When I was around seven or eight years old, my days were plagued by a typical schoolyard bully who delighted in slapping girls within an arm’s reach in the face. One day, my boiling point passed the point of no return and my small-ish hand was balled into a fist that met my bully's forehead with a sharp whap! The slaps were no more after that incident, and I later recognized the importance of temper in guiding the flow of reactions and interactions.
As I've grown older and more obsessed with jiu jitsu, I've been able to pinpoint exact moments of my own misguided mat aggression. There have been moments when I feel my jaw clench, teeth grit, and nostrils flare with imminent rage, a rage that manifests itself into a fireball of energy directed at my unsuspecting training partner. After the roll, I would usually bow my head in embarrassment, not only because of the possibility someone noticed my aggressive outburst, but mostly my inability to control my own misguided emotions towards an undeserving person.
Where does such aggression stem from? I used to think it was simply an aftereffect of my partner's overtly spazzy actions: knees flying, extra-competitive grunts, a knee-on-belly right in the neck. But then why would some days warrant a simple "it's okay, I'm fine" for the roll to proceed, while others call forth an unspoken war cry?
The aggression I so often faced usually proved itself a by-product of my own stress and whatever emotional extremes I was experiencing that day. Bad grade in school? Boss chew you out? Awful breakup? We tend to use jiu jitsu as our excuse to get away from the infractions of reality. Unfortunately, it's not so simple to detach our very powerful emotions from the intricately delicate process of training unlike an asshole.
Uninhibited anger and even sadness can poke their way through your carefully practiced techniques and maneuver their way through your grips and movements in the form of anger towards your partner. It may not always feel like it, but chances are, if you've ever felt like having a good cry or screaming session after training, you've experienced the fun process of an emotional purge. Such aggression is often difficult to pinpoint as we like to believe we have our thoughts and feelings, much like our body, under control.
The danger with repressing all of one's stress factors until they explode in class is the outcome of the borrowed body you unspokenly promised to return unscathed. I've been on the receiving end of overtly aggressive rolls more times than I've given them, and the sudden onset tension you feel is real. It's almost as if your partner's body turns into a shaking wrecking ball ready to attack at any flinch.
As a person battling aggression on the mats from nonspecific people, it's a good idea to let such persons know their behavior in the roll is a little out-of-sorts, to say the least. A good, old “how are you? Anything wrong?” sometimes works to stop the person in their tracks to really consider if they’re okay. It’s also entirely within your rights to call off the roll and point-blank tell your opponent they’re being an overbearing jerk, nicer terminology optional.
Just remember that your body is your own to take care of, so consider wisely the roll you are experiencing, and consider whether someone’s misplaced anger is worth a black eye or a new surgery. And for all you mat-aggressors, we know you’re not inherently bad people. But just like I came to find out, perhaps it is better for your well-being to take the day off, or opt out of rolling for the class, just to save yourself and your partner the possibility of harm.