The Jiu-Jitsu Times is starting a new series called Point and Counterpoint. Each installment will feature two or more of our contributors debating an important issue in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
This week, Averi Clements will be debating Emil Fischer on whether or not competitors should consider the well-being of their opponents.
Averi will argue her point first. Emil’s argument will be posted this evening.
After a discussion with my friend and fellow JJT contributor Emil Fischer, I learned that he and I have very different views when it comes to just how much care you should give your opponents when you compete. Rather than hashing it out on the schoolyard playground and having one of us end up with a hyperextended elbow (“one of us” probably being me, to be honest), we decided to put our opinions on the line and see what you guys thought instead.
It’s worth noting that Emil and I— like many people— experience jiu-jitsu differently. He’s a very serious competitor who would like to one day be able to do jiu-jitsu professionally. I’m much more of a hobbyist: I compete pretty regularly, but I have neither the time nor the desire to become the next Mackenzie Dern, and I’m cool with that. I just really love jiu-jitsu and everything it’s done for me.
Our different goals, I suspect, have a lot to do with the way we handle our competitors at tournaments. Emil’s view is that when you go for a submission like an armbar, you shouldn’t try to get the tap— you should try to get the break. Basically, follow through with full force until they tap out, at which point you obviously let go immediately.
While I understand that mindset, I disagree with it. When I compete, I always give my opponent time to tap out before she gets injured. That’s not to say I take things as easy or as slowly as I do in class, of course. But if I know for a fact that I have a submission locked in, I’m not going to crank on it as hard and fast as I possibly can and risk another jiu-jitsu practitioner’s health for my own pride.
A very large part of why I have this mindset is that, well, I’m a woman. If you go to just about any tournament, you’re going to notice that the women’s divisions are a small. The largest number of women I’ve ever had in my division is seven, and that was only achieved after every belt level and weight class was lumped together in a single category. If I go to a local tournament and rip on a heel hook so hard that my opponent needs surgery, I’m not just hurting her, I’m hurting myself and all my other BJJ sisters. Now we have one fewer person in our brackets for up to a year, which means fewer matches for our money and an increased risk of having to compete against people whose weight or experience level is drastically different from our own.
More serious than that, though, is the fact that I’d never want to keep someone from doing jiu-jitsu just because I’m hungry for victory. When I compete, my biggest fear isn’t losing, it’s injuring myself severely enough that I can’t train. Jiu-jitsu is what saves me from both the world and myself, and I feel myself going a little crazy if I can’t train for a week. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I had to sit on the sidelines for months on end because my competitor decided that a spot on the podium was more valuable than me having two functional knees. I have no way of knowing if my competitor will have the same mindset as I do, and I always go in prepared to defend myself against anything, but I’ll still do everything I can to both defeat her and ensure that she’ll be able to train the following Monday.
If I’m going to be completely honest, the jiu-jitsu nerd in me won’t let me crank too hard on submissions. During practice, I love the feeling of being trapped in an armbar that’s so tight, the attacker can just sit there and chill while I struggle in vain to get out of it. That technique! That precision! Swoon.
I’m relatively small and physically weak compared to most of my teammates, so technique is really all I have going for me. Although I could try to rip someone’s arm off in a competition, it would feel like an insult to all the hard work I’ve spent refining and perfecting all the little details in class. My perfectionist perspective on technique has gotten me to where I am today, and I’m not throwing that away by using all my strength if I can win with precision instead.
That’s not to say you should tiptoe through your matches when you compete. You should be trying harder in a competition than you do in your day-to-day classes. And of course, the arte suave is still a martial art that teaches you how to severely injure or even kill someone if it came down to it. When I compete, I do it expecting that my opponent knows the limits of her own body and what the permitted submissions can do to her if she refuses to tap. Every time you step onto those mats, whether at home or at a competition, you run the risk of hurting yourself and the person you’re up against.
It’s fine to accept this while also making an effort to minimize that risk. The whole purpose of tapping out, after all, is to prevent yourself from getting hurt or worse. My goal when I submit anyone, whether a teammate or a competitor, is to put them in a position in which they have the option of tapping out and I have the option of seriously hurting them if they don’t. But I always make sure my jiu-jitsu is good enough to give both of us that option. If I’m not familiar enough with a submission that I can’t pull it off without jerking a limb or having to use all my strength, I’m not going to even attempt it at a tournament.
When it comes down to it, there is nothing a competition could offer me that would be worth injuring someone else. I’m grateful to my opponents for having the guts to compete, and I express that gratitude by doing my part to ensure that they’ll be physically able to do it again. Even when I’m fighting against someone else, jiu-jitsu is ultimately me competing against myself. If I lose, it will never be because I didn’t use force, but because my technique wasn’t where it needed to be. Should one of my opponents decide that she wants to risk my health to help her win, that’s her choice, and I’m prepared to defend myself if that happens to be the case. But if you go up against me, you can be sure that I’ll be considering your safety as I try to choke you out.