Biggie vs Smalls: How to Roll For and Against in a Size Differential

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Today's theme: Tough Love.

It might be the gentle art, but never forget that Brazilian jiu-jitsu did originate from a smaller practitioner learning and adapting to not only survive against a larger opponent but ending the fight against them. 

So when you're getting no success against a big guy, remember that anything that is ineffective is either poorly executed and poor jiu-jitsu. 

Take this as a lesson that whatever move you might be trying needs some tweaking, as a lot of techniques will work to some degree no matter your opponent's size.

Firstly, smaller guys/girls need to know how not to be crushed so that this becomes a game. 

Secondly, bigger guys need to know what is crushing and what is technical control.

Here are some criteria (apart from experience and belt grade) that you can start to figure out how to play your part in the size game. 


1. Be early

Initiate everything and use your innate strengths against their literal ones. 

You're going to be fast so why not be punctual as well?

As soon as you spot an opening for the back or the pass or the escape, GO.

When going against a guy or girl who can put you on your back and keep you there you must always seize any opportunity to get on the front foot or else that window will be gone with the next one never a certainty. 

Be early, and of course have a plan so you know what you're being early for. 

2. Get on top

If you find yourself underneath with a weight disparity you could be spending some time and precious energy there. 

When you slap and bump immediately look to standing pass and in failing that be the aggressor with your guard. 

If you start lax and lose the position - or even just the grip fight - you will be on the negative end of a snowball effect. 

Start and end the roll winning.

Now that we've got that out of the way...

It's okay to be big, funny as it sounds. 

You should definitely see your size as an advantage and the hivemind of grappling could have you saying otherwise. The reason weight classes exist is because once you combine size with technique you are a force to be reckoned with.

Take two practitioners with exactly the same level of skill except one is larger and that guy wins 10 times out of 10.

You have some unique tools that you can use when you're larger and using your size to win is legitimate. Just as using speed when you're smaller is. 

The difference being is that you need to know what is control and what is crushing


1. Control vs Crush

Control is using structures to negate space and escape options for the bottom guy while creating the threat of submission. In this instance of winning, your offence is everything as the opponent needs to respect and acknowledge how deep you are in the position. 

Crushing is fighting frames and finding holes in technique then destroying it with your weight or strength. This takes minimal effort and technique and is not conducive for a developmental mindset long term.

You will learn to beat smaller people like this, but when you find yourself in a scenario that you are outsized, you will be left wondering how you had little success. 

2. Show some etiquette

You will be big enough to deflect their frames and minimise the distance on top until you are smothering someone smaller, but if they are doing everything fine from a technical standpoint - do not be a d**k and resort to strength just because you've found yourself in a stalemate.

If your partner defends or counters effectively with good jiu-jitsu, then do the same and so on.

If you go straight to strength or size every time you will learn nothing and develop even less.

Additionally, if you are in a position where size makes a massive difference like top mount, don't hang there for half the round "winning" and humiliating your partner who can't escape as you swat their defences away and blanket them into the earth. 

Proper etiquette is to either move to flow with what they give you and continue the roll or give them an honourable way out and submit them.

This is a time you can try new things relatively consequence-free.

And if you bum it up and they escape?


The show goes on and you can squeeze the most juice out of the roll instead of being a stagnant stone in the mount and feeding your ego. 

So give those a try and let us know in comments any tips or thoughts on size in BJJ. 

Jake Anderson is a Bachelor of Sport Development and Mixed Martial Arts commentator with over 18 years of combined training in various Martial Arts and tertiary education in health & sport. His blogs on the foundations of health and martial arts are dedicated to the communication and education of leading a holistically fulfilling life.


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