When is it “Okay” to hurt your training partner?

Now, before everyone gets up in arms, let me clarify some things. At no point in training should someone try to injure their teammate/partner.  Additionally, if you are at a school that people are constantly being injured, you may want to rethink your membership. On the other hand, anyone who has experienced jiu-jitsu for at least a week can attest to the fact that some of the positions/techniques are not comfortable. In reality, depending on the technique, your partner, your body type, etc. some positions/techniques, may be downright painful.


Jiu-jitsu is a combat sport that requires hands on drilling and sparring (rolling) in order to become efficient and progress accordingly.  Therefore, your training partners are one of the most important aspects of your growth. Training with a partner allows for immediate feedback and reaction to all techniques. These instances of direct communication combined with an instructor’s directions are a vital component of an individual’s ability to execute a technique effectively.

So how could it ever be ok to hurt your partner?

Looking specifically at the final step of submissions, there are two components that make or break each technique. Component one is the individual performing the submission and their ability to do so efficiently in order to get the finish. Component two is the willingness and/or capability of your partner to withstand the pressure applied by a submission or escape. If someone rarely applies ample pressure to their submission or only works getting to the position whilst not securing the finish during drilling, they are neither strengthening their finishing capabilities nor developing their partner’s opportunity to build resistance.

During the repetition of techniques, practitioners develop an understanding of not only knowing when they have a submission fully “locked in”, but also when to tap. Knowing when to “tap” is a balance of safety and resilience. Tapping to early and you will never develop resistance or an understanding of when a technique is done properly. While tapping too late may result in a serious injury.


A balance of keeping your training partner safe while also “hurting” them enough to build resilience and an understanding of proper technique is necessary. The perfect example of this concept is the Mata Leon (Rear Naked Choke/RNC). The rear naked choke when applied cleanly can put even the biggest and strongest competitor to sleep within seconds. Unlike the short choke variation that targets the trachea and is more painful; a deep RNC will cut off blood flow through the carotid arteries and is comparably less painful. While practicing the RNC, training partners can perform the technique numerous times without significant fear of injury. While less painful than its slightly different counterpart, the RNC will still “hurt”.

Now, What about leg locks? “My coach told me that with leg locks, particularly heel hooks if you feel pain then something is already damaged.”

Leg locks (particularly heel hooks) can be treated exactly like arm submissions. Anyone who has ever trained with a high-level jiu-jitsu practitioner who specializes in leg locks can attest to the fact that you will feel the pressure before any damage takes place. Accordingly, even leg attacks can be trained safely, while still applying ample pressure.

Ultimately, training in an environment that balances safety with an open understanding of the necessary grind it takes to become efficient in our sport is crucial. And, while it is never okay to injure your partner; if you care about each of your progression within the sport, it will be necessary to “hurt” each at times. This mutual respect and understanding shared amongst teammates will ensure that you never forget one of the most important aspects of submissions and jiu-jitsu….the FINISH.



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