What is BJJ Open Mat? BJJ Beginner’s Guide


Photo by Ippon Kumite

If you are new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), you may have heard the term ‘open mat’. Beginners are encouraged to attend open mat sessions, but this can be quite daunting when you don’t know what they are and what to expect. This article will provide insight into BJJ open mats, so that you can feel confident that you know what you’re in for when you go.

BJJ open mats allow practitioners to roll with one another, allowing them to learn from experience. Open mats play an important role in applying what you have learned to a real fight. They are usually one hour long, broken into several five-minute rounds, and any belt is welcome to participate. 

I will provide more detail below about what you can expect at an open mat, as well as several benefits you can gain from attending. I have also included some unspoken rules that a beginner might not know before their first open mat session.

What is Open Mat? 

An ‘open mat’ is a BJJ training session where there is no instruction or structured lesson. A typical BJJ lesson will consist of instructional time and drills, which involve practicing a particular technique several times over.

This does not leave much time to roll freely and apply the techniques you have learned. Open mat sessions provide the opportunity for BJJ practitioners of any experience level to practice their techniques by rolling with one another freely.

What Happens at Open Mat? 

Open mat sessions usually include both No-Gi and Gi grappling and last around an hour, similar to the length of a typical BJJ lesson. They are broken into approximately five-minute rounds, depending on the preferences of the coach or owner of the gym.

Most of the time the gym’s BJJ coach will attend the open mat sessions and take charge of setting the timer for each round and initiating warmups. Other than that, BJJ practitioners will take charge of who they roll with and how they roll.

The open mat environment is very casual, allowing people to ask anyone of any skill level to roll with them, or sit out if they are tired. Some people will take the time after a roll to discuss and practice techniques that were used and give each other tips. Others may want to go as hard as they can for as long as they can to test their endurance for competition. 

The Important Benefits of Open Mat 

Extra Practice

Photo by Gabribatu

BJJ open mats are very beneficial to practitioners because they provide you with extra experience. You are able to practice whatever techniques you need to work on and are teaching yourself to use the muscle memory that has been built up during drills. Open mat sessions work on the principle that practice makes perfect.

Under Pressure

A lot of the time in a BJJ session, the coach will instruct his students to use minimal resistance on their partners while they are drilling a technique. This allows practitioners to practice the motions and finer details of the technique without being distracted by your partner’s defense.

However, it is also very important to practice these techniques under pressure, with your partner using full resistance against the technique. Practicing under these conditions prepares you for the conditions of a street fight or competition, where your opponent will not hold back. Open mats provide this opportunity.

Refines Your Skills

When you roll freely with others, you gain a better understanding of how well you are doing. You can identify weaknesses that you can work on, so that your opponent can’t escape your submission or pass your guard. On the other hand, you may notice that you are performing another technique quite well, so will know your strengths.

Photo by Matthew Walsh

You will also start to refine techniques, particularly when rolling with people who are more experienced than you. Some techniques are useful on untrained attackers or white belts, but will not be effective against an experienced attacker. Some techniques are known to make you vulnerable to a counterattack.

For example, some white belts will use their elbows to open their opponent’s closed guard. This tends to work on other white belts, and is also effective against an untrained opponent. However, an experienced BJJ practitioner would know that they have the opportunity grab your arm and lock you in a triangle choke.

Prepares You for Competitions

Rolling at an open mat is a good opportunity to prepare for a BJJ competition because the conditions are similar. Although you will not be scored on points, you will come across techniques that you haven’t learned before and will be rolling for extended periods of time. You will need to have a strong defense and be prepared for anything.

You will also get a feel for commonly used techniques and start to see patterns in behavior when you roll with people. This allows you to focus on defending these techniques and blocking common escape routes.

Although you would be divided into a particular weight class for a competition, you will still get accustomed to rolling with various body shapes. Someone who is tall with long legs is generally better at triangles, whereas a shorter person with a solid neck is harder to choke with a triangle. 

What Should You Do While at Open Mat? 

There are no set rules in an open mat, but there are usually unspoken agreements among BJJ practitioners. These are detailed below.

Be Respectful

You should always respect others when at an open mat. This means being courteous when asking someone to roll and showing understanding if they do not want to roll with you. It also means maintaining good personal hygiene so that everyone is kept safe from germs and bad odors.

Understanding that everyone is there to learn and being humble is another way of showing your respect. BJJ coaches will discourage students from discussing their partner’s weaknesses and mistakes in a way that is degrading or embarrassing.

Establish Your Expectations

Most practitioners will be on the same page when it comes to rolling. However, some people may want to try techniques that are not common and potentially dangerous, such as heel-hooks. If you have a partner who is willing to practice with you, this is fine. However, you should mention your intentions to give your partner the opportunity to withdraw if they do not want to practice those techniques.

Another common issue occurs when someone subconsciously holds back their strength for fear of hurting the other person. This is particularly common for men rolling with women. Everyone is different and has different expectations from a roll. Therefore it is important to establish whether you are happy for your partner to use their full strength and skills, or whether you would prefer less resistance to practice a technique.

Understand the Hierarchy

Most of the time, higher belts will treat everyone as an equal, considering that everyone at the open mat is there to learn. However, one unspoken rule is that lower belts should reset their position if they and a pair of higher belts bump into each other when rolling. This demonstrates respect to those that have more experience than you, and also allows the rounds to continue as seamlessly as possible.

Are BJJ Open Mats Free?

Most BJJ gyms have a recurring payment system that allows access to all training sessions and equipment at the gym. For example, a BJJ gym may charge anywhere from $150 to $200 per month, but you can attend as many BJJ lessons as you like. The open mat sessions should be included in this price.

However, some gyms will allow BJJ practitioners from other gyms to join the open mat session. Because these people are not regularly attending the gym, they may be offered a cheaper fee or may be allowed to participate for free. This can benefit the gym by attracting a wider range of skill levels to the open mat sessions.

Should White Belts Attend Open Mat? 

White belts are definitely encouraged to attend open mat sessions to gain more experience and progress faster through their first belt. However, every gym is different, so you will need to check the policies of your local gym before you try.

Some gyms may require you to reach a particular skill level before rolling at an open mat. This ensures that every practitioner at the open mat will have some form of offense and defense, making the rolls more technical than fighting an untrained individual. Other gyms will allow people to join in, regardless of their skill level.

Final Thoughts

Overall, BJJ open mats are very important in consolidating your knowledge of BJJ. They are usually open to all skill levels, including white belts, and are included in your regular BJJ gym membership fee. Therefore, every BJJ practitioner should attend open mat sessions as part of their regular training routine.

Clay E

Clay E is a MMA/Muay Thai practitioner who was a collegiate wrestler at James Madison University.

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