The Struggle Is Real

Fundamentally, I need to just practice more. I’m struggling with things I shouldn’t struggle with. I’m finding I have no strength in a given direction, I can’t use the hard underhooks or whizzers on the shoulder with tendonitis so I can’t rely on them, but that means I really should just avoid the position where I have to do so. It’s frustrating – knowing I need to work on the details, but not always what they are or the best way to integrate them into a live roll. I’m also missing finishes like crazy. I’ll get the armbar set up, be pinching my legs, but when I go to break their grip they take that opportunity to push in and slip out. I’m going to have to figure out how to finish in no gi.

In the gi is easy – you get a grip, slow the roll down, and work on those details because you can go slow or even stop in place with grips and positioning. You can keep them from slipping out (or even moving) when you want. No gi on the other hand, there’s no room to slow down or stop. There’s no grip that can’t be relatively easily broken by circling or pushing. Techniques need to just happen. No gi is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Neil Adams on Leg Grabs In Judo

Neil Adams made some statements which both confirm and elaborate on why leg grabs were removed from IJF Judo. Specifically, there was an edict from the IOC with relation to wrestling, but that the removal was also to try to encourage more dynamic throws. He does also address the need for clear boundaries, and I agree with this. The 2010 rules were far murkier than the 2013 rules. The ability to go for a leg as a counter or follow-up technique essentially meant that you’d always just fake an attack to go for the legs anyway. People really will game whatever rules you give them for a sport.

It still makes me sad. Honestly, with regards to the Olympics I’d really like to see one “grappling” with gi and no-gi divisions which allows pretty much everything. Cut judo, cut freestyle, cut Greco; introduce submission wrestling which encompasses judo, Sambo, BJJ, folk wrestling, just open to everyone. Make the rules such that you could win by pin, submission, throw, or point differential much like judo so as to encourage all styles to have an equal chance, but don’t create rules that encourage only one style. Same thing with all the striking styles – there’s something to be said about the similarity of TKD and boxing (though boxing allows no kicks and almost no one in TKD seems to bother with punches the same way we seem them in Shotokan, Muay Thai, or striking styles). Especially with all the other striking sports trying to vie their way into the Olympics, I think it would make some sense to combine these.

Also, swimming straight up has too many medals that one person can win. Can we cut that sport back down to only 3 events? The fact that one guy could win 8 gold medals in a single year probably indicates they’re similar enough to trim anyway.

Paying For Belts

When I say “paying for belts” I mean paying for the promotion either as a special class or as a fee you have to give to someone to “verify” your rank. I don’t mean getting a “technical blue belt” and I don’t mean actually purchasing a belt from a company like Scramble.

Typically when I think of paying for belts I think of the predetermined promotion nights where everyone who’s been there since at least the last promotion night can pay to attend and simply by virtue of having shown up for 3 months and having paid for the special promotion night gets a stripe. If you have no clue what I’m talking about – go to a kid’s karate school with the attendance sheets that mark off time until the next belt – they exist. You show up to class at least 2-3 nights per week and after a predetermined 2-3 months you get your next stripe or belt. I’m opposed to this. I’m opposed to most of the ways someone could be expected to pay for their belt. I’m opposed to having to pay processing fees to organizations to “verify” or “validate” your rank. Your rank was verified by your instructor before he gave you that piece of cloth, and was valid the second he tied it (or handed it to you, I guess it depends how old school your group is).

The reality is, we do pay for ranks in a certain sense anyway though. You pay the monthly fees to go to class, you pay for any privates you do, you pay for seminars, you pay for tournaments. Money opens a lot of doors for rapidly improving your jiu jitsu. It’s pretty rare that anyone has the means to give away BJJ, judo, or any other form of grappling. It’d be hard to do. You need to have a facility, you need to have insurance, and at the end of the day you still need to eat. None of those are free, even if the lessons are. The thing is, we all pay for those things whether or not we’re being promoted – it’s one cost of learning the art – paying for a belt is really paying for recognition though.

I’m currently training out of Foundations BJJ in Madison, and in addition to volunteering their time and keeping prices low, they don’t charge for belts/stripes. You get recognized when you’ve made progress. I think that’s pretty cool, and probably the way it should be, but I want to illustrate a couple of alternative situations where I think paying for a belt might actually be warranted. All of these situations have the same thing in common – you’re paying someone for their time to try to evaluate you outside of normal classes that you’ve already paid for.

The Seminar – in this model you’re training under someone who is not allowed to promote you or has chosen to defer doing so to an instructor above them. The instructor above them doesn’t see you as regularly and as such they’re operating on a combination of what your direct instructor has told them and how you perform at the seminar. The reality is – you have to pay to go to this seminar to get the next belt/stripe. It’s not an awesome setup, but it’s an understandable one. Hopefully you’re getting more out of the seminar than just the belt though.

The Private – in this model a private evaluation is necessary as part of rank advancement. Your instructor may have you buy a private when they think you’re ready and then evaluate you in a variety of positions. The really cool thing about this model is that they probably know you’re ready for the belt already, but want some 1-on-1 time to discuss what you need to start working on. For example, if you’re going from blue to purple they may take this to figure out what you’ll need to start working on as a purple and tell you that. Again, there’s no reason the private couldn’t be given away, but time on the mat costs money.

Considering I know of some schools that don’t promote without competition wins, both of these feel relatively fine to me. They’re not the ideal setup, but they’re the cases where I personally wouldn’t feel cheated when paying for my belt promotion because they come with other learning. Also, because they’re totally things that can be subsidized by others in the club so financial means don’t have to be limiting factors for them. You can charge a little bit more for a seminar so that you can offer scholarships for others. You can ask people to pay a little bit more per month so that you can throw in a private here and there for them.

What Is A Tap?

IJF Article 20.c

When a contestant gives up by tapping twice (2) or more with his hand or foot or says Maitta (I give up!) generally as a result of Osaekomi-Waza, Shime-waza or Kansetsu-waza.

IBJJF Articles 2.2.x

  1. When an athlete taps twice with his/her hand on the opponent, ground, or his/herself in a clear and apparent manner.
  2. When the athlete taps the ground twice with his/her foot, when arms are trapped by opponent.
  3. When the athlete verbally withdraws, requesting the match be stopped.
  4. When the athlete screams or emits noise expressing pain while trapped in a submission hold.

But what does it really mean to get a tap from someone, or to tap yourself? Well, in competition it means that the person who tapped concedes the contest. In fact, that’s about it. It doesn’t mean you could have killed them. It doesn’t mean you necessarily would have broken their arm. It means they got into a position that they did not want to continue from and conceded victory in order to end the match. Period.

My stance on when it’s appropriate to tap in competition is when you’re more okay losing the match than your opponent continuing to do whatever it is they’re doing. Personally, I’d much rather have functional use of my arm for Monday morning than a medal, so I’m going to tap when you hyperextend my elbow. If you care more about winning than your arm – don’t tap in that same situation. My stance on when to stop doing something in competition is when my opponent taps. I’ll exercise control and give them an opportunity to tap, but if they refuse that opportunity – that’s their decision. Personally, I’d take it, but maybe wining this match means the world to them.

In class the meaning of a tap is pretty similar. It means you ended up in a position that you do not want to continue from. Whether that be because of a submission hold, a pin you’re not getting out of, your partner having a tight control position for a submission that you’d rather they not apply, just being exhausted, whatever – when you tap you end the roll. That’s the role tapping plays.

My stance on when it’s appropriate to tap in class is anytime you’re too uncomfortable or progress isn’t being made. I’d rather “lose” a roll and get to practice avoiding the pin or stopping it early than try to dig myself out of one for thirty seconds. I’d rather concede that my shoulder is in a bad position and you could finish than have you try to crank through it when my tendonitis is flaring up. I’d rather tap because you established a tight leg control position than have you actually finish the heel hook.

One thing class does change without question is when I let go of something – especially locks that my partner doesn’t seem to be familiar with. Whether it’s a compression lock that they’re simply refusing to tap to, me bridging into a knee bar, or me sliding their leg up into a hip lock – if they don’t tap when I feel the significant pressure where I know I’m going to start doing damage, I’ll let go. I’d rather have a partner to train with next week then to “win” a roll. Feeling when you’re in danger, or understanding when pain/pressure is going to lead to a pop takes experience. Yeah, we can sit down and warn someone that by the time a heel hook is really painful you probably won’t have a chance to tap. We can sit them down and explain – bicep slicers not only hurt like hell, they break bones. What I don’t want to do is have a training partner learn that first-hand in class though. “Winning” a roll is not more important to me than the well-being of my partners. And if they’re not tapping because I honestly don’t have it – same deal, I let go and go for something else. I’d rather not just try to Hulk through a submission  – whether I actually have it or just think I have it. I might try to change angles a bit first, but if after there’s pressure that I feel they’re not tapping – they’re either defending right or bad stuff is going to happen, and either way I’d rather let it go.

Does giving up a submission you have that your partner doesn’t tap to mean you achieved some moral victory? No. If you’re giving up a submission it should be by setting yourself up for a different one. Whether or not you could finish the sub, if you can’t transition it to something else, you probably didn’t have the control you felt like you did. Sometimes people do escape when I try to switch off a knee bar to a calf slicer or similar. That means I probably didn’t have proper leg control for the knee bar which is why they weren’t tapping. If I can switch from the knee bar to the calf slicer to a toe hold and they don’t tap to any of the three, yeah, maybe I finished them three times, or maybe I fucked up three times. It’s just rolling. I’m too old and injured to care if I “win” or “lose” no matter what the color of the belt is I’m going with. If we’re both having fun and learning, the right stuff is happening.


I recognize that I inherently don’t view grappling the way that non-grapplers do. In fact, my view of grappling may even clash with the views of other grapplers. However, I think those who have a common background with me will probably feel the same way – grappling as a sport is about respect and trust. You don’t slap the other guy because he’s being a dick, but you also try to not be a dick in the first place.

We glamorize the hero/villain relationship. Professional wrestling embodies this notion of Heels and Faces. It’s the cited example when we talk about this culture seeping into MMA and now BJJ, though I’m certain society has looked to defined heroes and villains at least as long as plays have existed. To me, grappling shouldn’t be a play. I’m not there to be entertained by a story unfolding. I don’t care if good is conquering evil. I’m watching because there is knowledge to be gained from watching two wrestlers engaging each other. Technical details and ideas for movements which may not have previously been considered by an individual are unearthed when they watch two experienced grapplers handling each situation they find themselves in.

To me, a relationship where grapplers antagonize each other before, after, or during the match is all unsportsmanlike conduct and should be penalized. It has no place in what I’d consider to be the spirit of the sport. If I were refereeing a judo match and someone started using offensive or derogatory language during the fight it would be a penalty. Someone could get a disqualification for unsportsmanlike conduct for doing that. I’d wager it’d be the same in wrestling (in fact, I can almost guarantee it would be an offense during an Olympic match). So why is it that when it happens before a match we feel it’s just building up entertainment value?

That’s not to sound all high-and-mighty. Joking about an upcoming match or the challenges it will hold can be hilarious. Sakuraba does an excellent job of this. Having said that, while I feel that Tonon’s joking about his upcoming fight with Palhares was pretty funny, I can see where even this can start crossing a line – the accusations of Palhares fighting dirty were a bit much. What we saw out of Tonon vs. Palhares at Polaris 3 was a perfectly respectable and exciting grappling match. None of the eye gouging or holding submissions too long that were being joked about. We did see dirty tactics and deplorable behavior in another Polaris 3 match though. Eye gouges and fingers in the mouth are things I was explicitly taught not to do in a match, and the “Stockton Slap” is certainly not a technique I’ve ever learned on the mat.

Bad blood will exist. Some people just aren’t compatible. But to me, a hero/villain relationship has no place in sport grappling. On the mat you’re trusting that your opponent will follow the rules and show the same respect you’ll be showing them. That respect should come from the outset. It should be an assumption you can make. I don’t think everyone needs to be able to hang out together. I don’t think it’s wrong for people to confidently speak to their ability to handle a match. What I do think is wrong is the braggadocio and insults. I no longer follow MMA because of all the shit-talking. If that’s the path BJJ is going to take, I’ll find a different form of grappling to associate myself with. I want no part in it.