How to Get the Most Out of Sparring

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Trying to win in every sparring round is not the most productive or effective use of your time.​

You could do that sometimes or with certain training partners, but I don’t recommend doing that with everybody all the time.​

Here’s why:​

You would be more likely to stick with what you are already comfortable and familiar with rather than try new things that might put you into bad spots if you approached sparring with this mindset.​

In short, for most people, the more you try to win, the less you are likely to grow as a grappler in a healthy, steady way.​

What would be a more effective way of using sparring, then?​

First thing first — throw away the idea that sparring is a matter of winning or losing if you have such an idea. Instead, see sparring as an opportunity to experiment with your techniques and skills against fully resisting training partners. Try to be deliberate and purposeful about what you want to practice during each roll. That way, you will get more out of sparring in terms of your skill development.​

Here’s my example…​

Typically, I have some broad ideas about what techniques I want to work on in a given session, and I decide what I will try before each round, depending on who I’m rolling with.​

If I’m about to roll with someone good at playing the half guard, I might tell myself, “OK, let them play the half guard, stay heavy, and pass the guard.”​

Or if I’m about to roll with someone who likes going for leg locks, I might tell myself, “Try getting into 50/50 as a counter to the saddle.”​

This is what I usually do — I give myself a short command, and my goal in each roll is to accomplish such a command.​

I recommend setting small goals and gaining small wins, especially if you are a beginner. Accumulate such small wins, and you will make steady progress.​

Let me share some more ideas on how you could spar differently.​

Focus on specific techniques/positions:

If you want to get better at some specific techniques/positions, you need to practice them against fully resisting partners in realistic situations. Use sparring rounds for this purpose. I’d recommend breaking down your goal into smaller pieces and taking a ladder approach, so to speak. Start with white belt training partners and gradually increase your “target” levels. If I’m practicing something new, I focus on catching white belts first, then blue belts, and so on.​

Limit what you can do:

If you like triangle choke and can catch most people at your gym with it, ban yourself from doing triangle choke. That way, you can force yourself to do something different.​

Put yourself into bad positions purposefully:

If you are more advanced than your sparring partner, you can let them work on their offense. You get to practice your defensive skills.​


If your sparring partner is more advanced and you are forced into bad positions, practice escaping from such positions with proper technique. You are not “losing” but practicing your defensive skills.​

Count scores:

Try counting your scores in your head while rolling with your partner. You could use the IBJJF’s scoring system, ADCC’s scoring system, or whatever scoring system you want to be familiar with.​

Roll when you are exhausted and practice resting while rolling:

Knowing how to slow down and rest while rolling is crucial, and you can practice it by rolling when you are exhausted instead of sitting out.​

Flow roll:

If both you and your sparring partner know how to flow roll, it’s one of the best ways to explore new possibilities and practice chaining different techniques together in a fun way.​

Practice your A-game:

Sometimes it’s appropriate to try to win your rolls when you are preparing for competition. You can roll as if you are competing and do what you would do in a competition setting.​

There are probably other good, effective ways to use your sparring rounds, but I believe what I mentioned above can give you a good start.​

Be more mindful of how you spar, and use your sparring time more effectively. That way, you will develop your skills more steadily in the long run. BJJ becomes even more fun when you have better skills. Dive into that rabbit hole.