In light of the recent incident involving Rousimar Palhares (you know, the one where he tried to claw out Jake Shields’ eyes and then held a kimura while the referee desperate tried to tap on him to let him know the fight was over) one of my readers, Kyle Volkmann asked me to explore the subject of the tap, the importance of letting go, and the distinction between competition taps vs. taps in the gym.
My policy when rolling with teammates is simple: if someone is on my level or higher I apply the submission slowly enough for them to tap to it and let go as soon as they tap, sometimes letting go preemptively to avoid loss of control over the submission. When rolling with teammates who are at a lower grappling level than me I try to give ample time and will let go when I feel that the submission is secured even if they haven’t tapped yet. I will also verbally tap if I feel we are in a situation that could potentially get ugly (IE weird knee reaps with a person who is moving explosively.) I’m not perfect, there have been times when I have moved too quickly with a submission, but this is what I try to do.
My policy when rolling in a tournament is that up until the moment when the other person expresses distress (a tap or any sort of verbal distress) I am actively trying to remove whatever it is that I am attacking (neck, arm, foot, etc.) If the person has been sportsmanlike throughout our brief interaction, I will be a bit less vicious about it, and I treat heel hooks with greater care than other submissions because of the potential for long term injury, but still up until the moment of the tap I have the full intention of injuring the other person. As soon as they express distress, I go from full crank to holding the submission in place, no longer trying to amputate, and I make eye contact with the referee in hopes that they step in. If they don’t I make a judgment call (normally I just let go and put faith in the other person’s honesty.)
Palhares not only ignores other peoples’ taps but he also has had several instances when he has ignored the referee. I’ve seen some people (who probably don’t train) try to argue that he only holds submission for a second or two after the ref steps in, but a second or two is an eternity when a heel hook is being cranked.
Why is this problematic?
When you enter a match you are entering an unspoken contract with your opponent. You are going to train to maim and mangle each other up until the moment that one person taps. After the tap, it’s not NECESSARILY morally reprehensible to hold the position (because people will tap and then claim they didn’t if the referee doesn’t see the tap), but continuing to crank isn’t acceptable, especially with submissions that attack the knee (like the heel hook that Palhares loves so much.) When someone breaks that unspoken contract, they are not only violating their opponent but they are violating the sport. Incidents like the ones Palhares gets involved in are a big reason that many people think MMA is barbaric.
An ideal situation would be to have multiple cameras filming every match with sensitive microphones nearby as well. Encourage people to let go of the submission before the referee even has to intervene. People will be people and no one wants to lose, so if someone gets caught in a submission and their opponent lets go due to a tap the ref didn’t see, they may claim they didn’t tap, however for the sanctity and safety of both the sports of BJJ and MMA it is better to err on the side of caution than seriously injure a competitor.
Palhares has a long history of breaking the unspoken contract and shouldn’t be allowed to fight anymore. When he is successful he puts his opponents in great danger both with his dirty fighting tactics as well as refusing to let go of submissions. It really sucks because he’s a fantastic athlete and jiu jitsu practitioner but his mentality is not healthy and isn’t good for the sports of MMA and BJJ.