I got tapped today. OK, this in itself isn’t remarkable; I’m lighter than most of my training partners as well as less skilful than some, and while my defensive game is not too shabby, I am not unused submitting. Let me rephrase. I got RNC’d by a white belt today. Last year or even a few months ago this would’ve really brought me down. I’ve got one stripe on my blue belt and I work really hard to defend my rank against heavier, stronger and/or more experienced players by working my defence and striving (though often unsuccessfully) for the top position/submission opportunity. Recently I’ve been really trying to up my guard game. While I can take guard, for example, from an opponent’s sloppy mount attempt or by transitioning from half-guard I often have trouble ‘closing the deal’ from that position. So, for the past three weeks, on coach’s advice, I’ve been working on ‘guard retention’ and, where that fails, neutralising an opponent’s pass by shifting to knees, ready to re-engage. Over this time period, I’ve been working these techniques in every sparring session and seemed to be making some progress, including at this afternoon’s practice. In my final round of sparring, I made two attempts. The first time my partner got my back but I defended the body triangle with a foot lock; not strictly allowed by competition rules, but I did it really slowly and he’s familiar with the technique and I just couldn’t have someone taking the piss with a technique that works best when one’s not allowed to counter. On my second attempt, my partner took my back swiftly and cleanly and sunk in a super sweet RNC. I was caught, fair and square. Getting tapped trying out my shiny new move highlighted to me that I was missing some crucial aspect and after class I asked coach to run it with me quickly so that I might avoid having the back taken. Next week’s goal is to include this missing component in my attempts.
Marc Walder, my coach’s instructor and our master BJJ instructor, held at seminar at Dartford BJJ in early March. In addition to some fine technique, Marc’s seminars include discussions of the philosophical approach that he’s used to develop himself as person and as a BJJ player. A lot of what he says seems to boil down to the need to relinquish ego. By doing so, it is possible, for instance, to roll with detachment and therefore adapt to the available positions rather than struggling to hold on to an opportunity that has evaporated. Furthermore, this approach should allow the practitioner to roll without fear, in particular fear of tapping. Of course none of us like to submit, but it is an important part of the learning process and without this very crucial feedback it is difficult to see where our game needs improvement. In this vein, Marc recounted his earlier days on the mats, when he’d be working a new technique into his game, which might lead him to getting caught out, but ultimately allowed him to integrate the new technique and improve. If he’d feared being submitted, he’d not have attempted techniques outside his comfort zone and so never have progressed.
It can be tough to ‘leave your ego at the door’ and it is something I struggle to put into practice everyday, but I feel like today I’ve made some progress. I’m working hard on bringing a new technique into my arsenal and in the course of testing it out I got tapped fair and square. For the first time I didn’t feel bummed out or embarrassed or any other negative stuff, and I was really pleased for my partner as it was some good, clean work on his part. Perhaps this is a green shoot of a maturing sense of self? I’d wager so, but it is also a testament to the supportive group of people I train with. I find myself often getting quite paranoid that I don’t have the respect of some of the men that I train with, and, indeed, recently flew off the handle and accused a training partner of taking the piss (I’ve since apologised and humbly asked forgiveness which has not yet been given, stupid insecurity demon). While I occasionally give in to the fear that I’ve not got the respect of the men I train with, I’m often struck by how much love and respect I do get from my BJJ brothers, and so when I was tapped today I didn’t sweat it; I’m confident my training partner won’t think I’m a chump just because he got the better of me today. Being able to work with people I trust and have a great deal of respect and affection for makes it much easier to give up fear of being tapped and get on with trying to develop myself and my game. So, while I’ve still got miles to go to before reaching anything approximating ‘BJJ excellence’, I know the journey can best be made with a fearless heart.