What does it mean to "Tap Out?"

It's not my fault! he should have Tapped Out... I had a rear naked choke.
I’ve heard lots of people say, “I will never Tap Out!” Some of them say that with a false bravado which rapidly gives way the first time they experience a "not so pleasant" choke or submission hold.

There are those people, however, who will likely take this conviction with them to the grave.

So, why blog about Tapping Out?

Most martial artists (instructors included!) don't give much thought to the actual meaning behind “Tapping Out.”

A lot of instruction is typically given as to how to Tap Out, when to Tap Out, even what to do when someone Taps Out. But very little discussion ever takes place about the importance of Tapping Out.

It's one of the most important skills you'll ever learn.

At its core, Tapping Out is a contract between the two individuals involved in a contest or class (or more than two, if you're playing Lions & Gazelles!) where martial arts skills are being employed.

The reason using martial arts in classes or competitions requires such an agreement is because these are originally activities designed to end someone's life or at least cause them considerable harm.

A big part of what makes these activities safe to engage in, is the "contract" of Tapping Out.

So let's look at what Tapping Out means.

First, let's look at the person tapping:

  • Tapping Out is a level of self-awareness, situational awareness, and raw honesty on the part of the person who is tapping: "In Tapping Out I am aware that I am in danger. I’m aware that I am in danger of losing consciousness or that one or more of my limbs, joints, bones or muscles are at a point where they are at risk of sustaining serious harm. It is an awareness that I no longer have control over the situation which places me in this harm. It is the insight that if I do not take action, I am an imminent danger."

It is a level of self-honesty, and acknowledgment that your situation is dire. Having that awareness should not be taken for granted. It's a skill most people have to be taught--something you don't always instinctively know. That's actually a big milestone in your martial arts education!

  • Tapping Out is a plea for mercy: By Tapping Out I am acknowledging to the person I’m embroiled in conflict with that they have the advantage and that I submit.“Accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person.” That's how Webster defines it, and you are asking them to accept your surrender.

  • Tapping Out is communication: by Tapping Out I am telling the other person that they are applying their skill effectively.

  • Tapping Out is an acknowledgment that I cannot command you to stop, I have to ask: Tapping is not a demand that the other person stop what they’re doing, although many times people do tap with an almost "entitled" air. Sometimes this entitled attitude is out of fear, sometimes because they are in pain (and pain can make you angry!) and sometimes.... well, sometimes they're just being a jerk. Whatever the reason, "entitled" is not the attitude you should have when acknowledging that someone else is in control.

  • Tapping Out is a promise: By Tapping Out, I am promising to end hostility on my part. I am telling the other person that if they show me mercy, I will not turn on them and attack them when their guard is down. My surrender now will not be waived or forgotten as soon as you accept it as a surrender and release me. This one is hard at first, but it gets easier in practice, and is often the difference between a "good sport" and a bad one at tournaments.

All these things are implicit contracts set forth by the act of Tapping. As with any contract, there are obligations on the side of both parties.

Let's look at the person who's receiving the "Tap Out:"

  • Accepting a Tap allows one to exercise compassion: Compassion is defined as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” I'll go one step further, and say that we all need to have empathy for the guy in the Uke position. Whether you put yourself there on purpose (in classes learning a technique) or you found yourself there in a tournament, it's a sure thing you've felt it before and you'll probably feel it again. We'd all do well to remember that.

  • Accepting a Tap is an expression of mercy: Mercy is defined as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” By honoring a tap with the immediate and unconditional cessation of harm, the person being yielded to is showing mercy.

  • Accepting the Tap is an expression of bravery: Accepting the surrender of an individual who was, only moments ago, attempting to cause harm to you, is a sign that the one in the commanding position is not afraid of future encounters with this individual. Traditionally, leaving your adversary unable to continue aggression in the future was an option available to the one who received the plea for mercy.

It should be said that leaving someone whole and not incapacitating them doesn't just apply to the physical, or to instances where your life is in danger. In class, competition, and life in general, there's bravery and admirable integrity in leaving your "adversaries" able to fight another day, both physically and mentally. Tearing someone apart verbally after a victory isn't just unneccessary--it says more about you than it does about them.

Lastly, and in a similar vein to the previous point:

  • Accepting a Tap is a sign of trust: Relinquishing one’s tactically dominant position means taking the person at their “word” that they will have ceased hostility.

Now these principles in a Martial (war or combat) encounter make excellent sense.

But if our philosophy is sound-- that is, the principles that we learn in martial arts are generally applicable, and not just for in the dojo, for self-defense, or for competition? Well, then we should really expand upon this principle of Tapping Out.

Two friends are in a heated argument, or maybe it’s a parent and their child, or maybe it’s two partners who are deeply in love.

With a cracking voice and a pleading tone, one says “I really can’t take us fighting like this.”

The other responds, “You should’ve thought about that before you opened your mouth.”

The first statement is an attempt to Tap Out. The second statement is a response to the Tap.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Now, look through the conditions and contracts listed above again.

Apply them to this conflict.

Maybe the second person is not accepting the Tap of the first. Maybe the first will snipe and attack once the hostilities subside.

How one decides to Tap, for what reasons, and with what expectations.... That's a part of living in relationship with others. And we're "in a relationship" with everyone out there, even if you don't know it (but that's another blog).

How one responds to another’s Tap is an integral part of living and existing in relationship with others.

In the dojo, when the technique is applied, and the submission is achieved....next time ask yourself if the only thing you just learned is how to do a sleeve-wheel choke.

And maybe, the next time you see someone look at you with equal parts panic and hope because they're trying to merge in rush hour you'll wave them on through... because they Tapped!


#tapout #tappingout #submission #compassion #mercy #forgiveness #sympathy #philosophy #expectation

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