One of the hardest things to get over as a white belt is the fear of tapping out. It’s why you see so many beginners sitting on the sidelines during class thanks to a hyper-extended elbow or shoulder. It’s also why you see so many newbies going all-out and trying to use their strength to submit someone by any means necessary.
Honestly, I get it. I had a lot of trouble submitting my own ego when I first started out. It took badly injuring both my elbows before I realized that maybe tapping out wasn’t the worst thing I could do in jiu-jitsu. But it still bums me out when I see other students hurting themselves, their opponents, or their own motivation because they don’t want to “lose.”
There’s a certain stigma with tapping out that a lot of people have a hard time shaking off when they first start jiu-jitsu. For them, tapping out means giving up, which doesn’t seem like something they should be doing in a contact sport. In the movies, it’s always the weakling, the loser, the nobody who gives up.
But real life isn’t a movie, and in real life, the person who taps out is going to make it a lot further than the person who doesn’t.
The obvious reason is that the person who taps out isn’t going to be sidelined for possibly months at a time due to injury. They aren’t going to be the ones looking on longingly while their teammates who did tap out get to train and improve their BJJ.
The less obvious reason that people who tap out have more success in jiu-jitsu is they have learned to conquer their pride. They don’t see tapping out as losing; they see it as learning. They know that every time they are bested is an opportunity to figure out what they did wrong – or what the other person did right – and work on their technique to prevent it from happening again.
Especially as big tournaments draw nearer and the pressure to be the best intensifies, you might start feeling a bit worse when you get tapped out in class . . . particularly if it’s by the same person over and over and over again. I’ve heard my own teammates express their frustration because they “keep losing” to their more experienced partners. But if you ever want to get to the point where you’re the person tapping everyone out, this mentality needs to disappear.
Jiu-jitsu class is just that: class. There are no winners or losers in class. You’re not competing in a tournament, and unless your professor instructs you otherwise, you shouldn’t be rolling as though you are. It’s a time to focus on technique and experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t work. The same armbar escape that works flawlessly on one person might land you in an even tougher submission when used against another opponent. Getting tapped out in class is the only way you’re going to be forced to think of a better option that might come in handy if the same thing happens at a tournament.
Even though they (truthfully) say that you either win or you learn in jiu-jitsu, it’s okay to be upset about losing at a competition you’ve worked your butt off for. I’m not going to try to minimize your frustration by saying, “Why are you sad? It was a learning experience,” while a rainbow appears over the tournament mats. But if you’re going to mope a little about tapping out, it should be done over those surrenders, not the ones you experience during practice. And yeah, once you’re finished being sad over a tournament loss, you really should start viewing it as a learning experience.
If anything, you should consider yourself lucky if you’re constantly surrounded by teammates who can choke you fifty ways in five minutes. It means you’re training with people who have a lot they can teach you, and it’s a reminder of how far you can come if you let go of your pride. Every single one of the people who can chew you up and spit you out have gotten so good only after tapping out hundreds, even thousands of times.
It’s fine to get a little frustrated on the days everyone is tapping you and you can’t even pass guard correctly. But you’re going to have a lot more of those days if you can’t push those emotions out of your head and start using them to improve your jiu-jitsu. We participate in a sport in which we have the option of surrendering rather than getting hurt, which is what allows so many jiu-jitsu practitioners to train well into their golden years.
Every time we tap out, especially in practice, we should see it as a gift rather than a loss.