“Getting the tap” is often the goal of applying submission holds. Essentially, a tap out signals a successful application of a technique, and a recognition that continued pressure could result in serious injury or loss of consciousness. Of all of the techniques you learn in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, this will probably be the one you use most frequently. Accordingly, knowing how to tap out properly is extremely important. It should be one of the first techniques you learn, and yet amazingly, it is often regarded as “common sense” and overlooked by students (and sometimes even instructors!).
Tapping out lets your training partner/opponent know that you are unable to escape a particular submission, that continued pressure will cause you discomfort, and that they need to stop applying a particular technique.
When should you tap out?
- If you are unable to breathe
- If you are caught in a choke, but can still breathe. (This is extremely important. Most of the chokes used in jiu jitsu attack the carotid arteries on either side of your neck, stopping blood flow to your brain, and resulting in a temporary loss of consciousness. A properly applied “blood choke” can sometimes cut off blood flow to the brain without blocking your airway. You will still be able to breathe, but will lose consciousness if you do not tap out.)
- If you feel any serious discomfort of any kind. I am not just referring to pain in your joints from correctly applied joint-locks. Sometimes students will stubbornly refuse to tap because an opponent is not applying a submission hold “correctly” (or they don’t realize a particular technique is a submission hold). You will get injured if you do this.
- Tap early, and tap often. Don’t wait until your arm is about to break, or until you are about to lose consciousness to tap. Once an opponent gets you into a submission hold, you have already made a serious mistake. There is no point in hanging on until the inevitable, bitter end.
Here are some guidelines on how to properly tap out:
- If you can, tap your opponent’s body. This is the fastest way to let them know you are caught. This seems obvious, but often students will tap the floor or themselves. If your opponent doesn’t feel a tap, they might continue to apply pressure.
- Tap multiple times. A single tap can easily be misinterpreted as a strike, or simply a failing arm bumping into your body. Multiple taps are unequivocal.
- Let your opponent know verbally. Loudly say “TAP!!” Don’t scream random noises. Don’t grunt.
- If you have no other option (e.g. you are in a choke hold and can’t verbally tap, and your arms are tangled and unable to physically tap), tap the mat loudly with your legs multiple times. This situation will happen eventually. You’ll end up tangled up, and caught in a choke. Don’t panic (and certainly don’t let yourself go unconscious). Just slap the mat several times LOUDLY with your legs/feet, and your partner will let go.
- Do several of the above at the same time. I almost always yell “tap!” in addition to physically tapping my opponent. This way there is no chance of a miscommunication.
Everyone taps out. It is not embarrassing, and does not mean you suck. Don’t let your ego get in the way of safely training. Tapping out means you are preserving your joints and are willing to continue progressing.