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Friday, 11 October 2013


Now this is a big subject in jiu-jitsu and one that I think a lot of people pretend not to have a problem with but probably do.

The first thing that people tend to relate ego to is that you have to accept you are gonna get tapped. This is definitely true, especially so when you first start, and I covered this in my previous blog post as a reason that many people quit straight away. However, this is something that everyone who continues training past one lesson gets over immediately (the only other option being that they quit) so it's not really the big issue when you first start, it takes time to become a problem.

The big issues surrounding ego are what happens to people as they become more experienced, and especially if they are training at a relatively low experience level club (i.e. a purple belt at a club of mainly white belts). Although anyone who trains jiu-jitsu will have accepted they get tapped, this is easy to handle as a white belt... the problems start at the first promotion to blue belt. Now, all of a sudden, after what could be 2 years training, or more, there is the new possibility of being tapped by a lower grade. A lot of people can't handle this, and it only gets worse the higher the belt they wear. This shows how overcoming the ego issues surrounding being tapped when you start jiu-jitsu doesn't mean anything in the long run. To train jiu-jitsu you have to be able to accept the truth that if you want to learn efficiently and you train at a competitive academy you will always be at risk of getting tapped by lower grades. The best way I can explain this is through my own experience...

Since 2007 I have been the second most experienced member of the academy, this has meant that my instructor (Chris Rees) has been the only regular sparring partner able to always put me under pressure. Due to my experience I also became an instructor and eventually a full-time instructor. In this situation I think it would be easy to start worrying about being tapped or "losing" a round in sparring, especially as jiu-jitsu is ultra competitive by it's very nature. But training jiu-jitsu isn't competitive, in training you are meant to be improving yourself and your team each session. Being overly competitive in the training environment is harmful to yourself and the team. If you start to worry about being tapped then you will make sure you avoid certain sparring partners... I am very often vastly outmatched in both size and strength, the academy has numerous brown and purple belts who definitely all have the potential to tap me, and no doubt will at some point (some already have), but if I avoided rolling with them I would be missing out on the best sparring available to me. Being worried about getting tapped or beaten will also mean you avoid trying new techniques... as a purple belt I specifically remember being tapped by experienced white belts on a few occasions because I was trying out a new technique. This will happen if you always put yourself in new positions and try new techniques; you will make mistakes and people will take advantage of it. If you don't constantly try new things and put yourself in bad positions you will retard your improvement and your submission defence will be lacking when you really need it.

But ego goes further than this, there are many other issues. One classic is the people who will talk about who they can tap, or feel the need to tell people "I swept so and so the other day". If you tell people these things then consider, who are you trying to impress? Your instructors will not be impressed, so are you really trying to look good in the eyes of white and blue belts? The fallout from this sort of talk is also bad for the training environment; nobody wants to be the person someone is boasting about tapping, and if the instructors/higher grades think every time they let someone sweep them or pass their guard it will become a part of the changing room conversation it will stop happening quickly, meaning much worse sparring experience for the lower grades. Everyone knows roughly who taps who, everyone knows the approximate pecking order in an academy... we wear our grades around our waist after all. The only possible reason to discuss things that happen in sparring is if you are speaking privately with an instructor regarding your own progression... but even then, they probably already know the truth :)

A little bit more on trying new things during sparring; it's easy to try stuff on people much lower level than you; there is a small chance of it going wrong, but most of the time it will work out in your favour. But if you only ever do this you won't gain as much experience as you could by trying new things on more experienced people. I always look to make new techniques work on as high level sparring partners as possible. If this means I don't tap someone during a round or would have lost the round under competition rules, so be it. I wouldn't see this as a failure as I will undoubtedly have learnt something about the new techniques I was trying; the more experienced sparring partners are much more likely to take advantage of mistakes you make trying the technique. If you only ever try them on low level partners, you will gain a false sense of security and may be performing a technique incorrectly but still managing to finish it successfully. This won't work out well when you try it in a competition.

Something very similar to this is letting people do certain techniques to you. Lots of the time people think that if you are a coloured belt and will let a white belt sweep you during sparring, you have no ego. But I think this couldn't be further from the truth. If all you ever do is let people cleanly perform techniques on you, it's just another way of protecting your ego. Anyone can let someone hit a clean technique... you know you let them so what does it matter? Some people also go out of their way to make sure the person knows they let them, and that speaks for itself. What I don't see a lot of people doing is to let someone get halfway through a technique (or more, or less) and then try 100% to prevent or counter it. I love doing this during sparring and sometimes it does lead to the person successfully completing the technique, but what does this matter? It makes sparring harder for me and so makes my training more beneficial. It also lets people have experience attacking someone who is higher level and who will counter/reverse them if they make any mistake. Everyone wins. Another aspect of this is that I've heard people suggest to let people tap you to get rid of your ego. I have no idea how this gets rid of ego. If you're letting someone tap you, you know it only happened because you let it, so what's the point? You don't need to be tapping to make sure you have no ego.

The whole 'I let them tap/sweep/submit me' thing is actually another way ego manifests itself in training. It's an excuse people use whenever it happens. This is the sort of thing you have to guard yourself against, and it's easy to do. Although most of the time when I roll I do like to play around with positions, let people work attacks, put myself into submissions etc... there are sessions when I decide I won't give up anything at all. No submissions attempts, no points, no bad positions, not even one advantage. That way I don't even have the option of pretending that I let it happen. The other option is that I will decide I am going to tap everyone at least once every round (a lot of the time I don't worry about getting submissions), so if I fail I have no excuse for it I just know I failed. Doing these things makes sure that my ego is kept in control.

Then there are the less jiu-jitsu based facets of ego, people can be arrogant or boastful in any part of their life; inside or outside training. Be proud of your achievements but don't feel they make you better than anyone. Be modest and constantly try to improve yourself in everything you do.

Which brings me to the final point... you control your ego, you don't get rid of it totally. Some ego is good, you should want to be determined to be the best and to win at competitions, and you should hate losing (you only lose in comps, not training!).


  1. What do you think about this Rousimar Palhares situation?

    1. Dunno. Kinda think he has done it too many times but then looking at the other night with a timer it was only 1 sec after the ref told him to stop... and the ref did a terrible job, dunno wtf he was doing grabbing the leg tie rather than the heel hook itself.

  2. I've tapped before from feeling sick and from not being able to breath under the gi in mount. I've avoided people in class. I've wanted to say "you wouldn't of tapped me if I hadn't rolled with that blue belt just before you" and I know its just my ego getting the better of me. But I think its very difficult for a young, fit, competitive (in nature) white belt to check his ego of his own accord. Education by the instructer is key. A beginners class should be given the ego talk regularly.

    1. Admitting those things and understanding why will lead you to become better though :)

      I try to regularly remind people that training is to get better, not to win or lose.