Jiu-jitsu is often heralded as the great destroyer of egos, but one occurrence in particular seems to slip past the ego-smashing qualities of the sport more frequently than others: getting submitted by someone of a lower rank.
On the surface, I get it — in any activity, it can take a toll on your self-esteem to be bested by someone who’s supposed to be worse at it than you are. Especially in jiu-jitsu, where belts aren’t exactly freely given out at any worthwhile academy, it might sting a little bit the first few times you get choked out by a white belt right after you finally earned the right to wear your blue belt.
But it’s time to get over it.
No, seriously, get over it.
While you should maybe question your coach’s judgment or your own abilities if you’re a brown belt who’s consistently getting smashed by three-month white belts, there are very few cases in which tapping out to someone ranked lower than you actually warrants a reaction of any kind. It shouldn’t need to be said, but based on the behavior I’ve seen some BJJ practitioners exhibit, there are apparently people out there who need to hear it.
First and foremost, we all have “good jiu-jitsu days” and “bad jiu-jitsu days.” Just as you experience classes in which you feel like a superhero who can destroy everyone you bump fists with, you probably also have days in which you feel like executing a half-decent triangle choke is beyond your abilities. Your good days and other people’s bad days are going to occur at the same time… and vice versa. You might feel like absolute garbage on a day that someone you normally destroy seems to be channeling Helio Gracie’s spirit. It doesn’t mean that you suck or that you’re falling behind — it just means that you’re training in a sport that has a lot of highs and lows.
Chances are, you’ve experienced this yourself. Especially in our earlier days of training, we’ve all probably felt the rush of submitting someone who, based on belt color, we “shouldn’t” have been able to. And yet, you probably didn’t think about how “bad” your teammate was or how they didn’t deserve to have been promoted — you were focused on the fact that you were improving. It was a mark of your progress, not their lack thereof. If you’re worried about how other people are going to see you after getting tapped out by someone with less experience than you, stop. They don’t care. I promise.
Most importantly, though, this is jiu-jitsu. On any given day, you can catch or be caught with something that you weren’t expecting, and the person who taps out might have way more or way less experience than you. That’s the beauty of what we do, and rather than putting us down, it should motivate us to push ourselves to learn more about the art we practice.
If you’re like one of the many people I’ve seen who make excuses after being submitted by a lower belt (“That was more of a crank and not a choke, and besides, my neck is injured.”), try to devalue their achievement (“You wouldn’t have gotten that if I’d actually been trying.”), or avoid rolling with lower belts who you know might be able to best you, cut it out. Not only are you a straight-up jerk, but you’re also screwing over your teammates and yourself. Everyone you roll with has something to teach you, and if you can’t see that because your over-inflated ego is in the way, you can only blame yourself when your progress begins to plateau.
The next time a lower belt submits you, tell them they did a nice job. Don’t make excuses for yourself even if you really are injured or weren’t trying. Don’t try to hurt them or embarrass them to “put them in their place.” Treat them like you’d treat any of your teammates, the same way you’d want to be treated if you managed to tap out someone ranked higher than you. Nobody’s going to even remember that time you got submitted by someone with three years’ less experience than you, but they are going to remember if you act like a child when it happened. Toss your ego in the garbage and just roll.