The Struggle of Being a Big Man in Jiu Jitsu and Easy Fixes to Improve your Game
Being a bigger athlete in Jiu Jitsu is a tough task.
Let’s face it, your average big man in your academy is not graced with the freakish athleticism of a Buchecha or a Mahamad Aly. They are not graced with the mobility and flexibility of a Gordon Ryan or the speed of a Leandro Lo. Also, for bigger athletes the drilling is a lot more different as well as the type of techniques you apply to your game. Now, I just want to be the first to say, this is not an article saying as a larger athlete you can’t learn these things. I’ve personally met super heavyweight athletes who love berimbolo and playing inverted guard, but these are very rare situations. So, maybe you’re a bigger athlete struggling and you want some help on how to improve some things, I’m just going to share a few problems I’ve dealt with and tips that helped me improve.
Problem #1- Drilling and trying not to hurt your partner
One of the constant things that has been a struggle for me is drilling. As someone who wants to improve in competition, I have a firm belief that sometimes your drilling has to be at competition speed to teach your body muscle memory. The problem with having that outlook on drilling is that most of the time your drilling partners are not going to be the same size as you.
So, to avoid hurting your partner you maybe take a little bit of the pressure off when learning that toreando pass, or maybe you practice your over-under pass from your knees rather than on your toes to avoid putting too much weight on your teammate. What I've personally learned is that this isn’t a good thing to do, reason being is that it teaches your body bad habits. I noticed I would get caught in kimuras more from the over under position because I was out of position and not on my toes. I remember when I spoke with my professor about my frustration and how I feel about drilling sometimes he told me “train as you fight, fight as you train.”
The Fix- After talking with my professor, he also said to me, to make sure if I wanted that particular training session to be hard, to make sure I drilled with a larger athlete. If I couldn’t find anyone my size, to make sure that I grabbed someone as close to my size as possible. If I couldn’t find that to grab him after class so I could drill with him. He explained to me that it’s vital that I do this because learning a new technique in jiu jitsu is based on feeling the movement done properly how it was meant to be done.
Problem #2- Relying on strength rather than relying on technique during rolls
Another tough thing to deal with is how not to rely on your strength during rolls. As larger athletes during live rolls we sometimes have a habit of relying on brute strength rather than proper technique. I think we have all been there where after a tough roll your partner just says to you, “man you’re so strong.'' Or my personal favorite “how much do you weigh?”, for a very long time as a white belt I felt that my jiu jitsu was not as precise as everyone else’s because I was relying too much on my strength. First things first, it’s natural, it’s not your fault, in the heated battle of a tough roll your body is in instinctually going to rely on certain attributes to better protect it. For us bigger guys, it’s going to be our strength. So again, I went to my professor and discussed this with him and he gave me very sound advice.
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The Fix- My professor asked me, “Does your strength or size bother me?” I said no of course because my professor destroyed me every single roll. He said “never be ashamed of being big in jiu jitsu, it’s a gift, use it to your advantage. If your partner can’t deal with it then maybe he should fix his jiu jitsu.” Another thing he would do is to partner me up with smaller students right after we learned a technique, that way I learned how to practice it in a live roll but I would immediately know because of the immense size difference if I was relying on strength or technique.
Problem #3- Mobility and Endurance
The last thing that I think we as bigger athletes struggle is our mobility and endurance. For this particular problem there is not going to be an easy fix. For these particular issues the only way to get better at them is to constantly practice, train, practice, train. When I first started jiu jitsu I always had a ton of questions for our black belts and other higher belts as to what will improve my cardio for jiu jitsu. Honestly, the answer was always the same, “do more jiu jitsu.” For some athletes this may work but for me personally I started doing double sessions at my academy and would go home absolutely wrecked.
My endurance wasn’t improving and I found myself being even more tired during training and little injuries started popping up. So, for me personally that wasn’t the answer. I ended up reading tons of research online from jiu jitsu athletes and how the trained and I noticed it was the pretty similar. High interval short training sessions, was what they were using. Instead of bench pressing the world I noticed pushups and other bodyweight exercises were being used or kettlebells and battle ropes. Now I am not saying benching is not going to help your jiu jitsu, if that works for you then use it. For me, I was focused on cardio and not absolute strength. Once I started changing my workouts and went to single training session days, I saw my cardio improve by leaps and bounds. Now for the elusive mobility portion, this is going to be hard for us as larger athletes but I see to many team mates just say I’m too big for that I can’t do that. When I joined my new academy and I would say things like that, my professor would immediately say, “why can’t you do that?” He was one of the first people who really started showing me inverted techniques and modern guard techniques, which blew my mind and opened a whole new world of jiu jitsu for me. So, who cares if you’re a bigger athlete, don’t limit yourself and learn every beautiful technique our sport has to offer.
The Fix- Endurance- Train hard off the mats but train smart.
Mobility- Practice, Practice, Practice
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