How to Actually Roll with Bigger People

I don’t like to criticize other people’s articles.  I know its hard to write and it takes courage to publicly say what you think.  But “Which BJJ Techniques Work and Don’t Work w/ a Small Man Against a Big Man” really got me fired up.  The title assumes gender for no real reason, the size difference is never specified, I don’t agree with the suggested techniques, and the grammar is terrible.

Rather than tell you everything wrong with the BJJEE article – I would like to explore what techniques work for smaller jiu jitsu players from an actual small jiu jitsu player’s point of view (I’m 5’2″, 115lbs).

Why I Think I’m a Small Jiu Jitsu Player

There are a few women my weight at my gym.  There’s a white belt who weighs 25lbs less than me, a white belt a couple pounds lighter than me, and there was a purple belt who was my exact weight but left the gym.  My next closest ranked training partner weighs 25 pounds more than me.  Also, I’m one of the three shortest people in my gym.

How to Define a Bigger Jiu Jitsu Player

There are four different ways a training partner can be larger than you – and each variety requires different techniques.  People can be tall and lanky with really long arms and legs.  Or you could be rolling with a heavier person.  There is also the strong person with bulging muscles on top of bulging muscles.  Or sometimes there’s a person who is pretty average but just larger than you.

Determine Your Goals

How you handle a size differential depends on your goal.  My goal with a larger person is usually to not get hurt.  Sometimes when I’m rolling with a larger person I trust, my goal is to learn.  In a self-defense situation the goal may be to just survive or to completely incapacitate the person.  It is important to know your goal before deciding which techniques to use.

The Tall Lanky Person

There’s a man who is 6’7″ at my gym and weighs as much as my 5’7″ husband.  His arms and legs are incredibly long.
What not to do:  I have never rolled with him but when I do I plan on avoiding leg locks.  I’m not very good at them (partially because they are more difficult to get when you are shorter than your partner – see the part where I say I’m 5’2″) and my legs will be more exposed than his in a traditional straight ankle lock position.  I would also avoid the closed guard.  His arms are much longer than my torso so I cannot defend against attacks from inside my guard as well.
What to do: Stay very tight and keep your head down.  People with long limbs often can pry you off the mount or sidebody with their legs if you aren’t careful so don’t leave any space.  Armbars, collar chokes, short armbars, and the americana would be good submissions to go for with this person.

The Heavy-Set Person

Sometimes I have difficulty adapting my game to heavier people – whether its because I can’t wrap my legs around their waist in the guard or if their legs are just overwhelmingly heavy from inside their guard.  Fortunately, most heavy-set people I have rolled with have been very nice to me.  They tend to be more aware of their weight than people of similar rank and try to focus on technique (and not squishing me).

What not to do:  Don’t give up position for a submission – regaining position will be extremely difficult.  Don’t be afraid to tap – its better to tap to pressure than to get hurt.
What to do: Focus on keeping their weight off of you.  Go for positional dominance.  If you can’t close your guard around them either use the open guard or try for more offensive positions.  Focus harder than normal on stabilizing from the mount.  It can be difficult to maintain position if your knees aren’t able to touch the ground.  I like to go to s-mount if possible even if their shoulders are still flat on the mat.  Joint locks might be a better choice than chokes depending on how long your own limbs are – I’ve encountered people with shoulders too broad for me to triangle.

The Strong Person

There are people in jiu jitsu that look like they must spend every minute not training jiu jitsu weight lifting.
What not to do:  Don’t leave any space; stronger people may be able to overcome your normal defense because their smaller muscle groups may be stronger than your larger muscle groups.  For example, I have experienced (only once though!) someone being able to pick my body up and curl out of an armbar from the spiderweb armbar position.
What to do: Try to redirect their momentum instead of fighting it head on.  Go for chokes over joint locks but remember that their neck will most likely be strong too.   Favor the rear naked choke or triangle over guillotines or cleavers.  If you are ever in a dominant position remember they may be able to overcome your stabilization with strength.  Try to maintain position but also think about how to be in the most advantageous position if they are suddenly able to reverse.

The Average-Sized Person Who is Just Bigger Than You

This is most of my training partners which means I always have to focus on making moves work on larger people.  I actually appreciate that I usually get to work with larger training partners – it means my jiu jitsu is working.
What not to do:  Don’t get frustrated – this is what jiu jitsu is for.  And don’t try to win with strength because that will not help you in the long run.  I would still avoid ankle locks because height often matters when you’re trying to beat someone to a foot lock.  I’ve been having trouble with omoplatas on people 40lbs heavier than me – this may be my technique but I’m currently avoiding them when I’m nervous and rolling with someone larger.  I also avoid moves where my partner’s weight is trapping me, particularly when I’m on their back or on going for particular chokes in s-mount.
What to do: Focus on technique and timing.  Stick to the basics – rear naked choke, triangle, americana, and collar chokes are all going to work on someone 50% larger than you but you have to get your timing and technique right.  The guard is a great position to control this person and ensure you do not get hurt during the roll.  In a self-defense situation the guard is also a good choice to either stall until help arrives or put on a submission (I favor triangles if someone is much larger than me).  Focus on leaving as little space as possible and keeping their weight off of you when you are in a defensive position.

Developing a style that works on people larger than you can be frustrating.  My first jiu jitsu coach always reminded us that we want our jiu jitsu to work when our opponent is larger and stronger and we’re recovering from the flu.  I try to remember than by always practicing with larger partners – I can be sure my jiu jitsu will work.

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