Hulk Smash In The Morning -- People You'll Meet On The Mats

Published on by Nicholle Stoller

Photo Credit: Jeff Chu @jeffreyschu

I believe that every person at the gym is important and has something to teach and learn. When I see certain people, I know I can expect a certain type of roll from them. Instead of trying to fit them into my style, I try to adjust my focus so that the match will be beneficial for the both of us. These are a few of the types of people I get to spar with on a regular basis.

The Big New White Belt:

In all fairness, I consider anyone who outweighs me by 50 or more pounds, and/or has more than 6 inches on me in height to be big. This probably translates into the size of the average full grown man who signs up at the gym.

First I will watch how they roll with other people. If they are going agro I stay on the other side of the mat. We have a pretty good crew of big, technical guys who can safely roll with a BNWB, so I defer to them.

When they seem to be rolling without freaking, I will go ahead and invite them to a match. My goal is to use the least amount of effort and energy in the roll and show by example how to relax and move. Jiu Jitsu is still a system of self defense and a big new white belt gives me the opportunity to train with the mentality of protecting myself from assault and keeping myself safe.


This is that person who just makes me feel like a day one beginner. The strong points in their game match up as a perfect fit to the weak points in mine.

I have a love/hate relationship with these sorts of training partners. If I am having a bad day, I can be tipped over the brink into utter frustration during a match up with them (yes, tears have happened). However, these are some of the most valuable training partners out there because they put my weak areas under a microscope and help me see what I wouldn’t otherwise.

Even if I never see progress rolling with this person, I am improving. It becomes apparent, when I roll with someone else, just how much stronger my overall game has become thanks to the incessant beatings of Kryptonite.

Photo Credit: Jeff Chu @jeffreyschu

The Upper/Lower Belt:

Rolling with the upper level belts is a good way to get some good controlled high intensity sparring in. I usually defer to whatever pace they choose to set and keep it at that level unless they decide to vamp it up a bit. I know at a lot of schools lower level belts aren’t allowed to approach the black belts for a match, but it is encouraged at my school. Coach says he expects us to try and kill him every match, and by golly I try!

Rolling with a lower level belt is a good opportunity to give back. I try to avoid my normal favorite moves and try new things to see if the movement works in real time or not. Also I keep in mind what type of a roll I want to have with an upper level belt and I try to return the favor when I roll with someone less experienced than I am. Karma you know?

My Twin:

Now we actually do have a set of identical twins at my gym, and they are a kick to spar with, but I am referring to a different type of twin.

I’m referring to the person who is my perfect match in size and skill. We know all the same things and can have absolute war trying to kill each other. When neither makes any headway, coach pairs us off once again and sits on the side laughing at how we are just tearing up the mats trying to get to one another.

I’ve got a few really close matches as training partners but my original twin moved to the other size of the country. We were the same size, started at the same time, and went to all the same classes. I definitely miss her! I am holding out that I will have that sort of perfect match up again someday, but I’ve got some pretty close ones now!

The Bigger/Smaller Person:

My least favorite match is probably the mismatch of size/skill that consists of big person just sitting on top of little person for the entire round. No technique is being used and the person on the bottom gains nothing (except for bruised ribs), and the person on bottom gains nothing since they are just sitting without practicing any technique. Its wasted time since neither person is getting anything productive out of the roll.

When sparring with a larger opponent, I focus on framing and my “anti-smash” techniques. Distance control is key here. I do compete in the open weight divisions at every chance I get, so this is very valuable for me since I am in the lower half of the weight classes.

It’s not very often I get to have a round with someone smaller than me. Usually it is against one of the teenagers or when visiting another school. When sparring with someone smaller than me, I will usually focus on perfecting my technique and control as much as I can within the round. Thanks to one of my smaller training partners I have learned how to hit a solid takedown with the control to not actually drop my weight on them.


So that’s just a few of the types of training partners I have on my mat every day and I love that my school has variety in size, skill, gender, personality, and techniques. I want to make the most out of each match because I can only fit so many in per day and tailoring my approach to each match has really helped me to maximize my learning process.