Why I don’t get mad when I get ankle locked

In major BJJ tournaments, there are certain moves that aren’t allowed, or aren’t allowed until a certain belt level is achieved.  For the most part, this is related to safety. There are moves that can cause damage before the person feels the pain of the move. For me, as a white belt, I have almost zero attacks below the waist (although it appears with the 2013 release of the rules for IBJJF tournaments, white belts can now perform ankle locks.) The reasoning is typically that white  belts are not skilled enough to do the move in a safe way. It would be like letting a toddler carry a pot of boiling water.

The thing is, the moves aren’t illegal in BJJ, they’re illegal in tournaments governed by IBJJF (or the tournaments that just take the IBJJF rule set.) As a result, I’ve been caught in ankle locks on a few occasions. Early on, the people that would catch me would have a very loose hold and then instruct me on ways to escape. They weren’t really looking for the submission, but rather saw that I put myself in a dangerous position and were looking to show me how to deal with that.

As I’ve practiced BJJ for the past year, I’ve wound up reading other people’s blogs, and forums talking about BJJ. One topic that comes up over and over again, is how to deal with “illegal” moves, or even “mean” moves.  For example, there are multiple ways of turning someone’s head away from you when you are in side-control top. Some are a bit rougher than others.  There are typically 2 camps for these questions. The first will focus on how that same move would be illegal in most tournaments, and therefore should be avoided. The second group focuses on the fact that while the move may be mean or illegal in certain circumstances, it is still a valid move.

I find myself aligning more with the group that considers the moves valid, and therefore I need to be able to handle that situation. The reason is, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a combat sport, it’s a contact sport. The goal of BJJ is to incapacitate your opponent. From the first month of my training, I learned how to perform an arm-bar that can break someone’s arm, as well as chokes that can make them lose consciousness. These aren’t special advanced moves to be used if everything else fails, these are the bread and butter of BJJ. This means if you start to put me in an arm-bar, I have a responsibility. I am responsible for defending as much as I can, and tapping when I realize that I cannot escape.

For me, this extends beyond the actual submissions that someone is attempting. As I said above, it’s a contact sport, sometimes things happen when you’re going for a submission. For example, if you are executing an arm-bar from mount, there is a chance that you can knee your opponent in the head when you move into position. I’ve done it to people, and it’s been done to me. In fact, this last week I took a heel to the side of my head as someone was setting up an arm-bar. As much as that hurts, I chalk it up to part of training.   I also know that when I go to a tournament, my opponent across from me is not going to worry about did his knee hit my head when he brought is leg over. If anything, he’ll probably be thinking “Good, now he won’t be focused on his arm, he’ll be thinking about his head.”  Or, if I were to ever have to use BJJ in real life, my opponent will not be worrying about if he grabs my fingers, or if his hands went inside my sleeve (something else not allowed by IBJJF rules.)

The final reason I don’t get mad in these situations is because of who I train with. To the best of my knowledge, there is nobody at Mid-America that grappling with evil intentions. That is, they’re not trying to send me to the hospital. It may happen some time, but I know that if I get injured it was not a result of someone trying to injure me.  As I’ve talked about before, it’s important to find a good gym, and I’ve found one. I can trust the guys that I’m training with. W’re there to help each other get better.

Overall, I realize that for BJJ to be effective, and for me to grow in my game, I can’t be upset when legit moves are used against me. I also have to give my training partners the benefit of the doubt, that they’re not actively trying to injure me.  That’s why if you get me in an ankle lock in rolling, or you do some unconventional arm-lock, I’m not going to get mad. I’m going to tap, and try to figure out how not to get in that position again.