I remember walking through the doors of a Brazilian JiuJitsu Academy for the first time. I asked the instructor if I could watch a class and he agreed to let me sit and watch from the sidelines. The class started with all of the students running in circles around the mat, followed by a few minutes of stretching. After stretching, the students gathered around the instructor while he taught them a technique. After the instructor showed the move a few times, the students paired up and tried the move on one another in what seemed like slow motion. After approximately 15 minutes, the instructor intervened and told the students it was time to "roll." At that time, it seemed like all of the students received a jolt of energy and they began what looked like very sloppy wrestling at 100% effort and speed. I remember thinking to myself, "these guys don't look like they know what the hell they are doing."
This was all new to me coming from a more traditional martial art (Kenpo Karate), where drilling technique was something we did at nausea. While watching these students "live roll," I remember waiting to see if anyone would apply the technique shown by the instructor a few minutes earlier. To my surprise, I did not see anything remotely resembling the technique from any of the students during the roll session.
Not knowing any better, I tried a few classes at this academy and my experience was much like the before mentioned class. I remember drilling technique for a few minutes, then thinking to myself "I am going to pull that off in live roll," but did not have the BJJ experience to understand the concepts behind the positions needed to be in to pull the move off during a live roll. So what did I do during live roll?" Exactly what the before mentioned students did. I went 100 miles per hour and relied on my athleticism and strength to win the grappling exchange with my partner, but I had no idea what to do once I gained a dominant position. Was I really doing Brazilian JiuJitsu? Looking back I would have to say NO! I was using my athleticism and strength and calling it Brazilian JiuJitsu.
Ask different BJJ practitioners if they prefer drilling over "live rolling" and you will get a plethora of opinions.
Former Olympic wrestler and MMA fighter, Ben Askren was a guest on the Joe Rogan Podcast where he criticized the training methods of BJJ schools and what he sees as a lack of drilling.
He also talked about the lack of sense of doing 5 minute rounds in BJJ:
“We know, without a shadow of a doubt (that) just saying ‘go for five minutes’ is not the most effective way to train someone,” Askren said.
“If I’m coaching at my academy, and we were drilling the front headlock, we don’t just say ‘OK, now go five-minute goes’ because how many tries are they gonna get at going at the front headlock position?” Askren said. “Maybe one, maybe two, but essentially most people, if you say ‘go for five minutes’, they’re not disciplined enough to make themselves do new skills. They revert to whatever they do best. And then they just do it over and over and over again.”
“If I want a kid to be good at a front headlock – which if you’re gonna wrestle at a high level, you need a good front headlock – I’m gonna put him in there 50 times in that practice,” he added. “He’s gonna get it over and over and over, and maybe the next day, it’s single-legs, and maybe the next day it’s double-legs. And maybe some days, you say ‘hey, go for ten minutes, go wrestle.’”
“But saying ‘go for five minutes’ every single day is very much not the most effective way to do it, and it’s so insanely frustrating for me to have that happen at almost every JiuJitsu school in the planet.”
Now in my 40's, I have fallen in love with positional sparring, complimented by the drilling aspect of JiuJitsu . In my experience, I have gained much more from positional sparring over starting in unrealistic situations (like both grapplers on their knees), then having an all out chaotic wrestling match while giving no thought to techniques or positions. I believe one can get incredibly efficient at Brazilian JiuJitsu with the combination of both positional sparring and drilling. Don't get me wrong, I believe there is definitely a place for live sparring, but at my age (45), I limit the live sparring to a couple times a month because of the higher potential for injury.