Do Competitors Have a Responsibility to Protect Each Other?

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Recently there was a video floating around on Instagram of a competitor cranking a heel hook on an opponent in competition. The description of the video implies that this was retaliation for the person who was submitted tapping and then denying it.

Here is the Reddit thread in which it’s discussed at length

The responses to this video vary but are mostly negative.  Bragging about hurting someone is always going to get negative reactions, and the truth is that if I hurt someone, even if it’s their own fault, I always feel bad about it. While the victor’s imperative to protect his opponent may have been nil, his reaction after the fact certainly shows poor sportsmanship.

As an active competitor I thought it would be interesting to explore my reactions and thoughts about what responsibilities we have (and don’t have) to our opponents in competition.

For starters: When competing, we need to make the assumption that our opponents are trying to take our limbs home with them. Even if an opponent is friendly before and after competition, the second the ref says “combate” their job is to cripple you. If you are not comfortable with this or are unwilling to do this, competition may not be for you. It is YOUR job to tap in time and with enough clarity for the ref to stop the match before you get your hurt.

Read that again: Your opponent has no responsibility to let go until the ref tells them to.

Now, of course, there is courtesy, because very few of us are actual sociopaths who want to maim people. I recently had a match in competition in which I attacked an opponent’s injured knee (this wasn’t deliberate or a targeted attack) and he tapped, and I released immediately because I knew I had it. I ran the risk of my opponent denying the tap, but it was a calculated risk I took because honestly winning the match wasn’t important enough to me to cripple my opponent. Plus I got the sense from his conduct on the mat that he would honor his own tap, and he did.

This sort of courtesy is generally extended in local and regional events. However, if money is on the line? Expect people to go full bore into the submission and to not release until the referee acknowledges it.

In another local match I had, I entered an outside heel hook on an opponent who didn’t understand legs, he tried to spin out and I applied breaking pressure. His ankle broke. The truth is that while I felt bad about it, he was caught for a few seconds before the break happened.

As far as the amount of torque I put on submissions, I generally set a submission up and then go for it. Most opponents recognize when they’re caught and tap before anything starts to break, and those that don’t will suffer damage. If you’re competing it’s your responsibility to know when you’re caught and to tap. If you watch horrific injuries, the position for the injury is generally sunk 2-5 seconds before the actual break happens. If you watch the video mentioned above the break happens about 3 seconds after the position became static. The winning competitor had an eternity to set the submission on and crank it, and the losing competitor could have screamed “TAP!” at any moment therein.

If an opponent has been good at escaping my submissions, or if worse yet they’ve tapped and then denied it, I will enter any submission I do wind up getting with more gusto.  This isn’t because I want to injure my opponent, but because I want to win. A while back I had a match against a strong competitor. He escaped a couple of my attempts only to land in a really bad spot, and I badly injured him. I felt crappy about it, but in talking to him later I think we both recognized that it was the only way I was going to get him to tap. Even then, I still felt really bad about hurting him.

At the end of the day you have two responsibilities in competition–to win (and if you catch your opponent to let go when they’ve tapped), and if you’re going to get submitted to tap early enough to give the ref and your opponent enough time to know to save you from injury.

That’s literally it. If you’re rolling with any other intent you’re likely to get hurt.

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Emil Fischer is an active brown belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ground Up BJJ (http://mpcle.com/class/ground-up-bjj/.) For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, Cleveland Cryo (www.clevelandcryo.net discount code EmilCryo,) NottaRookie, The Terphouse (www.TheTerphouse.com, used discount code COOKIES), Trap And Roll Soap Company (www.trapandrollsoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear, as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van (www.ludwigvantheman.com discount code FAMILY) and Vanguard Kimono.
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