By: Keeling Taylor, BJJ & Judo Black Belt
Every person who has ever stepped onto a jiu jitsu mat has tasted the bitter flavor of defeat. There isn’t a single person who has escaped the need to tap. It’s just part of the game. For some people it’s no big deal…tap and keep rolling, but for others tapping is a huge blow to their ego. Why? Let’s examine what the tap means and figure out how getting tapped actually makes your jiu jitsu better.
What does the tap mean? For most martial arts, speaking more specifically to the striking based arts, there is only one signifier that you have beat your opponent. That is that they are lying on the mat, having been knocked unconscious. This leaves little room for speculation about who is the victor. But jiu jitsu is different because we get the opportunity to demonstrate that our opponent has compromised our position and threatened us gravely enough to warrant an act of capitulation — the tap. But what does the tap really mean?
Some players view the tap as a definitive expression that your opponent is better than you. We all know the guy that will let himself be hurt avoiding the tap or will hurt his training partner in pursuit of a tap. He is 100% convinced that tapping to a training partner is saying that the training partner is better than him — that’s why he works so hard to tap everyone he rolls with. His ego depends on it. His perception of his place in the hierarchy of the school depends on it. But what if he taps? Is he not as good as his training partner? Will his coach think less of him? Will he become the butt of a joke among the people he trains with? The answers to those questions are resoundingly no, no, and NO!
Tapping is a great way to learn. If we avoid rolling with people who are able to catch us then we are also avoiding the chance that we can be put in a compromising position. That’s a good thing right? Sure, if you want to pretend that you’re the best player to ever don a gi and grace a jiu jitsu tatame. But let me tell you a secret…everyone gets tapped. Let me repeat that again — EVERYONE GETS TAPPED. Marcelo Garcia got tapped by Robert Drysdale. Buchecha got caught by Roger Gracie. Dean Lister by Josh Barnett, Joao Miyao armbarred by Keenan Cornelius, Andre Galvão choked by Rodolfo Vieira, and the list goes ever on. If these legends avoided testing themselves against dangerous opponents then their legendary status would be questionable.
So how does losing make you better? The answer is simple — it gives you things to work on. It helps you to tighten up the holes, to address your tendencies (they become obvious, predictable, and exploitable over time), and to help you always remember that the goal is to continually develop your jiu jitsu over time. This means you expand your understanding of the theories of movement, the ability to comprehend new positions and movement patterns, to apply your previous understanding to situations that you’ve never faced before. Playing jiu jitsu is just problem solving with your body. You take the tools you have and your ability to use them and you make the best of a complex situation. Sometimes we are unable to deal with the problems that our opponent creates for us. This isn’t a grand reflection on how bad you are at jiu jitsu, but rather a superb example of how well jiu jitsu works. A stronger guy can lose to a weaker one, a larger player can be beaten by a smaller player, and a younger person can suffer a loss to an older one. Jiu jitsu works, ask any person who has ever trained.
Where does this leave us? If you understand that a tap is a sign of a new lesson to be learned, then every training session is just a bunch of little lessons. Each time we are able to catch our opponent, we are (1) showing them that the techniques we used work against a resisting player and (2) highlighting the lesson for them. When we get tapped the same applies. Tapping is a good thing when you keep these in mind. Think of it like getting your test back from your teacher with highlighter all over it, you know exactly which questions you need to work on. Losing might hurt your ego but if you tap you can always keep rolling and fix the issue that got you there.
Dealing with the ego is another matter. We all want to believe that we are good at what we do. We also need to understand that our ego often doesn’t have your best interest in mind, but rather has its best interest in mind. It’s a powerful mechanism with self-preserving tendencies. It doesn’t want to lose and when it does, it makes you feel bad and gives you a list of reasons why you did, creating justifications why you feel bad. Just remember that you aren’t your ego and that your ability to keep that present in your mind will keep you on the right track to learn and grow, not only in jiu jitsu but also in life.
Great coaches will tell you the same thing. I’ve heard it from my coaches and from some of the best players in the world. What they say will help you to stay healthy, happy, and keep you coming back to the thing that brought your here in the first place — your love of jiu jitsu:
Tap early and tap often.