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Getting tapped out by lower belts in BJJ


If you’ve made it past white belt in BJJ, you may be concerned about getting tapped out by lower ranks.

Those unacquainted with BJJ might assume that an upper rank should never tap to a lower rank lest they be stripped of their belt and kicked out of the dojo in shame.

They could not be more wrong.

In fact, I would venture to say that if you never get tapped by lower belts, you may be doing something wrong.

In this article, I break down everything you need to know about getting tapped out by a lower belt in BJJ.

By the time you finish reading, you will be excited to get submitted by a lower rank.

Okay maybe I’m exaggerating, but here we go.

Getting Tapped By Lower Belts BJJ

Why Lower Belts Might Tap Upper Belts in BJJ

There are a few reasons you might get submitted by a lower ranked BJJ person.

They have experience in another grappling art

White Belt vs Black Belt While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has arguably the most developed ground fighting techniques, it is far from the only martial art with great submissions.

Arts such as Judo, Sambo, and catch wrestling have tons of submissions. Someone might have years of experience in one of these arts and come to your dojo to try out BJJ.

While they are not white belts in the scheme of fighting, they are unranked in BJJ and must still don the white belt when stepping on the mats in a BJJ gym.

On the other hand, you might be blue or even purple belt with less overall experience grappling.

With this in mind, getting tapped by a BJJ white belt does not mean your BJJ sucks (well, it probably does but that’s another topic). It just means your opponent had real grappling skill from another art that you had the opportunity to experience.

This is actually a great boon to your own BJJ training.

In a ‘real life’ situation, you do not know what experience your opponent or enemy has.

As such, being familiar with other styles of grappling and adapting your BJJ to deal with them will make you grow as a martial artist and give you a much better skillset in overall grappling.

You are trying a new technique

One of the biggest mind-blown-from-BJJ moments I had was during my blue belt years. I was drilling the scissor sweep with a skilled purple belt.

The scissor sweep was the first fully technical sweep I hit as a white belt, and as such, holds a special place in my heart.

I commented to the purple belt that this was ‘the first sweep I ever hit in BJJ.’

To my surprise, his response was ‘wow, I’ve never hit this sweep.’

Here comes the ‘aha’ moment. This guy was a legit purple belt who tapped me out plenty of times, yet I had more experience with a certain technique than he did!

The lesson here is that virtually every BJJ artist, including black belts, have moves they are better at and moves they rarely, if ever, use.

It may be better to conceptualize belt ranks in certain techniques or styles of play as opposed to thinking that a higher belt rank knows every possible move better than you do.

For example, one player might have a very sophisticated leg lock game but is weaker on passing. This person might be a purple belt with ‘brown belt level leg locking’ but ‘blue belt level passing.’

Let’s say you roll with this guy or gal and you just got your blue belt. You have a few slick submissions in your arsenal, especially the triangle from guard.

For all you know, during this particular roll your opponent is trying to improve their passing and thus are avoiding going for their ‘A-game’ leglock attacks.

As they try to pass your guard, you catch them in a triangle, one of your strongest submissions.

Yes, you just tapped out a higher rank.

But… they were specifically avoiding their best techniques to focus on their weaker passing. This put them face to face with your best technique, the triangle, and yes, you caught them.

In a competition setting, you probably would have gotten leg locked in less than 30 seconds – most people do not experiment with their worst moves during competition.

However, getting tapped out in practice is different.

The dojo is the place to try new techniques and fail until you get better. This will almost inevitably mean a lower rank gets a better position on you or taps you out.

As an upper belt, if you never mess around with techniques you suck at in the gym for fear of getting tapped out, your game will not develop as fully as it might have, and you will become a one-dimensional grappler.

Trying techniques out on lower belts is key because in terms of the specific technique you are working on, you will never pull it off on someone your rank until you hammer-out the details.

The only real way to do this is by practicing the technique on opponents of lesser skill – and this may mean you end up getting tapped out by said opponent.

If this happens, congratulations!

You are working on your weak points and improving a different aspect of your grappling.

In the long run, this will make you a formidable grappler with an arsenal of options for every opponent.

If your leg lock fails, oh well – you’ve been hammering in your passing as well!

They are just a tough SOB

Large Man Jiu JitsuSome people walk in off the street with no experience in martial arts but are just tough as nails. 

Typically, these type lift weights or play in a contact sport like football that makes them tough despite lack of real technique.

I remember having a massive football player in my guard once after getting tackled to the floor in open mat.

I stupidly allowed him to get a deep double collar tie on my head and he cranked… hard.

I tapped very quickly.

Although my ego was a bit bruised, I learned a key lesson about not letting mutant sized individuals get a good grip on my neck and head.

A similar thing happened with the same guy when I had his back.

I overextended my arm going for the choke and he got a two-on-one grip and armbarred me with brute force, his shoulder under my triceps acting like a fulcrum to pop my elbow.

Although this lesson stung a bit, it stuck with me.

Since then, I have never shot my arm straight out and deep when trying to get the rear-naked choke.

This was a very important lesson, especially for self-defense reasons.

The chances you tussle with a muscular but technique-less opponent are non-zero, and as a martial artist, you must be able to keep yourself safe from bad technique as well as good technique – after all, a broken arm is a broken arm.

For the record, I still know this guy. He’s a great training partner.

Tapping to lower belts: the bottom line

Whether your opponent has experience in other arts, you are trying a new technique, or the dude/gal is just a total savage without any real skill, you will most likely get tapped out by a lower rank in BJJ at some point in your training.

While it may bruise your ego (hopefully temporarily), you should take this as a sign that you are growing your BJJ and getting great practical experience if you ever need to use BJJ in a real-world scenario.

No one ‘likes’ getting tapped by lower belts.

But in context, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it and it is a good sign you are on the right track with your long-term development as a grappler.

Cheers to getting tapped out by lower belts!

Jordan Fernandez

Jordan Fernandez 

Jordan is a 10th Planet Purple Belt, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and personal trainer. When not on the mats or at the gym, he writes about all things BJJ and fitness and aggressively stretches and foam rolls on the living room floor.

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