Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ego, the Tapping Point, and the Breaking Point

Ego is the enemy of jiu-jitsu, a friend once told me.  Check your ego at the door; there's no place for it on the mat is another oft-repeated nugget of wisdom.  Instructors, both famous and obscure, advocate abandoning the ego.  It clouds your judgment.  It distracts you in training.  It can prevent you from learning.  As jiu-jiteiros, we have heard this advice many times, yet ego continues to haunt us and our sport.

In the above picture, Renzo Gracie is watching his arm break.  This is a famous picture (you can click here if you are interested in watching the video), and Renzo has said in multiple interviews that he did not want to give Kazushi Sakuraba the pleasure of knowing that he made Renzo quit.  Even in the locker room after the fight, Renzo acted as though he was not maimed and not in pain because he did not want to give Sakuraba the satisfaction of seeing him suffer. 

The best interview on the subject is a part of the Renzo Gracie Legacy documentary, which is a great DVD if you can find it.  Later in the documentary, Renzo mentions that he planned to let his arm break in one of his Abu Dhabi Combat Club matches because he felt he deserved to be punished for a mistake that exposed him to the submission.  He even mentions that in the split second where he thought his arm would break that he calculated his recovery time for the coming injury and thought about what tournaments he could attend once he healed.

And we admire Renzo.  I certainly do, but not for these views.  This is not a good example to set for other grapplers, and a culture of being okay with serious, potentially career-ending injuries is a threat to the long term health of the sport.  And Renzo is not the only one willing to let his arm break.

The above photograph depicts Frank Mir breaking Antonio Nogueira's arm with a kimura at UFC 140.  Like Renzo, Nogueira had more than enough time to tap, and as a high level black belt, he was well-aware of the seriousness of the position.  With all of his experience and all of his knowledge, Nogueira opted to let his arm break when he very easily could have bowed out of the match with a few flicks of his wrist.

These are not incidental injuries like Tuesday's leg break.  Renzo and Nogueira were fully aware of the danger that they were in, and they decided that injury was preferable to admitting defeat.  This is not okay.  We should not be okay with it, and we should not applaud it.  Accepting an injury is not tough, and it's not macho.  Tapping out is the best part of jiu-jitsu.  Tapping out allows us to train safely for decades, and it was one of the many reasons we advocate training jiu-jitsu over other martial arts.  If we allow ego to infect the highest levels of the sport, the aspiring students of the art may emulate the wrong behaviors, which can negatively affect the whole of jiu-jitsu culture.

Tapping out is a good thing.  Frankly, tapping out well before a limb is about to snap is the wisest course of action possible.  Tap before your grip slips free and your arm is cranked.  Tap after the hook is set and before the leg twisting begins.  Part of training is knowing your limits.  Man up and admit defeat.  Tap out, shake it off, and jump right back into training.  No medal or trophy or honor is worth sacrificing your health for.  Not defending your life or the life of your family?  Good.  Tap out.

On the same note, encourage your teammates to tap, especially if you are an upper level belt and are mentoring newer students.  Training safely should be a part of your gym's culture, and you play an important role in establishing and maintaining that culture.  The below video, the infamous "nasty kimura," demonstrates just how important my point is (be warned, the video is graphic, so much so that I wish that I had not seen it).  The injured grappler is a white belt, and he's young.  He has clearly lost the fight, and he refuses to tap.  Furthermore, his coach never tells him to tap.  Instead, he is encouraged to keep fighting.  The resulting break is horrifying, and it's a snap that I have heard in person at tournaments.  Those snaps are the echoes of ego, and they stay with you.

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