When Should You Endure and When Should You Tap?

By Joshua Rozenboom

“Don’t be a hero!” That’s what Army drill sergeants like to say when a soldier is acting too tough for their own good. In Jiu Jitsu we’re taught to submit before our training partner does any serious damage, but sometimes we get… stubborn. Our ego wants to hold out as long as possible; we don’t want to “lose” the round, even though the round doesn’t mean anything.

There are some ups and downs to this mentality. Yes, you want to be tough and learn to identify the threshold between discomfort and pain. It’s useful to re-train the panic instinct and know whether or not you’re in serious danger, so you hold onto chokes and submissions that are merely uncomfortable in hopes of finding an opening to escape. Makes sense, right? Well, the downside is that your joints will take a beating over time. Even if a submission doesn’t seem too tight, you’re still pushing your ligaments beyond their intended limits. This is especially tempting if you are flexible.

The most dangerous factor in all of this is ego. This is a more polarizing line of thought, because a lot of people want to be tough and have that confidence that comes with doing hard things. Some people, however, just hate to lose. Less common, but still true, is that some people enjoy beating up on their training partners. They might have some teammates who love to roll hard, but then carry that same mentality into rolls with less aggressive training partners. What ends up happening is that tough guys throw on fast and intense submissions, and tough guys refuse to tap, and someone gets hurt. You might see more of this with newer students who bring a lot of ego and attitude into the gym, but over time they’ll learn to relax and polish their technique without being brutish. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with training hard – this is simply a time where Jiu Jitsu academies have a diverse student base, and not everyone is training for competition.

So, it’s important to be mindful of whom you’re training with and how that person moves and reacts. If you’re a higher belt, don’t choke the daylights out of partners who don’t have the tools to defend themselves. Slow down a little and help them learn. And maybe it’s OK to take a little delight in knowing that you let one go out of the kindness of your heart.

If you’re a newer student, and especially if you think Jiu Jitsu is about smashing people all the time, learn to relax and learn to tap. It’s going to happen a lot. Even black belts get submitted in training. Pay attention and you’ll notice that a lot of higher belts won’t fight too hard to get out of your submissions. They’ll respect your progress, and avoid getting injured.

There is absolutely a time and place for cranking armlocks and tightening chokes, and everyday training is not necessarily it. Jiu Jitsu stays fun and exciting for everyone if we can let go of that last 10% of our ego that either wants the win or doesn’t want to lose. Winning and losing happens on the competition floor; learning is what happens in the gym. Be safe and have fun!