Elemental Jamming: Define your style, build your skills

Are you a slippery water jammer? Or do you bulldoze like an earth jammer?

Those are the questions my teammates started asking each other after a jamming clinic with Miss Tea Maven earlier this year where she summarized a theory, Elemental Jamming. Earth jammers are strong and push through, Air doesn’t want to be touched and will quickly whirl around the outside, fire has the intensity to hit hit hit, and water uses opponents to glide through cracks in walls.

I followed up with Maven who let me know Elemental Jamming is the brainchild of Optimus Grime, a skater for Manchester Roller Derby and Team Scotland. He was nice enough to break it all down for us:


  • Earth is immovable, physically and emotionally. They decide a path and are immovable from it.
  • Keeps shoulders and hips square, drives with legs and puts pressure on all points of contact. Requires core strength.
  • Stubborn as hell. Resilient and enduring.
  • Strength:The middle and constant contact
  • Weakness: Speed
  • Example you may know: Freight Train, Short Stop


  • Fast, airborne and jumping. Uses expressive body posturing, like a dancer.

  • Fearless, playful, fun and free

  • The original/classic style of jamming: skate hard, go fast, be quicker than other people

  • Strength: Speed and efficiency

  • Weakness: Risky and cardio-intensive

  • Example you may know: Rollomite, Mutch Mayhem circa 2015 (she’s becoming more earthly)


  • Water jammers use rotation movements to flow past opponents using their body and momentum. They uses deception and absorption of force.

  • They are balanced, patient, ever-changing, unpredictable

  • They use opponents and teammates to roll through. They absorb force and use it to their advantage.

  • Mindset: Balanced, placid

  • Strength: Unpredictable and adaptable

  • Weakness: Relies on space

  • An example you may know: Lady Trample, Miss Tea Maven


  • Fire jammers are explosively driven and refuse to allow anything to stand in the way

  • They use oblique twists, a stance that’s loaded to one side, aggressive pressure and explosive movement

  • Desire and unbreakable will

  • Strength: Strong mental game and physical tenacity

  • Weakness: Can burn out of control or become too aggressive.

  • Examples you may know: Missile America (retired, Rat City), Scald Eagle

“People quickly identify which they are and what they’re good at naturally, and they can identify what they’re not good at. Most people are a mix of two, the most common is air/water combined (bubble),” said Grime, who identifies as a fire jammer.

A jammer is breaking through a pack of roller derby skaters
This is Grime, who identifies as a fire jammer. Photo by NSP189 whose Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/nsp189/ and used with photographer permission.

Once someone knows what they are and what they aren’t, they can focus on building up their weaker styles. It gives a common language to chunks of skills, but without a hierarchy. It’s not better to naturally be an earth than a fire. For some people, that helps them open up to their strengths and weaknesses without judgement.

“I like this as a coaching tool,” he said. “Because blockers outnumber jammers usually 80 percent of training is geared toward blockers. Jammers are generally told, ‘just do your thing’ with limited coaching. This concept gives people a simple structure of who they are, what they do naturally and identifies what they could work on. It carries on so even if you achieve avatar status, you can still think about developing your different styles. It gives an appealing structure quickly.”

Grime came up with this framework after he and his teammates Tea Virus, Phoenix and Hugs n Kisses started comparing jamming to the tribes and characters in the cartoon show Avatar: The Last Airbender. He built it up from there. The ideal is to become an “avatar” who can harness the strengths of all the jamming elements.

“In my head the overall goal is become an avatar,” Grime said. “If someone is only jukey, they’re easy to predict. If they’re only pushy they’re easy to predict. If they can juke and hit and spin they’re difficult to deal with.”

“It’s about jumping between style as you jump between moves. It’s about coming in placid and switching to what you need during gameplay. It opens up a spectrum of ideas and body shapes and even computer-style combos. Like try earth move then air move then fire move — it’s endless like a martial arts sequence is endless, so long as you have the ability. Unless you’re athletically inclined it’s difficult to be able to do all four because some aren’t achievable without some athletic ability,” he said.

Many people are a combination of two styles.

Bubble jammer: air, water
Fire earth: lava
Dust/sand: earth and air
Steam: water, air, fire   … etc.

“It’s fun just thinking about these ideas,” Grime said.

It is.

Some people’s cross-training informs their style.

“You’ll see patterns,” Grime said. “Powerlifters seem to be earth jammers: they’re not afraid of slow grinding muscle movements like a slow grinding deadlift and being stubborn, it’s a powerlifter mentally. I’ve seen boxers and rugby players with that fire mindset – that mindset is important to fire jamming. Air is used to keeping a set pace like runners, having that agile ability. Stef ainey was a water jammer and they used to do some sort of aggressive tai chi.”

Once you identify your natural element, you’ll want to work on a not-as-natural one. Grime suggests working only on that element, to the detriment, for at least one month before moving on.

“You won’t be successful at first and it takes control of your brain to say ‘I’m only doing this style of movements even if I don’t get lead and don’t get anywhere,’” he said.

He suggests “sparring,” going through the motions without trying to hit people down, just drilling the actual motions repeatedly and plotting out next moves.

So you want to work on it? Here are some of his tips:

Tips for earth jamming:

Tips for air jamming:

  • Have faith or hope for being successful

  • Approach pack at high speed

  • Surrender your body to a task, even if it is risky

  • Mindset: I’m am free. I am brave!

  • Watch one of Grime’s air move drills.

Tips for water jamming:

  • Lead with your hips; try a seated shape

  • Practice using the force of an opponent’s hit to shape your next move

  • Work on 180 and 360 transitions

  • Mindset: go with the flow

  • Be patient for opportunities

  • Watch Grime’s demo of a water drill

Tips for fire jamming:

  • Fire jammers often use shoulders or whole body, rather than leading with hips

  • Crosstrain oblique twists and explosive movements (plyometrics)

  • Mindset: Get out of my f****** way

  • Watch one of Grime’s fire drills.

Having a hard time picturing it? Grime has this video demo of some moves different styles do. This short one is good for visual learners too.

Drop how you identify in the comments.

Optimus Grime is a jammer for Team Scotland and Manchester Roller Derby. He is a coach and will be leading a small US west-coast tour after RollerCon (where he’s teaching Elemental Jamming). Grime also used to be a circus performer, acting as an acrobatic base and a unicycler. Find more of his clinics and more information on his Facebook page facebook.com/optimusgrime10


7 easy tips to improve your jamming

A jammer skates around a roller derby track

So you want to be a better jammer. Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that are so easy you can implement them at your next scrimmage:


Use your lap time to take a breath … unless there’s no time

A lot of newer skaters think that as a jammer you must fight through the pack, then sprint to do it all over again. And I really like that assumption. For the most part, that’s exactly what jammer should do.

But there’s something to be said about taking a breath. If you’ve fought and fought and fought through a pack and you’re finally out of the engagement zone (without fear that someone will come pull you back), if you need to take the extra [literal] 2 seconds it will take for you to catch your breath, reset and be a strong, penalty-free jammer when you have to fight through that pack again: Do it.

Don’t be lazy. This isn’t an excuse to lallygag, it’s a strategy. If those couple of deep breaths are going to keep you clean and better prepare you for the 2-minute fight, take it.

Sometimes the game clock says you have 8 seconds and it’s a tied game. This tip is not for that moment. It’s for almost every other moment you’re jamming.

Aim for the weakest … or strongest

Maybe it’s obvious to aim for the weakest blocker on the opposing team. She’ll fall out of her wall, you’ll slip through and there will be points and glory and confetti. So do that.

… unless …

Unless you’re a bulldozer of a skater. One of those super strong women who frequently gets back-block calls off the line even though you feel you’ve hit cleanly (but with force). If you’re that skater, try aiming for the gap by their strongest blocker(s) because they’re less likely to fall when you hit them legally, but with force.

Look at their feet

At the jam start, whose feet are in a plow stop, whose feet are in a hockey stop and whose feet are pointing straight ahead? Aim for the people whose feet are pointed straight ahead, whose wheels are ready to roll right out of play.

Be patient with yourself / figure them out

Ever go into your first jam of a bout, get denied lead and think, “this might not be my day.”? If so, this is for you. You got to let that shit go. Give yourself two jams to figure out the other team — and *use* them. Really think, “ok, when I hit X that didn’t work, maybe I need to try my line work.” Address whatever issues came up and try a few approaches early so you can quickly figure out their weaknesses and exploit them all game long. I will accept “losing” the first two jams if it means winning the next 38. Be patient with yourself.

The mental game of struggle v failure

Struggle is a big part of jamming at all levels. We’ve seen Champs games that have 2-minute-no-lead jams. It’s not because those jammers suck. Struggle is part of the job of jamming. In the moments you feel struggle, know it’s *not* failure. When you’re pushing a wall of strong blockers and they’re not moving much, that’s not you failing — it’s you trying and learning and working. This is the work of a jammer. It’s normal. If you can embrace it, you’ll be happier and go farther.

If you’re going to pass, do it kindly and clearly

Desperate times call for desperate star passes … wait, no …

It’s often the exhausted jammer who will get the Star Pass Violation penalty … or just be flat-out not-so-nice to their pivot by offering a poorly positioned pass. Don’t be that person.

If you’d like to execute a pass:

  • Alert your pivot
  • Make sure your pivot has a chance to get to the front of the pack
  • Be upright and in bounds
  • Only pass if your pivot is upright and in bounds
  • If complete, be helpful, either as offense of as a blocker. Your team still needs you.

And on a not-so-PC note: Think about your pivot. If you’re unable to make it through this pack, is s/he the type of skater who could make it through? Hopefully yes. But if it’s a “no” it might be less damage to your team’s score for you to suffer through the two minutes. It also means you should talk to your bench coach when you get back and ask for a pivot whose skill set is different than your own, so that if your skills aren’t working on a wall, maybe hers will.

Practice stupid shit

Play at practice. Play at warmups. Even on your own. Play with your one-footed turns, your 360s, play with your backward duck walks, dance on your toe stops, skate without toe stops — anything that’s challenging, weird and fun. Do it. Even if it seems useless, it’s not. When we practice weird shit, we inherently get better at the normal shit, our balance gets better and we as competitive humans love to play … and love is important. 

A jammer skates around the roller derby track in green shorts
Breath on your laps. Photo by Joshua M Hoover, used with permission.

Other game changers:

  • Cross train like a mother.
  • Watch high-level footage. Having a visual of what “success” looks like is a proven way to reach proficiency. The more footage you watch, the better you will get.
  • Work on your mental game (books, meditation, however you do you).
  • Jam ref. You’ll learn so much more about how to be a great jammer and secret tips only refs know. Seriously.


Got tips? I could sure use em 😉 Drop em in the comments: