David v Goliath: Rolling Safely with Smaller Partners

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Has a smaller training partner ever tapped you out? It’s embarrassing right? It’s such a horrible thing for your ego to endure. I just don’t know how you make it through the day. Actually, yes I do, because no matter how much it hurts you inside to have a smaller person submit you, it’s nothing like the pain a smaller person experiences from rolling with an over enthusiastic behemoth with little to no self awareness.

Don’t get me wrong. There are smaller grapplers who absolutely punish larger opponents on the reg. People like Caio Terra and Bruno Malfacine are great examples of this. But, to be honest, not many people can call themselves Malfacine or Terra and the potential damage a smaller person will go through to reach their level will often destroy their body long before they reach that level.

If this intro reads like it’s laced with venom, it’s because I speak from first hand experience.

Being a smaller person means I don’t want to give up to a bigger person just because of their size. I mean, that’s why I do Jiu Jitsu, I want to be able to defend myself against a larger opponent. However, having my spine destroyed by a freight train before I have the chance to learn and grow in my training will sadly never get me there.

If you’re a smaller person reading this, you’ll know where I am coming from. If you’re a larger person, please don’t take this article as an offence. Take it as a window into the mind of a smaller training partner. Trust me, they will thank you for it and you will both excel as a result.


4 Things You Need to Consider When Rolling With a Smaller Partner 


1. Smaller People Have Less Padding

As grappling relies heavily on pressure, physics and geometrical levers to maintain dominant control, a smaller person will experience more physical stress, especially in the joints, tissues and bones under this pressure compared to a larger person.

Imagine a cloth and a stone were conscious beings and were able to move and talk like us and they decided that BJJ was the sport they really enjoyed.

In cases where the cloth gained top position over the stone, it could maintain control by using its length and width to hold the stone down causing that stone little to no physical damage.

Now, when the situation is reversed, and the stone is in the top position, its jagged edges and larger mass would cause the much smaller cloth to rip and fray over time. This causes the cloth (smaller partner) to have a significantly shorter life span in this practice compared to the stone (larger partner).

Now, this doesn’t mean that every time a larger person controls a smaller partner they injure them or cause dramatic wear and tear on the body.

However, when a larger partner applies more pressure and uses more force than is needed, only negative results can occur.

In a nutshell, if you’re able to stop me from moving, there’s no need to push harder and harder into my sternum popping both my eyes and my breakfast out of my upper and lower orifices.


2. This is a Time to Work on Your Technique, Not Your Strength & Conditioning


Remember what the purpose of training is. It isn’t to kill, it’s to improve your technique and build your game.

I understand that if a smaller person comes at you with a weapon or tries to hurt someone you love, you’d want to disintegrate them. And by all means, in that situation, have at it!

But again, when you’re in training, you’re in training.

When you’re paired up with a smaller partner, understand that you’ll more than likely be in the top position and that they will more often than not be fighting from their back.

Because you won’t have too much difficulty getting on top when you need to, take this opportunity to work your guard game or escape from bad positions. This will also help your partner grow and give you the tools and confidence to survive against people your own size when things go pear shaped.


3. You Don’t Have the Same Perspective, Until You Do

After training with a smaller partner you may see them sprawled out on the floor, absolutely struggling for breath or holding onto a shoulder or knee in quiet pain, while you feel nice and fresh.

Don’t look at them and smirk. They’re not like this because they’re less conditioned than you are. They're not like this because they don’t work as hard as you. The truth is, in that roll, they probably worked 10x harder than you did. That’s why they are on the brink of death right now.

I often see this situation reversed in an extremely ironic way when that larger person finally rolls against someone much bigger and much stronger than they are.

“Man!” The big guy says trying to catch his breath and checking the gi burn on his face. “F*&k me, that guy is so strong. I’m not rolling that psycho again!”

…welcome to our world champ!


 4. If You Go Hard You WILL Look Like a Dick

It’s true. You may be worried about the smaller partner tapping you out in front of everyone (no one cares by the way, they have their own problems to deal with) but going ape shit and trying to fold them in half with a double unders pass, essentially feeding their own genitals into their mouth, doesn’t make you look any better.

If you do this, and then the black belts suddenly invite you to roll with them, you definitely f&*ked up hard!


Key Points to Take Away

Below are a few key points that will help you recognise when you need to roll back the enthusiasm. Commit this list to memory, write it down and take it to class with you when you train. You never know, it could save someone’s life one day.


  1. Limit the double under stack passes and any other position where the bulk of your weight is supported purely by your partner’s cervical spine
  2. Don’t use more strength or pressure than you need to
  3. Play off your back
  4. There will be less resistance against your arm bars, chokes and other submissions when they are locked on. You don’t need to rip on them to get the tap
  5. Focus on your breathing as you roll. This will keep you from overexerting
  6. If the whole class stops what they’re doing to watch you roll, you’re doing something wrong
  7. If the coach or other black belts demand to roll with you next, you’re f&*ked

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