The first rule of open mat is that open mat is not Fight Club. Open mat is not a free for all throw down session where you spend three hours giving and taking as many beatings as you can. Some people make open mat about sparring and sparring only, but that's a mistake. Open mat is a unique opportunity for you to focus on your own personal development as a grappler. It's a chunk of mat time where you can choose what you work on and how you work on it.
- When you take a class, you are potentially exposed to new techniques and new connections that you may have difficulty discovering on your own, which helps to develop you and the school as a whole.
- When you roll, you have a chance to apply in real time the techniques that you have been practicing.
- When you go to open mat, you can use your rolling experiences to identify your weaknesses and begin working to patch the holes in your game.
Quality repetitions are the key to making consistent forward progress in jiu-jitsu. Pick an area of your game that needs work, and drill three or four techniques consistently for a month, sneaking in repetitions whenever you can, which is likely at open mat. If you aren't sure what technique you should be working on to correct a particular problem, ask. You could take a private lesson for some direction, or you can ask an upper belt that doesn't hate your guts about what he or she would suggest you do to solve your problem. If you can't decide what area of your game needs work, pick a recent class that you found interesting and drill the hell out of what you covered in that class. Refreshing your basic attacks, escapes, and transitions doesn't hurt, either.
How you drill can dramatically increase the return on your jiu-jitsu investment, so drilling intelligently is just as important as dedicating time to drill. However, that's a topic for another blog post, and some other great bloggers have written about drilling and open mat as well.
Check out Aesopian.com (run by my friend Matt Kirtley), particularly the articles 5+1 Stages of Resistance, Turn your Open Mat into a BJJ Lab, and Drilling Isn't A Four Letter Word. You may also enjoy Lex Fridman's BJJ and Judo Blog, particularly the articles Drilling Advice from Wrestling: Importance of a Good Partner and How to Choose Which Techniques to Drill.
Start doing open mat the right way!