If You Won’t Tap In Time For Your Own Health, Do It For Your Teammates’ Sanity

The amount of physical pain you suffer when you get injured in jiu-jitsu is equal to the emotional pain your training partner feels when they realize they were involved in your injury. Trust me, I’m great at math.*

It’s hard to get through any significant amount of time in jiu-jitsu without getting hurt, whether it’s as “insignificant” as a bloody nose courtesy of someone’s errant elbow, or it’s as life-changing as a knee injury that requires a six-month layoff. Some injuries are freak accidents, with a limb being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some are caused by a teammate being reckless, cranking on submissions too quickly or going too hard on a significantly smaller or less experienced training partner. Many other times, though, they can be prevented if you just tap in time.

We often promote the “tap early” mantra in jiu-jitsu for our own physical health. Many, if not most upper-belts can recount a time when they let an armbar go a bit too long and felt their first pop in their elbow, probably deciding that they’d prefer to never let that happen again.

Some practitioners who are young, extremely flexible, or highly competitive don’t let the threat of pain dissuade them, though. They let submission attempts go for as long as possible, putting the onus on their training partners to decide if they should let the submission go to avoid hurting them or continuing to apply pressure and trusting the “victim” to tap in time.

While it’s no fun to be the person walking around with a limp (yeah, toeholds can really hurt if they go too far), it’s also not fun to be the person who gave their teammate that limp. Letting go as soon as your opponent taps is perhaps the most important lesson we learn in jiu-jitsu, drilled into our heads from day one. We know what can happen if we don’t let go in time, and most of us are very careful to avoid causing injury to the people we roll with, lest we experience feelings of deep guilt and shame.

Sometimes, this shame is well deserved — if someone’s long nails give you a deep scratch or they hang onto a submission despite a tap and send you to the hospital, they should feel bad. But if you get hurt because you decided not to tap, your teammate may very well still feel the sudden onset of guilt the moment they hear a pop, even when it’s not their fault.

The trust of a tap goes both ways. You trust that the people you roll with will let go if you tap, and they trust that you’ll know your own limits and tap before you get hurt. If either of you betrays that trust, it can make jiu-jitsu less enjoyable and far more stressful.

Jiu-jitsu is painful and risky enough. If you enjoy adding to this pain and risk by incurring easily avoidable injuries, go kick a wall or wristlock yourself. There’s no need to make your training partners feel bad just because your ego is bigger than your desire to not limp.

*I am very bad at math, but trust me anyway.


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