When A Lower Belt Strikes: How To Handle Getting Submitted By A Lower Belt

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If you have been promoted to blue belt or beyond and train with people, you’re bound to get submitted by someone of a lower rank. In some cases, these individuals’ skills far surpass yours, and in others you simply get caught.

I’ve been both on the giving and receiving end of this, and have seen all sorts of different reactions. The truth is, I judge people of higher rank not by how badly they can beat me up on the mat, but by how they handle that moment when someone of lower rank manages to submit them.

I’ve watched guys try to play it off, pretending that they “let” the lower ranking practitioner catch them.  I’ve seen sudden spikes in aggression, often leaving the lower-ranking practitioner feeling a bit bewildered.  The truth is that unless your training partners feel comfortable going for the kill and feel that it won’t lead to retribution, they won’t trust you, and you won’t get their best in every roll.

Here are some pieces of advice as to how to handle the moment when a lower belt submits you:

1. Don’t panic.  I know the feeling of “Oh no, what will everyone think?”  The truth is that no one that matters actually cares who taps who out in the confines of a training room.  The only place it really matters is competition, and even there it really doesn’t matter.

2. Don’t get mad.  The anger that results from getting submitted by a lower belt is a direct reflection of your crappy ego.  Check your ego at the door.  If you express an emotional reaction to getting submitted, it’s indicative of a deeper issue than your jiu-jitsu game — it shows that your LIFE game may not be on point.

3. Don’t do that “coaching thing.”  It’s one thing to offer tips to your training partners that may be useful moving forward, but if you try to pretend you let them have it when you didn’t, you’re a piece of garbage.  A big part of getting better in jiu jitsu is building confidence.  I’ll never forget the first time I subbed a higher belt. I’ll also never forget the several instances in which higher belts that I KNOW I caught legitimately tried to play it off.  If someone catches you, let them enjoy the confidence boost.

4. DO congratulate the person.  Positive reinforcement is great.  When someone of lower rank catches me, I try to always remind myself to congratulate them on submission.  They won’t think less of you unless they’re just an awful person.  Let them enjoy their moment.  Maximize their success.  When I’m working my defense and a training partner catches me and says “you let me have it” I do my best to explain to them that I was working on a specific position but that their submission is legitimate

5. DO continue rolling at the exact same pace.  Trust is crucial on the mat.  If after you catch me I go 150 percent, I am in a small way betraying your trust.  Stick with whatever intensity you were rolling at before.

6. DO collect information.  When I roll, I often explore bad positions.  I don’t “let” people submit me.  If you are trying to land a submission on me, there’s a good chance I’m trying my best in that moment to defend that submission.  If my defense fails and you succeed in submitting me, that information can be very valuable in building my game.

Don’t let people “win”, but let them enjoy their successes.  Jiu-jitsu can be very frustrating, and the small successes we have on a day by day basis are what keep us going.  Also, remember that athleticism, size and age play a major role in outcomes on the mat.  Someone can legitimately submit you, but that someone can also be much heavier, younger, more athletic etc.  Don’t beat yourself up over it — just keep training!


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