Dealing with larger opponents in BJJ (how)
Updated: Nov 27, 2021
By: Kazuki Umemura
Truth about Doing BJJ as a Small Practitioner “The soft overcomes the hard”
Upon hearing the word “BJJ,” many people will remember Royce Gracie effortlessly controlling and tapping out larger opponents in the early days of the UFC. Many people start BJJ in the hopes of acquiring the ability to defeat larger opponents. The origin of our art of BJJ, Kodokan Judo, has a famous saying, “柔よく剛を制す”(Jūyokugōwoseisu), meaning “The soft overcomes the hard.” The saying indicates that with the proper skills of the art, you will be able to beat larger opponents.
However, as an instructor who specializes in teaching older BJJ players online and offline, one of the most frequently asked questions I hear is “My techniques are not working against heavier, stronger, and taller opponents. What should I do?”
The saying “柔よく剛を制す” may come true if your opponents have not done BJJ before, and I still think that out of all of the combat sports, BJJ has the best methodology of allowing you to easily control larger opponents by using proper techniques.
However, the concern of not being able to use techniques well against larger opponents comes from a different place - the BJJ academy. At the academy, you are attempting to execute BJJ techniques against a practitioner who, at the very least, knows what techniques you are attempting on them. BJJ is still a combat sport where people try to grab, take down, and submit each other. Therefore, size cannot be irrelevant.
Then, what advice do I give to my students? There is definitely not any one specific formula that will allow you to make all of your techniques work against larger opponents. At the end of the day, you have to roll with larger opponents again and again to figure out which tactics fit your body type and game. Just as reading a book about swimming will not make you a proficient swimmer, my technical advice here will be meaningless unless you try it out against larger opponents. It’s necessary to maintain a strategic mindset, and to keep applying techniques in actual situations until your body and mind adapt and can execute them seamlessly.
That being said, knowing some techniques that are well suited for smaller practitioners can be a great start, so in this article, let me introduce a piece of technical advice that I think is effective for a small practitioner, especially from top position.
First, I would like you to understand that there are two types of distances from which you can have a lot of advantages over larger opponents: when you are very far and when you are very close.
Distance management is the key!
1, The distance where your opponent cannot engage with you at all.
I am a relatively big practitioner in Japan, so I know what most larger players think about when sparring with smaller opponents. They are confident they will perform well once they engage with their opponent and establish a guard, since they can then use their strength to dominate the smaller person. However, when a smaller opponent keeps disengaging by breaking grips and escaping guard while waiting for a perfect opportunity to establish advantageous grips, the larger player becomes frustrated.
As you know, whenever people get frustrated, there is a chance that they will make a mistake.
Therefore, controlling the first contact with your opponent - including distance management and grip fighting - is a significant factor for being able to control larger opponents. In spite of this fact, many practitioners underestimate the significance of it.
In competitions, some people may wonder if they will get a penalty for stalling if they keep disengaging from their opponent. The tip is you can pretend to attack by temporarily making grips on your opponent and pretending to initiate a guard pass before disengaging, so that you won’t get a penalty.
2, The distance where you are extremely close to your opponent
Find your own template!
Once you find the perfect opportunity to get the grips for your favorite guard pass, you want to instantly close the distance between yourself and your opponent to a point where they can’t establish a guard.
At a very close distance, having longer and stronger legs won't be much of an advantage for the larger player, especially when the top person applies proper cross face pressure and weight placement. My recommendation is to experiment and find your own templates for the grips needed for your favorite guard passes. For instance, my favorite guard pass is a knee slice pass, and I need my right hand to be on their left collar and left hand to be on their right knee in order to initiate it. Therefore, I would have to learn the proper sequence of hand fights against each type of guard in order to end up with the grips I need to perform a knee slice pass. Those grip fights will become my templates for guard passing.
I recommend having a lot of drills and situational sparring for really mastering these templates. During practice sessions, my drilling partner can try to establish a guard from the disengaged position while I patiently keep disengaging and trying to get into my template position as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I would recommend that you keep practicing until you can execute the moves subconsciously without even thinking about the details.
This is just one of many examples of strategies that work well for smaller practitioners. What I would like to emphasize in this article is that there are always distances, timings, hand fights, and situations in which being small is advantageous - so you have to actively and strategically choose them. As I previously mentioned, that always comes with repetitions, and avoiding larger opponents in practice won’t let you achieve it.
FB: Kazuki Umemura https://www.facebook.com/kazuki.umemura/
FB Group: Kazuki’s BJJ 40+ https://www.facebook.com/groups/bjjfor40plus/
Youtube: Kazuki’s BJJ https://youtube.com/channel/UCi2Pzfxv8EjMKypUU9CTiDg