BJJ for the Small Guys
Being small in bjj can pose a problem sometimes. When your academy consists of a bunch of giants every roll can be exhausting, no matter how much your train, you still feel tired and you can never catch a break. Every roll you are exerting all of your energy just to keep these guys weight off of you. Sometimes the big guys can't even understand how tiring things can be for the small people. Dealing with bigger opponents is so difficult sometimes!
Dealing with bigger opponents can be very difficult; things that may work on other people may not work on them. There are specific movements, sweeps, and submissions that work better on larger opponents just like there are specific movements that work on smaller people. Bigger opponents may be hard to deal with but if you have a game plan and know moves that are higher percentage for them, you can easily manipulate their body weight and use it against them.
Being bigger can be a blessing and a curse. Some bigger guys may learn how to properly distribute their weight and become extremely difficult to deal with, others may not be as able to distribute their weight and you can learn how to use it against them. Check out our article on “High Level Fundamentals” to learn some of the key fundamentals to being dangerous from everywhere. To deal with bigger guys you have to learn how to use their weight against them, and you have to be able to pick a smart guard that allows you to control the distance, and be able to have good grip strength.
Distance Management the Key to Beating Bigger Guys
Distance management is an extremely important concept for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, especially when you are a smaller person. Being small in bjj can be a blessing and a curse. If you don’t learn the right moves and can’t create a distance based game, you will get smashed by bigger guys. The trick to beating bigger opponents in bjj is to create distance and use distance based guards.
What do we mean by distance based guards? Well you have to learn guards that nullify your opponents strength and weight distribution. There are so many good guards for this; some of them include single leg X, X guard, spider guard, lasso guard, De La Riva guard, and many other open guards.
Lets look at two of these guards, the first being De La Riva and the other being spider guard. These are probably the best ways to deal with a bigger and stronger opponent; many people refer to these guards as “The Lightweight Guards.”
De La riva may be the best guard in the world to control the distance. Controlling the distance is SO important for anybody but especially smaller and lighter guys. There is a reason that DLR is frequently utilized at the highest levels by people like the Mendes brothers, The Miyao Brothers, Caio Terra, and many many more.
Why is DLR so good? It presents itself very often. By present itself we mean that there are very many positions in which it is very easy to put in a De La Riva hook and play guard. Once you are able to get a DLR hook in, the guard is very difficult to pass as long as you know the mechanics. The biggest benefit is that you can use your legs to keep your opponents weight off of you unlike in half guard or butterfly where your opponent may be able to distribute their weight on you and put pressure.
Spider guard is another one of the best guards to control the distance. This happens when you are controlling your opponent’s sleeves and you put their feet on their biceps and extend one leg while retracting the other. This allows you to play your opponent like a puppet.
Spider guard may be one of the best guards for a smaller opponent. Your legs are so strong and it is nearly impossible for your opponent to close the distance if you have a good spider guard. Many people dislike the spider guard but it is probably because they don’t know how to beat it. Being in someone’s spider guard may be the most frustrating thing to deal with. Check out these cool spider guard drills below.
Having Grip Strength for Bigger guys
Having good grip strength is important for every aspect of bjj but when dealing with heavier opponents it is even more important. Why is this? Grips are what allow you to play these distance based guards like De La Riva, Spider, and Lasso. So if you can’t keep the grips, it will be difficult to initiate these guards and play a distance based game.
Grips can be one of the most important things when playing these open guards. For example, Spider guard is extremely grip dependent. If you can’t control your opponent’s sleeves and hold onto them, your opponent will be able to get away from the guard and smash you. Maybe they will force you to half guard and put their weight on you.
Grip strength is a pivotal part of being a small guy in bjj because you can be stronger than a big guy with your grips. You can use your grips to be able to maintain complex guards so that your opponent cannot close the distance and get near you. For example, some of the best distance based guards that we continue to mention are the De La Riva, the Spider guard, the lasso guard, and any guard where you are using your legs to keep your opponent away. These guards are going to be the best ones to play for someone who is smaller.
If you are a smaller guy, you will not want to play guards like the closed guard or the half guard because your opponent can stay close to you and smash you. The grip strength is important because if you do not have a good grip for all of the guards that we mentioned above it can be very difficult to maintain them and your opponent will be able to break your grip and close the distance. Another thing that is funny about grips is that typically when a smaller guy has crazy good grip strength they tend to impress all of the bigger guys.
Theoretically, a small guy can easily grip the gi as hard as someone much bigger than them, that said, if you have ever met a guy like Joao Miyao or Mikey Musumeci, the first thing you will notice when you roll them is their grip strength. These guys have the craziest grip strength there is. I remember being able to train with Marcelo Garcia and he got a 2 on 1 on me and I have never felt someone with a grip like that in my life. Marcelo is no giant either, he is an average sized guy but when you roll with him, right away you will notice that he is so strong with his grips.
I asked Marcelo about how his grip is that strong and he just laughed and said, I just know where to put my energy, I am not strong. So there you have it. If you learn which grips are the stronger ones, this si going to help you use that as a focal point and be able to grip stronger than you ever thought possible. It is not so much about literally being the strongest guy in the gym. You do not need to be an Olympic power lifter by any means, you just need to be able to put your strength in the right place. Once you are capable of realizing, “Hey! I need to keep this lasso grip because my life depends on it” then you will focus on that aspect of your rolling more and you will be able to be stronger.
So there you have it the two things that are essential to being the small guy in the room are going to be distance management, and grip strength and those two aspects of bjj work in conjunction. Learning the right guards to play is going to be the most important thing in the world. I am about 5’10 and a very lanky person who competes at light feather weight in IBJJF. That means I am 137 lbs. That said, if I am the person who is paired up with someone over 200lbs, I will immediately initiate a distance based guard, that is if I elect to play guard.
My last bonus tip for the small guys is this, if you are constantly paired up with guys that are much bigger than you are, PLAY TOP! Just because a lot of big guys prefer not to play guard and use smash passing techniques, does not mean you have to play guard. In bjj academies across the world people start on their knees, in reality, this is a fictitious position that would probably not present itself in competition. IF you have two guys who are stubborn and don’t want to play guard, they will just go head to head on the knees and nobody will play guard.
If you are paired with someone who is 20 lbs heavier than you, don’t feel obligated to play guard, in the end of the day it can be dangerous if you are getting smashed by huge guys. Play top, and think of the fact that you are helping them. I had a problem with this because when a lot of the big guys would play guard on me I would pass rather quickly because they where not used to playing guard and part of being small means that SPEED is a huge advantage.
For some reason I felt bad using my speed, I would let big guys play top, establish guards and would not move quick. That was until I was injured and realized that when given the opportunity, most bigger guys had no issue smashing me and using pressure, so when I was given the opportunity to use speed, why did I feel bad? This is bjj, I was being soft. Use every advantage you have when you are small. Use your speed, use your distance based guard, use grip strength, and if you are able to, play top.
We have a video series called the “lightweight guard” that can serve as an excellent reference for anyone who is smaller and always dealing with bigger guys. This is one of the best video series on the market that was made for people who are smaller, or people who just want to learn how to play a more lightweight game. Have you ever met a big guy with a flexible and agile guard? It is a whole other ball game, guys like Keenan Cornelius are just savages, the strength, length, size, technique and sill combined make for a machine.
If you want to pick up some cool tips and tricks to beat up the bigger guys check out World Champion, Matheus Gonzaga's DVD "The lightweight guard."Learning how to keep heavy guys off of you is not only good for light guys but also for heavy guys. So you should check out this videos series regardless of size, skill, age, etc.