Grappling musings: Strength vs Technique and is “getting the tap” the be all and end all?


I do not class myself as a grappling instructor per se, but in a way I suppose I am. I started out showing a bunch of guys from the local kickboxing club a few submissions and positions and it became a regular thing. Although it is a very small group, the guys all train regularly and want to learn the limited amount I can teach them. I am more than happy to pass on what I know, and going over the basics helps me get better too.

After a recent session with my training partners I had to re-iterate my feelings on using strength over technique when rolling. I was inspired to write this after reading Liam’s great post on BJJ and Grappling Lies and his dissection of what it means to tap out. It was interesting because I guess this post is coming from the other end of the spectrum. I am strictly talking about reagular rolling in the gym here by the way, not competitions and/or fight training.

There is one guy in particular that I train with, for whom “getting the tap” is the be all and end all. He is also one of the more experienced guys that I train with, which I guess is the frustrating thing for me. He is ultra-competitive when he rolls with me, much more so than with the other guys who train with us. Obviously the aim of any grappling encounter is to dominate position and eventually get your opponent to submit, so in that sense getting the tap absolutely is the goal, and fair enough. But head squeezing and trying to wrench on an armbar where the opponents elbow has already slipped past the point that a technical submission is possible, for me isn’t a valid strategy and isn’t how I want to encourage people to roll.

I myself am happy if I hit a well timed sweep, make a smooth guard pass into a good position or string a couple of submission attempts together well. Obviously getting the submission itself is great, but getting to the positions that make submissions possible is what I aim for, especially when rolling with less experienced people. I always try to be super relaxed when I roll and am forever telling my training partners that they should not be using strength at the expense of technique. I tap often to the guys I train with, sometimes legitimately when they have caught me, but sometimes by having lead them into the submission and talking them through how they can tap me as we roll. But when someone uses strength on me when their ultimate goal is clearly to try and force me to submit rather than learn by doing proper technique, I can find myself slipping into that game: Thankfully I am well past the stage of relentlessly grabbing a headlock and clinging on for dear life when I roll – I just mean I sometimes find myself powering into / out of postitions and submissions when I know I should just be using technique. Maybe that is the ego that Liam talks about in his post! I like to think I have been around grappling long enough to let that go, but perhaps not 😦

Obviously I still have a long way to go as a grappler and to fulfil any hopes I might have of being a half decent instructor, I have to find a way to get these bad habits out of the guys I train with!

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One comment on “Grappling musings: Strength vs Technique and is “getting the tap” the be all and end all?

  1. Thank you very much for the mention buddy. For me it’s not whether we slip into that thought pattern or not, but rather are we aware of it? I know it happens, but it seems no one wants to openly talk about it and everyone is all “yeah man just tap, it’s cool” but when you roll with them and have them in a legit choke or choke, they’d rather use all their strength to resist, bicep curl or start peeling you fingers. Anything to not tap, but when they have you in a headlock it’s all “just tap!”

    c’mon, let’s talk honestly!

    Great and very honest post.

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