Navigating an open mat and all the characters you’ll meet along the way!















Be sure to check out our list of “The BJJ Open Mat Cast of Characters” at the bottom and see if any of these descriptions sound familiar!  If you can add any, comment below.

Most BJJ schools offer an open mat, sometimes referred to as “randori”. The term Randori literally means “chaos taking” or “grasping freedom,” implying a freedom from the structured practice of kata or prearranged movements.  In Judo and Jiu-Jitsu  it most often refers to one-on-one sparring where partners attempt to resist and counter each other’s techniques.  (that’s according to wikipedia) In BJJ “live” practice is imperative to your overall growth as a student.  It allows you to attempt to apply techniques you are practicing on a “live”, resisting opponent.  It also affords you the opportunity to navigate through the “chaos” a live match offers.  In BJJ it would be very difficult to progress without sparring against live, resisting opponents on a regular basis.  You need to know what’s working and what is not in order to grow.  In BJJ you quickly learn that to “survive” you must learn to adapt and evolve within the chaos.  The chaos that you embrace and learn to control on the mats can soon become a metaphor for life. In most cases you will learn more in 2 or 3, five minute matches than an entire class.  Now, of course group classes are important to learn techniques…but it is in the live application the real lessons will begin to unfold.

The following are tips that have helped me to better prepare myself for a positive, open mat experience.

Have a plan – When you go to an open mat have a plan for what moves you want to work on etc.  As you progress and train more and more, you will want to have specific plans for specific partners.  Each person you train with will offer different challenges and you will want to begin to individually address them.  Sometimes the “no plan-plan” is the best plan.  Just go and flow your whole game and see what happens.  Keep notes after your open mat.  Ask yourself, What did I do right?  and What did I do wrong?

Food – Like any intense training, you need to prepare yourself physically and mentally.  I personally like to eat an hour before I roll.  I generally stick with clean and healthy.  For me, a banana and two boiled eggs are perfect.  You have to test this a little and see what foods are working best and how much you can consume without feeling full or sluggish when you train,  I like to eat the same things every time and at the same time.  Fuel your machine for success.  If you eat like crap all day…how do you think your open mat will go?

Rest –  A short nap (15 to 20 minutes) will help you reset yourself physically and mentally without feeling sluggish.

Water – During hot training sessions it’s important to drink water all day so you don’t get cramps during training.

Warm-ups – If you’re not taking class or working out before open mat, be sure to properly warm up your body.  I like to take one, five minute round to get my body warm and one, five minute round to stretch.  If you’re a 40+ grappler the warmup is usually the most important part of your workout.  Grappling is a crazy, super intense activity…you have to warm up!  Be smart and ease your way in…

Round one –   Your first round is your warmup round.  Pick a smart, trusted partner.  Don’t go with the crazy twenty-something year old wrestler, white belt (you know who I’m talking about).  Go with a lighter or equal weight partner you trust and will go lighter for the first round. In my experience, most people get injured either in the early rounds when they are not warmed up or in the later rounds when they are exhausted and get careless.  Be smart – warm up!

Just say no!  There are certain partners who either are just crazy, go at an insane, unsafe pace, or for whatever reason just are not a good matchup.  It is okay to say no to them.  At the end of the day you have to live in your body so if that means you have to tell some people no – to stay injury free, it’s okay.  I’m not saying to run from someone because they tap you out.  I’m talking about the crazy dude who tries to rip your head off and just isn’t a “safe”, smart partner.

Get feedback – Ask your partners for feedback.  But do it after the open mat session.  Nobody wants to chat during a match (see the “commentator” below).  Ask questions after the open mat.  For example:  “Can you offer any suggestions?”  not “Hey…show me your whole game?.

As you train more and more you will notice a cast of characters who attend open mats. Don’t be these guys (or girls)!  (This is all in humor)

The Commentator – You know the guy who won’t stop talking the entire time you are grappling.  Sometimes the commentator will talk about the weather, vacations and other random stuff.  Other times they will literally comment on every move you make.  “Wow that was so cool, how’d you do that?”  

Seminar Guy – You know this guy right?  You’re grappling and you pass his guard and slip into tight side control…you move to the mount and quickly transition to a tight arm-bar…it’s on and you’re elevating your hips getting ready for your reward – the tap out!  But then you hear him proclaim:  “Lift your hips’re almost there…WAIT STOP!  Let me show you what you’re doing wrong!”  Then begins the private seminar that he is graciously teaching you on how to properly apply an arm-bar because clearly you don’t know what your’e doing.  Don’t be seminar-guy…just accept tapping out.  In the long run you’ll be better because of it.

Mundial Guy – The mudials or the World BJJ Championships happen once per year in May.  For mundial-guy it happens every open mat!  Be very careful of this feisty fellow.  He’s the guy who thinks that every single open mat is a chance for him to display his world class grappling abilities.  This guy will come at you 150% in hopes of taking home the glory.  I’m not sure what the “glory” of open mat is?  Regardless, be careful of mundial-guy he goes very fast and very hard!  Mundial-guy is known to a post the “un-official / unbiased” open mat results on Facebook.

The Vulture – Often referred to as “vulturing”.  Your’e grappling round after round with little or no break and you see the vulture sitting out round after round.  He makes his way to you and circles you (vulturing) as you’re grappling…watching…waiting..studying you.  After 2 to 3 rounds of resting he will finally approach you to grapple.  He will go 150% – be ready!

Let’s go light guy – This guy will try to trick you – be careful. Be ready before you slap hands he will tell you that he’s injured and wants to go light.  Don’t believe him – it’s a ruse!  The second you bump fists he will jump on you at full speed – you’ve been warned!

No Gi Guy – He’s easy to spot.  Look for the only guy (or girl) in the gi open mat without a gi on.  He will tell you that he will not grab your gi when you grapple him – false!  It is the first thing he will do. No gi guy has been known to grab rash guards and shorts too.  He may even attempt a choke using your rash guard or tee shirt.

Don’t join the tea party!  Most open mats will have a handful of students sitting on the wall watching and hanging out. It’s okay to watch but it’s not okay to not train.  Remember, you are there to learn!  The real lessons happen grappling on the mat  NOT sitting on the wall…




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