Rock or Water: a BJJ Player’s Guide

At a certain point in your jiu jitsu journey, you will realize that there are two completely contrasting styles of BJJ out there:  rock and water.  Learning how to balance these two styles and to make both a part of your game is an important piece of the puzzle, and one you may as well start thinking about now.

Imagine ocean waves crashing on a rocky shore. The waves don’t move the rocks out of their way, but rather go around them. In this manner, the waves get exactly where they want to go- around the rocks, but the rocks also get to stay exactly where they want to stay. Understanding this duality is important in understanding two fundamental aspects of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Nearly all BJJ practitioners will begin at white belt with a great deal more rock than water.  They are rigid and unyielding; when pushed, they push back.  This is a very natural reaction to have at the beginning, completely congruent with self-preservation.  After all, your partner is trying to get you in a position where he or she can choke or armlock you!

For some, the struggle is to add the “flow” or water aspect to their training. Here, Rickson Gracie talks about how to “flow with the go”:


Easy enough for most people to understand: you have to move around your opponent when rolling so that you can use the leverage that jiu jitsu offers. Not always as easy to understand is the other aspect of the equation, the rock aspect.

I remember very clearly having a talk with a promising young student.  At white belt, this particular student was winning all of the local competitions by submitting everyone off his back.  His triangle choke was already very dangerous, and his armlock was getting really scary.  However, every time he got on top of me, a light breeze would send him to his back.  If I turned it up a little bit when on top, I could smash past his flowing style and hold him in place far easier than I should be able to.

He needed to become more rock and less water for the time being.  He had figured out how to flow before he had figured out how to smash.

Some days, I really regret telling him that.  Now an excellent purple belt, this student has become an excellent training partner for the black belts at my gym.  It is a pleasure to roll with him (except when it’s not such a pleasure due to the pressure!).  His flow is still intact, but his ability to impose his will is now very impressive.

It’s going to be a slightly different mix for everyone.  Some students will naturally be so fluid that they’ll give up positions far too easily, while others will simply want to hold positions for far too long.  Finding the balance of rock and water is going to be the trick.

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