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.


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