The Milk Is Already On The Table

Jiu-Jitsu White Belt: “Professor, what should I do if somene has me belly-down in back mount, hooks in, with my arms trapped under my chest, and they begin applying a rear-naked choke?”

Professor Pedro Sauer: “Tap and start over. The milk is already on the table.”

Robert Van Valkenburgh with Pedro Sauer in April of 2014

The above quote is my best recollection of an actual conversation at a seminar I attended a while back with the legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) teacher Pedro Sauer. Pedro Sauer is considered one of the best instructors in BJJ for his warm, calm demeanor and immaculate, finely detailed technique, so much so that his nickname is “Professor.” As an aside, it should be noted that Professor is also a rank-based title in BJJ and that Pedro Sauer is actually considered to be a Master-level instructor at this point. At the time of this seminar, I believe that he was still Professor Sauer, prior to Rickson Gracie promoting him to Master status. Either way, he is still commonly known as Professor. Back to the point.

The milk is already on the table is, I believe, Pedro Sauer’s version of the colloquialism: There is no use crying over spilt milk. In other words, what he is saying is that there are some positions one finds oneself in, in BJJ, wherein it is simply too late for escape or reversal. Belly-down back mount, with arms trapped, and a rear-naked choke sinking in is typically one of those positions. In BJJ, at least on the mats in the academy or in competition, tapping is the ultimate reset switch. When the milk is already on the table, it has already been spilled, there is no use fretting over it, accept defeat, learn from your mistakes and start over. The alternative, in this case, is not tapping and being choked unconscious. You still lose, but with a little bit less grace and fewer brain cells.

This sentiment of accepting a dead end for what it is, backing up a few steps, and starting over, either to retrace your steps to find out where you went wrong or to take an entirely different path altogether, is a useful metaphor for when things go wrong in life. If the milk is already on the table, clean it up and start over. Pour another glass or maybe have some coffee. Reevaluate and make a better decision for the future. Do not get hung up on the mistake, struggling to put the milk back in the glass.

-Robert Van Valkenburgh teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Kogen Dojo

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