizing your partner has omoplata as their submission.  This game is a strong tool to help begin tracking the unknown plans of an opponent, while also developing our own real time attack problem solving.

Live Drilling Subsets

These last ones aren’t really rolling, but more types of drilling.  I’ve talked about many of these before when I spoke about the amazing training at the Midwest Pan Ams Camp 2017.

  • King of the hill takedown battle
  • Man in the middle shark tank playing guard
  • Man in the middle shark tank passing
  • Positional sparring
  • Short time left to score positional setups


I’m sure there are dozens of other fun ways to mix up rolling.  
What are your favorites?