I have been asked several times recently, “How can I deal with a heavier training partner?” This is an important question. One of the underlying principles of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that a smaller person (who has better technique) can overcome a larger adversary. The key to succeeding against a larger opponent is to employ an effective strategy, at the appropriate time, with an awareness to the necessary tightness needed for the technique.
My students hear me talk about STRATEGY, TIGHTNESS, AND TIMING, all the the time. It is the base of Small Axe Jiu Jitsu. I cover it in my Pedagogy and Philosophy in Chapter Two. Below is Chapter two for your review. After the chapter, I will discuss some options to employ as your strategies.
SHARP AND READY
The Big Tree will not fear the dull axe, nor will it fear the axe that has been tucked away in cabinet. Rather, the axe must be sharp and ready. To be such in jiu-jitsu, one must have four things. First, one must have a mastery of the fundamental positions. Next, one must be able to organize those moves into an actionable strategy. Then, one’s timing must be right. Finally, the tightness of the technique must be right.
In Chapter 4 I discuss what are the Minimal Objective Requirements for Blue Belt in the Small Axe system. These are what I feel are the core building blocks of BJJ. They are focused on the fundamental positions in BJJ (i.e. the guard, mount, back mount, cross-side, knee on belly, and the reverse of each position). The techniques listed are those that I feel once mastered, provide the framework for adding any additional technique.
The fundamental positions and core techniques are easily linked and drilled. For the newer students it is recommended that you drill the sequences taught in class beginning with little to no resistance, then incrementally increase the resistance until you are practicing the techniques live. For the advanced or advancing student, it is important when you train with the less skilled that you take that opportunity to practice limiting yourself to specific sequences, even if that means foregoing an open technique. This will help you learn to build strategies.
Strategy is critical to success. Seldom in anything we do in life will ‘winging it’ really provide us with meaningful, repeatable success. Like the song says, “Playing smart but then not being clever…” Some people have coined the creation of strategy in BJJ ‘gameplanning,’ but I think quality strategy is a little different. For example, I might make a game plan to go out and as soon as my opponent and I slap hands, I will grab his collar and look to dump him. Such a specific strategy could end quickly if the opponent instead shoots for my legs right off the bat. My game plan is thrown off. However, if I have a general strategy to come out and work to take the fight to the ground in such a manner as to end me in the top position, I can work several game plans into that scenario, one of which might include the possibility of the guy shooting in on me.
So, if I want to get a raise at work, I can just wing it and ask for one, or I can employ a strategy of finding the most successful route for me to get that raise. Jiu Jitsu is the same. Some students will learn that they fare far better when they eliminate takedowns by pulling guard. Others will find they are good at throws. Neither is better than the other, both are good Jiu Jitsu, but the students must explore the potential strategies to find what works best for them.
Likewise if I want a raise at work, asking for it when the company is in the middle of layoffs may not be a wise idea. Why? The timing is wrong. In BJJ, when employing one’s strategy it is important to recognize the correct timing to do so. Learning the elements of each move makes them seem segmented, but in reality they are fluid motions. This is also the critical element of timing. When someone is keeping his elbow tight to his body and between his body and my leg, it is not the right time to swing around for the mounted armlock. He will surely escape that submission because the defense was in place.
Timing of techniques comes from repetition. Timing of attacks comes from lots of sparring. Timing of defense comes from failing and being submitted. Hearkening back to the earlier discussion about leaving your EGO off of the mat, your timing will be weaker if you are too concerned about getting tapped.
Sticking with the raise at work analogy, if I want a raise at work, it is unlikely the CEO will give me a raise if he has no idea who I am or why I deserve a raise. So, just walking up to him and asking for a raise will not end in the result I desire. However, if I prepare a sharp resume, dress nicely, get recommendations from my immediate supervisor, the likelihood that the CEO will consider improving my pay is increased. This is like ‘tightness’ in BJJ. When moving from cross-side to mount by way of the hip switch method to mount, I might have come up the most appropriate strategy (i.e. get mounted) at the perfect time (i.e. opponent is tired and flattened on his back), but if I use predictable or sloppy technique, I may fail due to minimal resistance of my opponent.
I have come to find that there is no better feeling than when an opponent says, “I knew exactly what you were going to do; I just could not stop it.” That means your tightness was perfect. Such tightness comes from understanding the details of the techniques, the ‘whys’ of certain movements, shifts of weight, and progression of attacks.
You will hear me say it again and again in class. We want to be like boa constrictors when we attack. How does a boa kill its prey? It latches on to it; then it begins to squeeze; then it subtly increases the pressure of the squeeze to correspond to the exhales of its prey thereby never letting the prey take in as full of a breath as it just exhaled. Eventually, the prey suffocates. When we are mounting our attacks we should move aggressively for the position we desire. Once achieved, we should work to eliminate all escapes and counters possible. Finally we should employ our final attack and submission.
Conversely, when we are on defense, we should work to escape in the opposite fashion. Our first objective should be to prevent the aggressor from getting the position he desires. If we fail at that, our next objective is to achieve an escape, counter, or prevention sequence which leaves no other option except for the aggressor to abandon his desired position thus giving us the opportunity to escape or mount a counter attack.
To be sharp and ready the students must be well versed in the fundamental positions, transitions, and submission of the Small Axe system. More than mere knowledge though will be the ability to employ effective strategies at the right time with the appropriate degree of tightness.
DEALING WITH THE BIG BOYS: EXAMPLES OF STRATEGIES AND POINTERS
Regarding having trouble with bigger classmates, I always take the approach that they are going to have to play to my terms. I am a top fighter, so with large tough guys, I won’t pull guard and start from the bottom. Instead, I will work for the top and practice smashing them. If you find yourself in bad positions with the big guys, remember their weight cannot be everywhere at once!
Take cross side for example, if they are crushing your chest with theirs, their legs will be light… Grab their pant legs and lift while moving your hips and legs to re-guard! If they’re sitting back on their ankles, put both hands on their head and push as you shrimp away. Alternate between these two until you catch a hole.
I have found that a key thing to rolling with larger partners is to try and be as rounded and ball like as possible! (See Roy Dean’s explanation of this on Youtube) Don’t let them stretch you out and smash you but instead make them work to open you up, in so doing they will create space.
Regarding how to address the larger, stronger partner who uses strength versus technique to escape: One way to address this is to use tight defense, let them wear themselves out, and then look for the hole to capitalize on. (Helio’s method)
Another thing to do is to make a mental note of when they use muscle, then review the roll with them afterward and ask them, “If I weighed what you do and was as strong as you, do you think you would have been able to pull that off? How about you try using this technical escape instead.” They will respect that you are teaching them despite their ‘dominance’ and hopefully they will see the flaws in their jiu jitsu.
Communication is the key. Identify the exact moment or position that you are suffering failure at. Communicate to your partner that you want to explore this position and construct remedies. A good training partner will gladly do this.
Good luck and have fun…