The Concept Of Honor In Jiu-Jitsu And Its Importance | Kama Jiu-Jitsu | http://kamajiujitsu.com/

If there’s one thing involvement in the martial arts stresses, it’s honor.

What exactly is “honor?” Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster, which seems appropriate for the purposes of this post.


 noun ˈä-nər

: respect that is given to someone who is admired

: good reputation : good quality or character as judged by other people

: high moral standards of behavior


If there’s one thing that is essential in Jiu-Jitsu / BJJ, it’s honor. Honor for the art, honor for our training partners, honor for our adversaries in life, and honor in competition.

Why Is Honor So Important in Jiu-Jitsu?

When you have the ability to physically injure someone, having honorable participants with honorable intentions is paramount. In many contact sports/activities like the martial arts, to avoid injury, the activity is practiced half speed, with protective gear, or at a safe distance. In a contact sport like football, they use a ton of pads to enable each other to collide at full speeds. Stand up style martial arts (like Karate) will, for the most part, “pull” their punches and kicks for “simulations” intended to make things realistic (but often fail).

In Gracie Jiu-Jitsu / BJJ, the only protection that may be worn (but not always) are mouth guards, and the occasional wrestler’s headgear and/or a cup. But for the most part, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and BJJ are practiced with little or no protection.

Does that mean we don’t engage in actual training to fight?

Absolutely not.

One thing that’s different with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs other martial arts is that we always go with the intent to submit our opponent. What prevents us from injuring ourselves and others is a mix of things whose primary “backbone” lies in what I refer to as Jiu-Jitsu Honor.

The Tap – When the “you got me” moment occurs, we “tap” our opponent with a free hand, a free foot, or if nothing is free, we often give a verbal “TAP!” The part where Jiu-Jitsu Honor comes in, is only partially where your opponent takes the pressure on a choke or joint lock the moment the tap comes. The  only difference between a choke done in training vs one on the street is only a second or two. When someone is “caught” and a choke is on tight, someone in training will likely hold it for a second or two, while that same someone in combat will hold it for five or more seconds.

Same choke. Different duration.

That’s the only difference between training and combat.

Jiu-Jitsu Honor comes into play more significantly when your opponent knows exactly what submission he is setting up on you, and if his skills are superior to yours, knows he’s about to get you, and he gives you ample opportunity to tap out. He doesn’t just “spring” the submission on you while “cranking it,” giving you a miniscule window to submit and prevent an injury. Also, having Jiu-Jitsu Honor also means that even though he has you, and in a moment of stupidity, you try to escape the perilous situation to no avail (meaning you don’t tap out at an appropriate time), he doesn’t continue the hold so as to choke you to unconsciousness or break or dislocate your limb.

Sure, we all want to win, but do we have so little respect for each other that we’ll break each other’s arm if one of us doesn’t tap out?

On the one hand, you did not respect (honor) his submission attempt by trying to get out when you were “caught,” even when you were “locked in,” so to speak. On the other hand, he didn’t respect (honor) you by not allowing you to be injured by his submission attempt, and just letting the attempt go.

Honor needs to be observed by all parties for us to all grow in our Jiu-Jitsu journey.

At a primal level, we all have the “fight or flight” instinct. By constantly training, we’re increasing our fight sense, while muting, to a certain degree, our flight sense.

At Kama Jiu-Jitsu’s campuses in Orange County, CA and Dallas/Fort Worth we are either training proverbial “Sheep Dogs,” or future sheep dogs. Sheep dogs, are those who protect their flock, so to speak. Sheep are those needing protection. Wolves are the predators among us.

Kama Jiu-Jitsu does not and will not, train wolves.

That said, when we’re training, we often get into the mindset of win, win, win. When we’re in that mindset, do we put the win ahead of honoring our opponent?

I sure hope not.

Of course, I could say, “Your arm broke because you didn’t tap,” and in a way, I would be completely justified. But realistically, did I do the honorable thing by breaking your arm just because you didn’t tap out?

I would say not.

The Overzealous, Hyper-Aggressive Win At All Costs Opponent – We’ve all come across these guys in life. They also make their appearance on the mat as well. Me, I can’t count how many times I’ve come across those types of people. Usually, they take the form of white belts who have not been taught the intricacies of technique “control,” although I’ve come across many wearing blue and purple belts and occasionally, brown and even black belts. This characteristic, can be a signal of how little confidence one is in his technical skill.

Or (especially in the case of higher belts exhibiting this characteristic), they could just be plain jerks.

White belts are spastic. They don’t know how to protect themselves, so they go to what instinct tells them; usually, it’s to “power out” of a bad situation. When they are locked in a room, so to speak, they don’t look for a door knob to turn rather, they try to bust the door down.

That, my friends, is a white belt. They haven’t learned yet, that once you have “the keys,” Jiu-Jitsu is very straightforward and methodical. As far as lacking Jiu-Jitsu Honor goes, white belts can be forgiven. It’s up to the higher ranking belts to protect themselves against the white belts while training, without hurting either of them. In fact, I have a policy in my academy that if an upper belt hurts a lower belt in a way that could have been prevented and was the fault of the upper belt, I demote him a stripe on his belt. If he has no stripe, he will be demoted back to his previous belt rank.

Why do I have this policy? Because honor in Jiu-Jitsu  matters to me. We are training partners; team members, not adversaries.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to demote anyone for that!

When this situation manifests itself in the upper belts, now that’s a different story.

Once, several years ago as a purple belt, I was helping one of my instructors teach a blue belt. He was trying to help the blue belt more effectively implement the “Kimura” lock from the the “north/south” position. This particular blue belt, was known as an “on or off” trainer. Either he was not training, or he was training full bore. There was no “relax” in his game. Knowing that, I ALWAYS played him tough. I never gave him an inch anywhere. I knew if I wasn’t protecting myself at all times while training with him, he was liable to get a hold of a limb and yank it out of socket. I don’t think he meant to play that way; he was just never “broken” of that habit early on by the higher ranked people who taught or trained with him.

Anyway, he was trying to secure the Kimura on me. I had my defense set to “bulletproof.” There was no way he was going to get it. Yet, instead of looking for a different submission or to think about how to beat my defense, he just repeatedly pulled, heaved, and jerked on my arm, trying to free it for the submission. The instructor told him to “STOP! You’re not doing it right.” I waited a second or two, thinking the drill was over. I relaxed myself and my grips. He then felt me relax, and proceeded to yank the arm (while I was no longer defending myself) and crank it. We heard a POP!

Yep, he partially tore my shoulder.

That was an incident of a total lack of honor and respect.

At that point, I would have been totally within my right to proceed and beat the living crap out of him, which even injured, I’m sure I could have done. But what would that have accomplished? I was sure he did it by accident (I guess), as evidenced by him apologizing profusely after it occurred.

I just told  him, “Don’t worry about it,” iced it down some, went home, popped several Advil, and iced it some more. I had to heal up for about a month before I could get back onto the mats. After that, I never offered to help him with his Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, I never made any attempt to reach out to him again, even on a personal level. Life is short, and I’m not going to lose valuable training time at the hands of poor choices in training partners. Live and learn.

His lack of honor and respect cost him a great training partner and mentor.

His loss.

When training jiu-jitsu, there is a level of trust between partners that must never be broken. I trusted him not to injure me.

But part of it was my fault.

I trusted him too much. I should have been more protective of my arm, plain and simple.

Live and learn.

Playing To The Level Of Your Opponent

I always tell our white and blue belt students, “Stick to what we’ve taught you, and don’t try to learn concepts and submissions we haven’t covered yet.” It all goes to our belief that learning sequentially is one of the most important concepts in becoming the best you can be in Jiu-Jitsu. If you haven’t read our blog post on the subject yet, you can get it here.

That being said, we tell our students to “be accommodating to lower belts, but go after higher belts.”

A great test for a higher belt, when rolling with lower belts, is to beat the lower belt by “playing to their level.” That means, that an upper belt shouldn’t have to resort to techniques the lower belt training partner doesn’t know in order to beat him. An upper belt partner should be able to beat the lower belt partner with a sequence the lower belt partner is familiar with and has spent time learning how to defend.

I always contend, the difference between an upper belt and a lower belt does not come down to more techniques (although that is also true), it comes down to superior execution of techniques common to them both. An upper belt should be able to take a submission from a lower belt because his execution of the submission is superior to the lower belt’s ability to defend that submission. If the upper belt pulls a submission “out of his butt” that the lower belt has never learned to defend, I contend that the upper belt had to do that in order to win because the lower belt was getting the better of him in the fundamental techniques they both have in common.

One thing I like to do, is to take our students to other academies to experience the level of technique taught at the other schools. It also gives them an opportunity to train with people they would never ordinarily train with.

There was one school I took one of our “just about to be promoted” white belts to. He did everything he was taught while training with their guys. With him, I told him to not worry about submitting anyone – just worry about not being submitted. He trained with a blue belt – he defended himself with no problems. He trained with a purple belt who was his size – he defended no problem. He trained with another blue belt and got caught. Finally, he trained with a smaller 2-stripe black belt – he defended himself from every position – he even passed the black belt’s guard and held him down for a little while in cross side. The black belt eventually took his back – the white belt defended well, pinned his arm, and escaped easily. The black belt took his back again, but this time, went straight for a “bow and arrow” choke and submitted the white belt.

On the way home, the white belt said, “I asked the black belt what he caught me in. Told him I had never seen that submission before. He called it some kind of ‘arrow’ choke.”

“Bow and arrow,” I told him. I said, “Don’t worry. You did really well. I haven’t taught you the bow and arrow, or how to defend it yet, so you’re not expected to be able to get out of that. Just know, that you were getting the better of him to a certain degree, so he could think of no way to beat you with what you know, so he had to resort to beating you with what you don’t know. You did well.”

I’m not saying the black belt was not being honorable…

I just think he thought he had to win, could not go to a stalemate with a white belt, and did what he had to do to let my white belt student know “who’s boss.”

The problem is, now our white belt knows the real story, and gets a good chuckle out of it now.

The same thing happened a year or so ago when one of our DFW white belt students trained with another school’s brown belt, stalemated him for quite a long time, until the brown belt resorted to submitting the white belt with a wrist lock, which the white belt had never seen before.

Haha. Nice.

Kicking A Man When He Is Down

In this clip from the documentary “Choke,” Rickson is about to face Yuki Nakai in the final of a fight event in Japan. They have both fought twice in one night at this point and will be fighting their third fight of the night. In his first fight, Nakai had his eye gouged and injured permanently (it turned out, given that he’s now blind in that eye). He fought his second fight with a patch on his eye and still won. Nakai is certainly “game.”

While this whole movie is quite good, for the purposes of this lesson, please check out this clip beginning at 1:27:45 (and watch the rest later). Watch what Rickson’s corner is telling him, and what Rickson says about their direction.

Here is the clip with the actual fight. Check out what Rickson does in the ring.

Rickson was confident enough in his command of his family’s art to not resort to targeting Nakai’s injured eye in the fight. Essentially, he turned the fight into a “rolling session” like he did everyday at his academy while training with his students. He didn’t beat Nakai into submission; he did what he did everyday as if he were training with a training partner and simply used his superior technique to submit him.

That, my friends, is the best example of honor in Jiu-Jitsu

If you want to be successful, be honorable.

It’s as simple as that.

Now get back to your training!


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