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The tao of NSLightsOut: Training, stagnation and tapping

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    The tao of NSLightsOut: Training, stagnation and tapping

    I've been reading a series of threads in the past week in YMAS and Guantanamo bay about training, the 'win' mentality, and tapping others. They've been bothering me for a while, but I only came to a number of epiphanies last night, based on the totality of my training experience. They're relatively simple and straightforward, but like most things of that nature, they take a while to sink in to my dense noggin.

    Anyhoo, like the conceited jerk I am, I've decided to share the lot with you. This is going to be long


    Over 4+ years, I've trained with a lot of people. I've had the chance to observe two disparate large groups of people from two different academies and see how they have or haven't developed through training.

    Here's the revelatory part: Every single case of permanent stagnation I have ever seen has involved one common factor: Fear of losing in training.

    This, in my experience, has manifested itself in a number of different ways, including but not necessarily limited to:

    - Fear of losing to people lower in an imagined 'hierarchy' of skill
    - Fear of losing to a lower belt
    - Fear of trying something new if it involves risk
    - The belief that 'not tapping' is always equivalent to a good performance/increase in skill

    The irony is that all of these fears actually are the root cause of permanent skill plateau. This vicious cycle, after a while, seems to almost paralyze development.

    Recently, I've been working with a blue belt who has become stuck in this kind of rut primarily for the first three reasons. He received his blue about six months after I did. The only difference between where he is and where I am is that I realized just what I needed to work on, and came up with a training plan after my disastrous final competition as a white belt.

    He, on the other hand, has consistently been surpassed by white belts and the newer blues because of his fears precluding his development as a BJJer. He uses copious amounts of strength to compensate for technical deficiency. The worst thing is, he realizes it, but still can't overcome his fears of losing to a lower belt, fears likely reinforced over time, as I've seen him choked unconscious more than once on the mat by more talented white belts.

    In the past, I've rolled with higher belts who only deign to train with known quantities; i.e. people they know they can absolutely tool, when there are higher quality training partners available. This being yet another manifestation in the vicious cycle, as they build the fear of going against someone of equal or better skill up in their minds, which could potentially destroy the self-image they have built of their own superiority.

    It behooves us to notice that the two previous examples are generally self-destructive and unhealthy approaches to training. In order to train to your full potential, I believe that there comes a point in everyone's training experience where all of these fears have to be confronted. For myself, it was as a relatively new blue belt, with a game seriously unbalanced towards passing, after getting smashed by more experienced people on the mats of Gracie Barra. There, I came to a number of conclusions that affect me to this day.

    Firstly: The 'hierarchy' of one's own academy is meaningless. Who gives a flying fuck if you are a big fish in a small pond? Once you step out of that small pond into a larger, deeper body of water, suddenly everything begins to change. I had that experience when I left the now-defunct Monash University BJJ club for the larger Peter de Been academy, and when I travelled to Brazil to train. Being afraid of being tapped by someone lower on an imaginary chart is just fucking stupid

    Secondly: Losing to a lower belt happens. This is a fact of life, especially when the lower belt begins to approach your own rank or has perfected a few money moves guaranteed to work on just about anyone. Worrying about it leads to the vicious cycle of fear already discussed

    Thirdly: 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained' A pithy phrase to chew on for the last two fears.

    Well, that was fucking long, even by my standards. I'll come back to tapping a bit later

    Great post.

    I've trained with some people with that mentality that stagnates their progress. I train in a smaller 'pond' and it sucks to see people take that attitude towards training and get stuck in a rut. Mainly because when they stop increasing in skill then I miss out on a better training partner.

    The kicker for me is how do you help somebody get out of that rut and back on a healthy track for skill progression.


      Great post


        This post has given me some valuable information. Thanks man.


          great post


            Thanks for all your comments, guys. Time for part 2


            I wasn't really happy to see this thread crop up on the forum. Eventually it was moved to Guantanamo Bay, where it belonged. You see, I am a great believer in the article of BJJ etiquette that talking about the people you've submitted in training is a no-no. Anything can happen in training, especially when it's used as it is intended: As a laboratory for experimentation as opposed to a venue for competition. I've been swept, reversed and submitted in training doing some new things, and the same has happened to my training partners. Big Fucking Deal. I do realise that some of the themes in this relate back to my first post, but bear with me for a minute.

            This segment comes as the result of two events. The first of which is a training session I had earlier this year when I had far less time to train than I do now, and went to one of the purple belt-taught classes held on the days when my instructor doesn't make it into Melbourne, only to find that aside from the instructor and another blue belt, it was me and a whole lot of relatively new white belts.

            Suffice it to say that the results of my training that day were not pretty, as the other two colored belts were monopolized by the white belts. In fact, it was the first time in four year that I'd actually been bored at training. For all the supporting members, the recollections of this session are on the first page of my sadly neglected training log.

            After this, I came to a conclusion. Tapping others by itself does not a satisfying training experience make.

            Honestly, I'd consider it a better use of my time if I had a long, tough roll against someone I believe to be of better or equal skill to myself and getting submitted than going through some random n00bs like a chainsaw, unless I'm trying to introduce something to my game, or develop what Roy Harris termed 'at will' grappling, i.e. going for a certain submission that I'm not very good at to begin developing my skills in that area.

            The second event that influenced this was a talk I had at a training partner's farewell party, where we were discussing if anyone had recently submitted one of the higher belts who is notoriously hard to submit. I had done so in the past, with something I'd consider fairly ugly and sloppy, but never repeated the performance. I was almost ashamed to bring it up. It just seemed like a dick thing to do, as it was done in training, using a move illegal under CBJJ rules, using mainly muscle and speed to set it up and crank it.

            Later, when the alcohol had worked its way out of my system, I realized that it was, in fact, a dick move. I mean, this was a singular event that had happened years in the past, basically executed out of sheer fear of losing that only tapped the guy out because he was afraid of injury. How am I supposed to measure my performance by that?

            In conclusion, tapping, especially in training, means fuck-all. I now have come to believe that "who can I tap in training" is a fucking lousy way of measuring one's performance. I try to measure my performance not by who can I tap, but what I can do to people in competition, and the amount I learn and accomplish within the 6-month intervals laid out on my personal training plan. The latter seems to translate much better into actual results than asking myself 'where am I in the pecking order?'


              Excellent post.

              One thing that really annoys me is that some people will be thinking "I tapped a <insert colour> belt" and putting an imaginary notch on their belt even when doing drills! Drills are for trying new things out. Training is for trying new things and working your game. If you really think you can beat the person, ask them for a competition round and see how well you go when they turn it on.

              We had John Will teaching us on Monday which is always enlightening. Before class we (the brown belts and myself) had a private with John and he recommended we work on our defence. He said the number one way to work on your confidence is to work your defence. When you are certain that no-one can tap you, what do you have to fear? You can work any attack you want because if you stuff it up, you don't have to fear being caught in a bad position. He believes JJ Machado is so good because he can do his machine gun attacks because his recovery skills and his defensive skills are so good that he can afford to be fearless then attacking.

              To do that however, you have to put yourself in the bad positions first, not worry about tapping and then look for the patterns E.g. "Everytime he passes my guard and goes for the far-armbar his leg does this. To stop the armbar I just need to stop that happening".

              I'm in a rush and so not being as eloquent as John, but I thought it worth repeating hera and I believe it relates to this topic.


                Thank you NSLightsOut for both of the excellent posts. I expect you will do very well in your pursuit of Bjj.
                Shut the hell up and train.


                  That was quite enlightening.
                  I don't think I've fallen into this trap yet, but it's just as well to be aware of it, so I never do.


                    again - another good post.

                    Everybody gets tapped - there are those who learn from it and those who fear it.

                    Find anyone who is really good at escaping certain positions or submissions and I can guarantee you that they were tapped out many many times in the process of developing that skill (or if its working escapes they spent many hours being stuck in that position). That's just the way it works.

                    I completely agree that you have a lot more fun, and learn more, when you go up against someone who is on your level or better (unless you are working on new moves that you have not made yours yet).

                    Everytime you get tapped you just need to analyze what they did right and/or what you did wrong and then add that to your to do list of what to work on. I personally find that's one of the best ways to learn - be really aware of what is going on as you grapple and exactly how a better opponent sets you up for submissions, or how they escape from inferior positions (or hold you in inferior positions). Your mindset will be one of learning and not fear of getting tapped.


                      I hate to be a parrot, but: excellent post.

                      When I first got back into judo (and first started taking BJJ) I was exactly as you described - I loved going against the guys I knew I could beat; I hated going against the guys I knew could beat me. Luckily I realized fairly early on that, doing this, I wasn't really getting much better, whereas the guys I was throwing/tapping a month ago were all of a sudden giving me a good fight.

                      Lately I've made a point of asking our instructor to spar a round or two after every class, and they've been gracious enough to oblige. I get completely clowned every time, but every time I take something away from it.


                        another quick point about winning and tapping. Let's assume I need work on my triangle defense - and I happen to be rolling with a guy who just wants to win. Now, to get better at defending the triangle I need to put myself in a position to be triangled, and then work my way out of it, and then repeat.

                        So I start working my defense, and chances are, if the other guy has a decent triangle, and is just looking for the win, he will most likely tap me until I have developed enough skill in this. (* The flip side would be to work with a good training partner who could care less about tapping you, but wants to make your triangle defense stronger, knowing that in turn, that will force them to develop a stronger attacking game with their triangle *)

                        So, who gets the 'win' - me for working my triangle defense, or him for getting a tap as I work my escapes... I'm sure in his mind he clearly gets the win.

                        The real answer of course is who the fuck cares - we're training!
                        Last edited by Student; 5/24/2006 10:59am, .


                          Very good posts. I agree 100%


                            Ah yes the Guananamo Bay post. I remember contributing to that one.

                            Glad you ressurected the best parts of that one here.

                            I will say, or admit rather, that I retard my own progress. I am afraid to tap out to lower belts. Heck I am afraid to tap out to higher belts. I am a competitive person. When I am schooled I drive home grinding my teeth. I am not mad at someone else. I am mad at myself. It is one of the things that drives me to improve. But at the same time we all have a natural fear of negative, harmfull or painfull things. It is innate. I have avoided training with people.

                            I'll give an example. From last night.

                            Sim Go is probably one of the best purple belts at his weight. I outweigh him by 40 lbs. But I FEAR his halfguard. Seriously. When we rolled last night I retarded my own training by making it a point to AVOID his half-guard. Guess what? He swept me 3 times with it. I looked like a fucking chump. 2 other purples and Jeff Glover were cheering him on when he swept me with, to be honest, was pure technique. It does NOT feel good. Ever. And like I said I went home grinding my teeth. I didn't avoid him per se, but I wanted no part of his game. And my lack of confidence resulted in a poor performance. A better attitude would have been to say fuck-it, Imma see what he's got and show him my game.

                            I am not ego-less. And I laugh at those people who say they are. It's a lie. Nobody likes to tap out or be dominated.

                            Last night I went with 2 purple belts and 2 blue belts. Oddly enough I did better with the purples than I did with the blues. Well - lets ignore Sim for a while. He sweep-schooled me. Let me clarify. When I rolled with the blues I was less likely to finish a sub because I didn't want to lose my position. The best example was the first blue belt. I had him in a collar choke from the back. I put my knee behind his head and HAD him. He was defending with his fingers but he was a dead man. I actually let go of the choke. Why? Because I didn't want my fingers to get tired and lose my grip for the later matches. FEAR.

                            It sucks to actually say I am guilty of this. But I am. I'll bet we all are in one way or other.

                            But then on the other hand I sincerely look forward to rolling with the higher belts or the bigger guys because it is a real challenge. So I know it isn't neccessarily a fear of losing. I have lost plenty. The novelty has worn off there. But losing to someone who isn't as good as me? I don't like that. Let's be honest there IS a heirarchy at the gym. It might not just be belt colors. But eatting your way up the food chain feels good. Getting eatten by lower fishies is not cool.

                            So what I am saying is although I KNOW what the right thing to do is I don't always do it.

                            I think has Johnny said earlier that defense is the key to measuring success. I think I said something similar in the Guantanamo thread. Seeing guys that used to be able to eat you not tapping you really shows improvement.

                            It breaks down to this: We are all motivated for different reasons. Some people are motivated by fear, and others by success. Many times being motivated by fear is negative while being motivated by success is positive.

                            Looking through my own training logs I see that I am motivated by both. The thought of doing very well against Spangler makes me happy. The thought of seeing my old training partner tapping me makes me sad. I think that is sorta natural and as long as you are aware of it you are okay.

                            Looking back through my training logs I am reminded of a guy I punked out at one class. He tried to snipe one of our guys and I called him on it. He sat the entire class on the wall talking to the instructor. And when one of my buddies rolled and rolled and rolled until well after class was over and then rolled some more. I was actually fully dressed and leaving when this guy calls my buddy to train on the mat. My bud was completely exhausted. I was like...oh hell no. I told him straight out he was sniping. If he wanted to train he could have joined the class. If he wanted to roll he could have done it during sparring. But going after the most tired guy in class after the instructor is gone so you have a shot at tapping a higher belt is bullshit. It got sorta ugly and I am the kinda person who tells you what I think.

                            Another incident came at my old school around the time I started. One of the kids dads did 'no-gi' only over at LVCC. He was much bigger than me and asked me to roll. Before we started he was pretty clear that he was a headhunter. He didn't even recognize it. But he was all like...So far I have got a couple of purple belts and a brown belt. Someday I will tap a black. I was like.....uhhh ok. Then I proceeded to just maul his ass. I guess since I was only doing gi work back then he thought it would be an easy notch on his belt. It wasn't. But had he tapped me somehow through some fluke I am sure it would have been another notch on his belt. A belt which was invisible to anyone but him, and in reality meant nothing because he didn't even have the skills of a blue belt.


                              I'm going to save this thread as there's some very interesting stuff both from NSLightsOut and Yrkoon.

                              I can say that this attitude exists somewhat in Wing Chun, but with several important differences. Namely, it's not about tapping, but about getting "hit" in chi sao. Also, no one ever moves outside of the "small pond" so being a big fish ends up being quite important. I also believe Yrkoon is right- everyone has an ego. But my feelings are that supressing it, or just letting it evaporate, works best for me. At the moment, anyway.



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