“Just tap out when it hurts.”
These are the first and only instructions that many new trainees get before being thrown into to the shark tank of live grappling. They are also responsible for many injuries. The ‘tap out’ or ‘submission’ in any form of grappling that has submission locks allows safe practice at full speed. In reality, chokes are designed to render an opponent unconscious, damage his windpipe, or kill him while joint locks such as the armbar or heel hook are intended to cripple and maim the opponent’s limb to the extent that he cannot use it any longer to fight you. This is because judo and jiu-jitsu are fighting arts, or martial arts. They are ultimately about combat, regardless of the philosophical gloss that may be put on them.
During training, the ‘tap out’ is an acknowledgement that your opponent’s attack has put you in a compromised position that you cannot escape. It is an acknowledgement that he could, if he so chose, cause serious damage or death. Waiting until you feel pain extreme enough to force a tap out is unwise. Typically, by the time pain occurs damage has already been done to your body. This is particularly the case with certain submission locks such as the heel hook.
Safe practice requires that a person submit when he is caught and cannot escape. This means that the person applying the lock must be practiced in applying it and the person caught in the lock must understand what it means to be caught. If you are going to attempt a submission you should know what it feels like to have it applied and have received formal instruction in that technique. Just grabbing a head, foot, or arm and cranking as hard as you can is a recipe for disaster.
Of course you should always tap out if something is too painful. We all want to be heroes in the gym, but most of us have a job, school, and/or family we must attend to when we are off the mat. There is absolutely no reason to just absorb unnecessary punishment that might leave you limping for days. In a contact sport such as grappling this will happen anyway on occasion. There is no need to make it worse because you’re stubborn.
Let me conclude this rambling little post by saying that you should tap out when you know you are caught and not wait for it to hurt. By then it could be too late.
Brian Jones, PhD