Something unthinkable happened! A Korean female friend of mine actually agreed to go to a jiu jitsu class with me! She went with me on Monday and had a good time. The class was SUPER tiny – only me (a blue belt), a white belt guy, her, and the black belt instructor.

On our way to the class, she started getting a little nervous about what she could or couldn’t do. I told her she was only expected to learn and know ONE THING: your safeword is TAP. Okay I didn’t say that. I said “If it hurts, tap. If you want it to stop, tap.”

Note: video contains sexual humor, so if you are easily offended, don’t watch.

So I gave her her safeword on the way to class, and throughout the class I reaffirmed that one single lesson: tap. When she was feeling a bit anxious about not being able to do things I asked “What do you need to learn today?” “Tap.” It gave her a sense of relief to know she was only responsible for that one tiny bit.

Safe word from Eurotrip flug

This idea of a BJJ safeword is incredibly important. And it’s important that you get it right. I remember when I started someone told me “Ouch does NOT mean stop.” Yes, if you start screaming I will stop, but everyone is responsible for learning that TAP makes someone stop. With my friend, when we practiced chokes, at the point where she started making aaaaccckkk noises, I reminded her of her safeword.

lol cat safe word

I think it’s important to reinforce this with beginners at every chance possible. I think that it’s too easy for new people to start thinking tapping = losing, or that you’re somehow BETTER if you don’t tap. Ridiculous, dear white belt! Keith Owen, a BJJ black belt, talks about how he’s tapped 10,000 times – and you need to meet this quota before you can earn your black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It’s a 9 minute video, but worth the watch.


I feel confident that my partner will tap, I can train much easier because I TRUST that they will tap if it’s too much. With a new person I monitoring their face and body language for the “omg it’s too much” look, and I will remind them to tap, that there’s no shame in tapping, etc. Hell, I used to tap when I was feeling claustrophobic. White belts MUST TRAIN THE TAP. In all sincerity, your partner MUST trust that you will tap, so you need to practice it – with your foot, your hand, your mouth. Get it right. It’s the most important first lesson you can possibly learn in jiu jitsu, and you should repeat it every class.

Han solo forgets his safe word

I’m personally concerned about leg locks. I KNOW when to tap on an armbar – I can feel if someone has a great setup and I can tap early enough. I am so inexperienced with leglocks, however, that I don’t know the tap timing.

Leg submissions are deceptive because your opponent won’t necessarily feel pain until it’s too late and something is torn or broken. Unlike muscles and tendons, cartilage and the ligaments in the knee and foot are not well innervated. This means they do not have many nerve endings in them so there is little pain until they tear. You just feel pressure on the joint before the tear, then comes the pain. – From

My gym rarely uses or teaches leg locks, so it’s something I am aware that I have deficiencies in, and if I’m rolling with someone who uses them, I ask them to tell me when to tap. I tell them that if they know it’s set up, to please bring it to my attention so I can learn when to tap. The only one I for sure know is a straight ankle lock.

This is totally NSFW, but daaang it’s funny – it’s from Portlandia:

Have you ever had an injury because you didn’t tap fast enough? Have you ever injured someone because they didn’t tap? Is there anyone in your gym that you don’t trust to tap early enough?