Why Upper Belts Shouldn’t Make Excuses When They Tap To Lower Belts

black belt vs white belt

I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed this morning and I came across something very interesting.  A fairly well-known competitor who is a brown belt made a post about one of his teammates.  To paraphrase the post, the brown belt stated that his teammate, a white belt, had caught him in a submission and he had to tap. He also said the teammate hadn’t gotten “lucky,” but rather is training constantly, pushing the pace, and learning the art of jiu-jitsu.

This got me thinking.

Far too often I’ve seen practitioners try to downgrade the accomplishments of lower ranks by claiming they got lucky or by “coaching” them through the submission once the lower rank has already caught the submission.  Far too often, legitimate development that leads to success on the mat is stifled by overactive egos.

Very often I hear higher ranks blame physical differences for a lower rank’s ability to submit them: “Oh he’s so big and strong…”  That’s a lame excuse.  If you can’t find a way to make your jiu-jitsu work against someone who is big and strong, your jiu-jitsu is failing you.

Give credit where it’s due.

I’ll never forget the first time I submitted a purple belt, the first time I submitted a brown belt, or the first time I submitted a black belt.  Of the three, the purple was the most obnoxious about it.  I was still a white belt at the time, and I caught him in a tight triangle.  He made excuses, saying he was tired.  He also refused to acknowledge that I caught him.

The brown belt was pretty cool about it, tapped and moved on with the roll. He didn’t really have anything to say.

The black belt asked me where I learned the specific set up. He then asked me to go over it a couple of times and gave me some pointers to improve upon the already successful technique. I was a blue belt at the time, and the confidence that that moment gave me provided me with a lot of momentum.

Some people say that higher belts have targets on their backs, and while this is in some cases true, I think more often than not submitting higher belts with sound technique is a good goal to set.  I don’t want to be able to catch the lowest ranking, least technical guy in the room with some nonsense.  I want to be able to submit the best people available.

A lower belt’s responsibility, once they’ve gotten the tap, is simple: don’t carry on about it, and don’t go talking about it.  If you’re training right, you will get submitted in training, and the deeper the waters you explore, the more long-term benefits you will see. Sometimes that means you’ll get submitted – legitimately – by someone of lower rank.  Be respectful.

A higher belt’s responsibility is to encourage the lower belt to continue doing what they did in order to get to the point that they could get the tap.  I’ve seen a lot of ugly overactive egos in jiu-jitsu.  I’ve also seen practitioners whose intentions are pure and who are truly there for the love of the art.  The next time you get caught by a lower belt, congratulate them.  It will do more for their self esteem than you could ever imagine.  And it will make them hungrier for more taps.

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo (www.Northcoast-Cryo.com) NottaRookie, YM (www.cbdyoume.com discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap (www.defensesoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


  1. Thanks for the great article. In the past few months I’ve been caught a few times by lower belts. Although I responded the way a higher belt should (as you noted in your article), in my mind my ego was just killing me (basically all of the negative responses/excuses playing out in my head). It’s a great reminder of how BJJ (like life) gives you extreme highs and lows. Now each time I roll with a lower belt, I remind myself not to be lazy or complacent. And after congratulating my partner, after class I’ll try to learn the counters/escapes to the position (or how to avoid the position altogether). That way I know I’m taking and growing from the experience as well.


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