Drilling or Rolling to improve?


Black Belt
Apr 8, 2018
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Hi guys I was hoping I could get some advice for improving my BJJ. I am currently struggling in understanding how to improve my BJJ. When I worked on my boxing it was fairly simple; I would take one technique or one footwork drill and practice to exhaustion or perfection. But it's a little different for BJJ. For starters, the breadth of techniques is so vast that I find it difficult to stick to one area or movement. One day I may find that I struggled with escaping side control, so I work on that, and another time I feel that my half guard is being flattened too easily so I switch my focus to that. Furthermore, I don't feel like I would benefit from performing 250 knee cut passes on a partner in contrast to the benefit of practicing 250 jabs. Currently, I am trying to stick to performing a few techniques that I am struggling with and try to drill these a few times with a partner at the start of each open mat session, but it is really difficult to stick to these and not get distracted by other areas I am lacking in. Today I drilled the knee cut pass as I have a bad habit of sliding off without grabbing a cross-face or undertook to flatten my opponent to the mat first, the X pass since it mixes well with the knee cut, and switching from one arm to another if they defend the armbar from closed guard.

I then help my partner with whatever they are struggling with and move on to some rolling. Sometimes I look to roll with someone higher level than me and see if I can keep up. In other instances, such as today, for example, I find someone less experienced but perhaps larger than me to roll with and start from a bad position such as bottom side control with no frames. Is this how I should keep going? Is there a specific thing to focus on? Should I focus on rolling with people who are better than me, or focus on drilling what I need to improve on? Or both?

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Nov 11, 2005
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Lexington, KY
I'm a big fan of situational sparring to focus on specific areas that you want to improve. So you can ask your partner to start in specific positions that you want to improve. These can also be dynamic scenarios - so for example instead of starting in bottom of side control with your partner already having the underhook/crossface locked in you can give them a free guard pass and work on establishing a more optimal bottom side position to escape from.

Whan I'm teaching I tend to make my students start rolling from positions and scenarios which will allow them to practice the techniques and principles that we studied in class. That way they have a chance to try out whatever new material they just learned before they forget it.

It will also help you to look for common concepts that underly different techniques and focus on those. For example, hand fighting, breaking your opponent's posture, getting on your side from bottom positions, maintaining good posture from inside guard, applying pressure from top, getting your opponent's elbow away from their ribs, etc, etc. If you pick one of these themes that you want to work on, then you can practice them no matter where you end up during a roll.


Nov 14, 2013
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Having a variety of ways that you train and people that you train against will help you better than focusing on one. You should be training with people who are better than you, who can help point out where you can improve. You should be training with people worse than you, that you can try things you're not sure of with less resistance. You should be training with people around your level so you can really test yourself. You should be drilling, positional rolling, and live rolling.

If you're with someone worse than you, then put yourself into the position you are struggling with and work on it from there. Control the fight up until that point. If you're with someone better than you, ask them for advice on that position, or ask them to put you in that position and see where your shortcomings are. If you're with someone at your level and you notice a problem, after the roll is over, ask them to go back to the position you struggled with.