Learning to Tap Kept Me Alive

10,000 times I physically tapped my jiu-jitsu partner. Tapping is a public sign of submission, and it is THE most valuable training tool for every student at every level. It is an acknowledgment that your opponent had better technique, better leverage, better timing, or that you failed to perceive a reversal, ploy, or submission.

Tapping is good. It prevents getting choked unconscious.

Tapping is good. It prevents getting choked unconscious.

People ask what kept me from killing myself at the moments when I was so, so close. I possess no clear answer. Fear was a big part of not ending my life, but it was not the primary driver for my decision to live. There was no epiphany standing on that stool; no recognition in the beauty in living with my finger on that trigger. I felt no sense of oneness with the universe or a connection with a higher power urging me to breathe. What then, kept me from slaying myself?

Occam taught that the explanation with the least amount of speculation often wins. Using his philosophical razor, the most compelling answer I’ve found to this tricky line of inquiry is operant conditioning. I spent six days every week for five years tapping. Full transparency, every roll did not end with me tapping. Just most of them. Over time, I got gud and would end a roll victorious. Only to be assigned with someone higher ranking who wiped the floor with me.

Actual pigeons playing actual ping pong. Brought to you by operant conditioning.

Those beatings were good. They taught me that there was always someone else better than me. I also saw those better than me tap; they proved that acknowledging defeat marks a true martial artist. One never gets too good not to tap. Besides, there is little point in permitting your ego to overpower your common sense when the only thing stopping your arm from extending beyond 180 degrees is your pesky elbow joint.

Tap and stay healthy.

This same lesson can be applied to suicide prevention in critical moments. I resisted asking for help, and that led me to the precipice of suicide. What I could not override though, was years of conditioning drummed into my skull: tap and stay healthy, tap and fight another day, tap and live on.

Tap and live on. [hmm… may need to make some T-shirts with that phrase.]

Click the button above to enroll in a free course from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. It is about, “how to reduce access to the methods people use to kill themselves. It covers who needs lethal means counseling and how to work with people at risk for suicide—and their families—to reduce access.”

"Horizon" by Pigeons Playing Ping Pong 'Psychology' (2014) Download the full album at http://pigeonsplayingpingpong.bandcamp.com Tour dates and more: www.pigeonsplayingpingpong.com Recorded at Studio 10 Mixed by Ilia Kobrinsky Mastered by Anthony Thogmartin Album Art by Owen Murphy Art