Getting Tapped is Part of the Process
My first few months of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu were like most people’s: they kinda sucked. New students sparred from day one, usually against other new students. It was a military town, with a lot of young, tough men coming through. We literally had a new student every class.
It was a warzone. Each sparring session felt like life or death. To us new students, BJJ was about two things: don’t get submitted, and try to submit people. We had reduced everything down to a zero sum game. Winner takes all, loser is. . . .a loser.
I’m not an alpha male. In fact, I was barely in shape at the time. I weighed 125 lbs soaking wet. I did not get the better of most exchanges. In fact, I took a beating every night for about six months. My answer to this? More aggression! But the harder I rolled, the more I dreaded returning the next day.
A different way.
I remember the first time I rolled with a black belt. Naturally, I assumed that because a black belt was four belts higher than a white one, I would take four times the beating. My mind braced for five minutes of hell. But a funny thing happened:
I tapped him out from my guard.
I didn’t know whether to be shocked, outraged, or proud of myself. Obviously he had let me submit him. I wasn’t an idiot. But instead of collapsing on the mat from exhaustion and then fist bumping me like most people did, this guy just. . .kept going. No reset, no talking. The roll continued. He let me pass his guard, work from side mount, ect. He escaped from time to time, swept me once or twice. Overall, it was the best roll I’d ever had up until then. Not because I did well, but because it was so effortless.
I realized that wasn’t just my partner’s skill that made the roll effortless, it was the fact that he didn’t care about the outcomes. To him, BJJ wasn’t about submitting people, or not being submitted. I was like seeing a free man when you were solely owned by the need to win.
It was a major breakthrough for me: just let people submit you. And I did. Here’s five things that happened within a few weeks.
I was able to train two extra days a week.
Because I wasn’t fighting to the death every night, I left the gym feeling fresher than ever. I wasn’t limping the next day, texting my carpool buddy that I needed to take a night or two for recovery. The days of me mentally needing to get fired up for training were over.
I attracted different training partners.
When I was rolling hyper competitively, I was inviting challenge from the toughest students. Now I was getting noticed by a new type. They were a little like me: wanting to challenge themselves in a sustainable way. For us, training was about meeting your partner in the middle. Not insulting them by surrendering without a fight, but not crushing them either. Suddenly, I had options based on my mood. Most nights, I could roll light with my “go to” sparring partners. And when I felt like challenging myself, the killers where still there.
My defense skyrocketed.
I got submitted nearly every roll, in the short term. But spending so much time in bad positions like the mount or side control worked in my favor over time. After several weeks, I noticed that it was actually becoming harder to let people tap me out. I knew the standard white and blue belt submissions pretty well. Stuck in S-Mount? They’re going to armbar me. Expose my arm in side control? They’re going to americana me.
Just being able to predict the basic attacks made them easier to avoid. I learned that when other new students couldn’t submit me with their basic attacks, they would often do something dumb out of desperation. Then sweeps and reversals would practically happen on there own.
I conserved energy while attackers spent theirs.
When attackers expect a ton of resistance, they expend the amount of energy they think is needed. People could be caught off guard when they realized I wasn’t fighting as hard as they expected. The notion of weathering the storm made sense to me now. At least, against other new students whom, like me, didn’t have a big gas tank.
I learned how to hold back.
Looking back on that first black belt roll, I appreciated his ability to use just the right amount of skill to edge me out. Other advanced students have this quality too. The subtle art of holding back and scaling your game up and down to your partner’s level. When I look at some of the best brown and black belts I’ve ever rolled with, I’m never quite sure how good they really are. They stay calm and always let me gain some sort of ground on them. These guys could steamroll me, but they never do. It takes discipline and humility, two things we need more of in BJJ.
We can start by not being in the warzone. Just let people submit you once in awhile.
If you’d like to see another YouJiuJitsu article about improving your fundamentals, check out this one by Gene Morris