Let’s say you’re new to BJJ. You’re still learning the lingo – from OSS to mata leão. And you hear colored belts talking about “open mat”. But you’re too afraid to ask – “what is open mat?”
If you’re afraid to ask the tough questions, and risk looking silly, don’t worry. That’s what Find Your Gi is here for!
We’ll let you know what an open mat is, and share everything else you need to know before attending your first open mat.
What is a BJJ Open Mat?
An “open mat” in BJJ is an informal training session, usually meant to let people from different gyms show up and roll (BJJ sparring).
The name comes from the idea that the gym (or the mat area) is “open”, and free for people to come and train, despite not having an official class.
Most gyms have open mat at least once a week – generally on the weekend. It might also fall on other days in between formal class times, or in the mornings.
You can check a gym’s schedule to find out their open mat time, or ask the gym’s instructor.
Can (Or Should) New People Attend Open Mat?
You’ll probably hear a lot of the old heads – blue, purple, brown belts – talking about open mat. So if you’re new to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, maybe just a white belt, you might wonder whether it’s ok for you to attend open mat too.
99.99% of the time, it is absolutely fine for white belts and new students to come to open mat.
In fact, it’s something I would encourage. Open mat is a great opportunity to test yourself against different people, in different situations, and get some quality rolling time.
You shouldn’t be put off if there are a lot of experienced upper belts there. Quite the opposite in fact – training with more experienced, more skilled partners is only going to take your own game to a higher level.
The one caveat I would say is that it’s not the best environment if you are completely new. For example, if it’s your first class, or you’ve only had a couple of classes, you may not get that much out of open mat. That’s because there is no formal teaching going on.
You don’t really want to be going along and asking upper belts to teach you the absolute basics. They’re there to get their own mat time and work on their own game. Although, sometimes upper belts may reach out by themselves and offer to help you during open mat, in which case this can be a really valuable opportunity.
But, generally speaking, I’d wait until you’ve at least started rolling during regular classes before going along to open mat. After that, definitely take every opportunity you can to attend.
What to Expect at Open Mat
So you’ve decided to go to open mat. What should you expect?
First of all, expect that it’s going to be a very informal atmosphere. Don’t expect any teaching, or the coach to pair you up with anyone.
It’s up to each person to find a partner and roll. You and your partner may agree to drill certain positions, or simply roll like normal.
Each BJJ open mat might work a little differently. There may be a bit of a warmup at the start, or it might be up to you to do your own warmup.
There’s usually a round timer for open mat. But in some cases, there’s no timer, and it’s completely up to you and your partner how long you’re going to roll for.
Expect that some people will show up late or leave early as well. Open mats usually go for around 2 hours, but people come and go, just rolling as much as they want to (or can).
If it’s your first time at a particular gym’s open mat, take some time to gauge the vibe, and be open to however they usually do things.
Is Open Mat Free?
Open mat is usually free to attend. But again, each open mat at each gym may be different.
Some only charge a fee for non-members, and it’s free for people who regularly train at the gym. Some treat this like a regular class, charging the normal class fee.
You’ll want to figure out what the deal is before you attend. Ask the instructor or members from that gym, and be prepared to pay if those are the rules at this particular gym.
Open Mat Tips
How should you approach a BJJ open mat? Are there specific things you should do, or avoid, especially as a lower belt going to your first open mat at a new gym?
Most open mats don’t have any strict “rules” – if a gym does have a big list of rules to follow for open mat (or regular classes), I’d take that as a bit of a red flag to look out for.
Still, there are some tips you should generally follow, for one to be respectful, and also to make sure you get the most from your experience.
As we’ve established, all gyms are different, and so can the way they run their open mat.
If you’re looking to visit another gym’s open mat, call or message ahead to find out what (if any) rules you need to follow.
It’s best to figure out ahead of time how much it costs (if anything), whether you need to show up at any particular time, or any other rules that might apply.
Some gyms may need you to call ahead anyway, as they may have had issues with random people showing up to open mat and causing problems. It’s always best to be safe, so get all the info before you show up.
Be friendly and respectful
This goes for anything you do in life, but particularly when you show up to another gym for open mat, you’ll want to be nice and respectful.
You don’t want to be the guy who shows up to open mat and acts hostile with everyone. In this kind of environment, things are going to turn ugly, very quickly.
Adopt an open and friendly attitude – you’ll be more likely to get the same in return.
Start slow and figure out the vibe
If it’s your first time at a gym’s open mat, you won’t know how things work there. Are there round timers, or is it fully open rolling? Does this gym have strict rules, or is it more casual? Are the people here hardened competitors, or hobbyists?
You’ll want to fit in to the vibe. You might want to take a round or two to observe what other people do. Or, you can jump in straight away, but start slowly. Don’t roll at competition-level intensity right from the start.
Focus on technical flow rolls
Once you’re comfortable with the vibe, and know how other people at open mat like to train, you can change it up. But your default should be smooth, technical, flow rolling.
Use your technique, instead of relying on strength and intensity. Remember, the people at open mat don’t know you, and if you come out rolling like it’s ADCC, you’ll put them in fight or flight mode.
As a general rule, you should expect your training partner to match your intensity. If you go hard, your opponent’s going to go hard, and that’s when egos flare up and injuries happen.
Communicate with your training partner
Many people do open mat differently. One person may be training for a comp, another might be trying to work certain positions, others are just there to get a sweat on.
Before you start a roll, communicate with your partner on how it’s going to go. You should both agree on the intensity – do you want to go slow and technical, or, if you’re both ok with it, you can go harder.
You’ll also want to communicate if you (or your partner) have any injuries to be careful of, or if there are specific rules you’ll go by (e.g. leg locks or no leg locks).
Avoid asking higher belts to roll (at least to start with)
To be safe, when you’re just starting out, don’t ask higher belts to roll.
This is a rule you’ll see at a lot of gyms. The upper belt has to ask the lower belt to roll – the other way is seen as disrespectful.
That being said, many gyms I’ve been in don’t care about this type of thing. The open mat you go to might be the same. But take some time to find out what the deal is before you go around issuing a challenge to the grizzled brown belt.
Experiment – don’t focus on “winning” open mat
Finally, one of the most important things to remember – you’re here to learn, not to compete.
There’s no “winning” open mat. There are no awards for tapping your opponent, or penalties for getting tapped.
Open mat is a chance to experiment, try new things, and particularly to work on areas you’re weak in.
I’d generally say that it’s a bad thing if you go through open mat without getting tapped. That just means you haven’t been testing yourself enough. You haven’t put yourself in bad situations, and gone against better opponents.
Focus on learning and improving. This attitude will take you further in Jiu Jitsu, as well as creating a more positive training environment for everyone else.