Being a small BJJ practitioner offers its own set of challenges and frustrations. And by small, I am talking about guys 64 kg and under. I always find it hilarious when I hear guys say, “I'm just 165 pounds. I'm too small”. I”m not discriminating in this entry, though. I think my outlook applies to all BJJ players big and small.
When I first started BJJ I was pretty fit (or I thought I was), but was even smaller than I am now. I weighed about 58-59 kilos soaking wet. Almost everyone at the gym outweighed me by at least 20 pounds (10 kilos), and I would get absolutely smashed by everyone in class. There were even a couple times during the first few months that I thought about quitting, because I was constantly on the receiving end of an ass whipping. Usually, by other new guys or beginners who didn′t give a damn about taking it easy on me or trying to spare my feelings. I remember during my third or fourth class back in the States, one guy submitted me, and then announced to the class, “I just got my first submission”.
As I started progressing, I found myself making excuses when I was paired up with someone bigger than me (my level or lower) who would give me a hard time or run through me. “He's too big”. I would tell myself. “He is just using his strength. If I was bigger, he wouldn't have handed me my ass. It's not fair”.
I think this mentality plagues a lot of BJJ practitioners (especially at the beginner and intermediate level) regardless of size. It's only natural, though. We are told that BJJ was created for the small guy to beat the big guy, and then we get frustrated when things don't necessarily go our way.
Not to worry though. I have have cracked the answer to this problem, and for $9.99 and a subscription to my website I will let give you the secret to this puzzling riddle.
Just kidding. Ready? Here is the thing you have to do to handle larger guys in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu....STOP WORRYING ABOUT SIZE!
Really, that's it. Plain and simple. Stop worrying about how much you weigh, stop asking other guys how much they weigh, and most importantly don't be scared to roll with those big guys even if they smash the hell out of you. Stop being a bitc....wait, we are keeping this thing positive.
I think one of the most important things that helped me progress from blue to purple (besides mat time) was rolling with everyone: big, small, tall, short, fat, ugly, ripped, skinny, smelly-you name it.
My focus on my size was having a negative mental and physical effect on my jiu jitsu and holding me back. It's only when I started forgetting how big people were, that my BJJ really started to grow.
Now, I am not telling you that I never think about size. Quite the opposite actually. Hey, I'm only human. Naturally, the thought enters my mind from time to time.
I like to use a method that I learned from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. In the book, Suzuki talks about not trying to block out negative thoughts. He says if a bad thought or a stream of bad thoughts enter your mind, do not try to stop them. He says to let them naturally enter your mind, flow through you, and exit. He said that there is really no such thing as a negative or positive thought, and that it is not healthy to purposefully try and omit certain thought patterns from your brain.
I'm no Zen Buddhist master, but what I took away from this is that it is perfectly natural to worry about how big someone is and our own shortcomings as well, however I can choose to obsess and focus on that or spend my time improving my BJJ and not worry about things I have no power to change (my size and the size of others).
I don't agree with everything Caio Terra says, but he said something really terrific one time at a seminar of his that I attended. Someone asked him,,“How do you deal with big guys”? Caio said something like, “When I roll with a big guy, I don't worry about his size. Regardless of his rank, I just think, okay this guy is a really big white belt that is trying to get me, but he is not going to, because he is just a white belt”.
Here are a couple of things that help me:
1. Lift weights-I am only about 63 kilos, but I am extremely strong for my size. Very rarely do I ever feel like I am being out muscled. I don't care what anyone says, strength training definitely helps my BJJ. I'm not saying that you can't be good without strength training, but it sure is a heck of a lot easier when you are strong. I also don't adhere to the philosophy that you shouldn't use strength when rolling (that's a whole other discussion though).
2. Be realistic, honest, and methodical-Some sweeps and submissions just aren't going to be as easy when the weight differential starts to hit thirty five to forty pounds and up. Don't get discouraged. Ultimately, if your sweep or sub isn't working, then it's more than likely something is wrong with your technique. It's a hard truth to swallow, but be honest with yourself and try not to make excuses. Also, don't forget that different skill levels, body types, and styles will require you to change and adapt your game accordingly. Figure out what kind of game works for different people.
3. Roll with everyone-I already mentioned this.
4. Work on your cardio-This has always been my achilles heel, and I train regularly (I actually find cardio to be the hardest aspect of BJJ). If you have time, work some extra cardio outside of class. The hardest thing I find about rolling with bigger, experienced guys is keeping myself from gassing out (no matter how relaxed I keep my breathing and my body) and not becoming too tired. Being able to match their pace back and give it right back to them is important and makes a huge difference.
5. Learn leg locks-You knew that was coming.