Dealing With Larger Opponents In Jiu Jitsu
The first time I ever did an Open division was when I was Purple Belt. I had won the Lightweight division and was facing the Heavyweight division champion. As the match began, joy filled my heart when my opponent pulled guard. I jumped over his guard almost immediately and my sense of elation grew. Wow. I’m so much faster than this guy. This is going to be easier than I thought.
This feeling was replaced by horror as he reached over my back, and pulled me over him, onto the bottom of side mount. At this point, the match became blurry. I must have gotten out of the side mount at one point, because I remember he jumped flying mount on me, and I recall thinking “holy s***, this guy is heavy” when I couldn’t shrimp out. The match ended a few seconds later with me getting submitted via armbar.
“Overcoming The Bench Press”
When I debriefed with my coach, I mentioned that I felt really demoralized after passing my opponent’s guard only to get rolled over with a ‘wrong’ technique.
He compared my situation during the match with the analogy of a 135lb bench press. Most adults can bench press 135lbs. But no one can bench press 135 for 7 minutes non stop (the length of a purple belt match). So mindset wise, you have to think of forcing your opponent to bench press you off each time and remember that with each rep, he is getting weaker.
“[Avoid] Harpooning the Whale”
The other analogy I like to use is that of harpooning a whale. The fishermen shoot a harpoon into the beast. The harpoon is attached to a barrel that can be dragged under the water. As the whale dives underwater, the added buoyancy fatigues him, eventually allowing the fisherman to complete the catch.
Same concept with a shark…
Don’t get stuck to your bigger opponent like a barrel!
After you pass, you have to “float” the guy until the right time. You have to disengage and make the bigger slower guy have to chase. Don’t clamp down and pin him until the moment is exactly right.
Here’s an example of the type of movement necessary for floating.
Passing the Guard…
When you say someone is bigger, you have to take into account both height and weight. A heavier shorter guy poses a different set of problems than a heavier taller guy.
Taller Guys are generally better at defending outside rotational passes. You have to stay close and try to control the inside space or the hips.
On Shorter Heavier Guys, techniques that move on the outside of the person will be more effective than head-on techniques.
From the Bottom…
Protect the Inside Space and force Outside attacks.
When the guard opens, you must protect the inside space so your leg doesn’t get pushed down right away. You should open while maintaining good pressure between your knees and turning your hips to the side. In other words, your opponent’s core should always be pinched between your legs. You should not absorb his pressure as a thigh-master.
It’s often hard for beginners to learn how to defend the inside space with just their arms, which is why the closed guard (most often taught as the refuge against bigger and stronger guys) is hard for beginners to master.
Secondly, you will probably will find it easier to attack on the outside. Think Omoplatas, De La Riva, and spinning to the back, etc. All these positions keep you from being directly under your larger opponent.
High Knee-Shields and Spider Guards are good for when the person is on their knees. You have less movement to worry about since the opponent is on their knees. So your primary concern is to always maintain the right distance between yourself and your partner.
Long Term – Develop Takedowns!!!
For competitors, winning the open becomes much easier if you have good takedown ability. Not just because you can take your opponent down but because you maintain the ability to fatigue your opponent on the feet.
Example – Tye Murphy, one of the coaches here at Crazy 88, came in with zero takedown training – no wrestling, no judo. At the Blue Belt level, we would use a strategy of gripping for the first half of the match to burn out the big guys. Quite often, these big guys would switch gears and pull guard (sloppily) as they started to fatigue. As his judo and wrestling improved, Tye could now fight pure takedown matches, keeping his larger opponents out of their preferred position – top.
Specific wrestling and judo techniques also work better or worse against bigger opponents. Kouchi-gari and Stickers will be easier for you to execute earlier than Uchimata’s. Single Legs will generally be easier to get on larger opponent than Power Doubles.
So anyway, that’s my short primer on dealing with larger opponents. Hope that helps.
About Julius Park: I am a Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt. I’ve produced BJJ World Champions from Blue Belt up to Brown Belt. My next goal is to get a student to the Black Belt World Champion level and into the UFC. I have an English Bulldog, Ghostface, who has so far resisted all training methods. I teach out of Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts gyms in the Baltimore area.