Desert Island Jiu Jitsu


It’s ok to tap.  There isn’t a Jiu Jitsu Black Belt in the world who hasn’t tapped a thousand times.  And every Black Belt has been in a spot where they should’ve tapped, and didn’t.  But don’t you dare tap to fatigue, it’ll haunt you all the days of your Jiu Jitsu life.

We all want to feel as though we’ve “won” the round.  This is of course misguided and missing the point, but the thought lingers ominously in the back of even the most enlightened mind during a roll.  There’s an innate urge to volley, an inclination towards keeping score.  On the increasingly rare occasions I manage to sweep my longtime training partner and mat-Buddha Chris Matakas, I can sense a primal swelling of energy explode into a sweep of retribution.  And that’s ok, it helps us get better and ensures we get the most out of those precious minutes on the mat.

This healthy urge to do well becomes a hinderance to progress when it circumvents technique, and forces us past the limit of our physical resources.  In other words, your ego made you gas out. 

To be clear, there will absolutely be a time when you should go after your partner with every ounce of your being, feverishly chasing the submission, striving for physical dominance, and caring deeply about the outcome.  The burning in your grips rivaled only by the burning in your lungs, fighting to prevent the guard pass like you were defending the Hot Gates at Thermopylae.  You’d rather die than give up the sweep.  Those moments bless us with profound insights into the human condition, and allow us a brief glimpse of our true character.

But man, that isn’t every roll.

I think the trend of the 5 minute round is partly to blame for this frantic, oftentimes spasmodic approach.  It’s simply not enough time to pay dearly for an unfettered and haphazard use of physical resources.  This is an educated guess, but I don’t think that’s what Helio envisioned as the future of Jiu Jitsu.  Footage of his fights certainly paints a much different picture.  He would have hourlong (and longer) matches at a very calculated, technical pace.

Coming off an injury, Chris and I would always discuss and practice Desert Island Jiu Jitsu.  Imagine this: you’re marooned on an island with another castaway, and he’s an ass.  Only one bottle of water and a coconut remains.  Naturally, a battle ensues.  How would your Jiu Jitsu look then, when “gassing out” means certain death?  I’m sure it wouldn’t be 30 seconds of fury followed by a “sorry man, I’m outta shape” tap.  You’d be much less liberal with your energy output, I hope.

I am in no way advocating the dead frog style of Jiu Jitsu.  Fight your way out of submissions and recover guard like it matters, because it does.  Push yourself past the point of discomfort and flirt with exhaustion.  But if you look like Jacaré for two minutes then Rip van Winkle for ten, you’ve got to reevaluate your approach. Find a pace you can maintain for a handful of rolls and maximize your training time.

So again, only you can make you tired.  If your guard gets passed, don’t freak out.  Unless you’re Dante Rivera the benchpress escape doesn’t work.  You’re not dying.  And for sure don’t tap.   Focus on developing your technical skill, your defense, and your understanding of the positional hierarchy.  And when your brain tells you you’re shot, just think of that delicious coconut.

author: Peter McHugh

Professor Pete McHugh is the owner and Lead Instructor of McHugh BJJ in Mt. laurel NJ. He is a black belt under BJJ & MMA legend Ricardo Almeida.


Leave a reply