Grappling for Consent: Respecting the Tap

There was a Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) video going around recently showing an instructor choking a student while rolling (grappling for submissions). The student tapped the instructor as a way of saying that he gave up, but the instructor did not let up on the choke, causing the student to lose consciousness. The instructor and several other students then brought the unconscious student back to a semi conscious state and continued rolling with him, putting him into various submission holds, all while joking around and laughing to the camera

The BJJ community was outraged. In jiu-jitsu, the tap, as a sign of submission, is considered sacred. It is the safety mechanism that makes all of the training possible. Everyone is taught to respect the tap, as it holds within it the integrity of the art. It allows students to trust one another implicitly, to know that no one will intentionally try to injure them. If a joint is too compromised, if the pressure under someone is too great, if a choke is too tight, or if someone is simply too worn out or uncomfortable, the tap, whether physical or verbal, must be absolute. If someone submits, you stop, period.

Watching someone blatantly and maliciously disregard this agreement was deeply disturbing because it was utterly dehumanizing. The tap is a way of saying, “No more. Stop. I have had enough. I do not want to participate in this exchange anymore.” Disregarding this request and continuing on in spite of it is criminal. If the tap means nothing, there is no integrity in jiu-jitsu. Worse, there is no morality. Jiu-jitsu, like any interpersonal exchange, must be consensual. Taking any human interaction past the point of consent, beyond the tap, is more than bullying, it is a violation of a person’s humanity.

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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