When I started Jiu-Jitsu, I weighed 330 pounds and was strong as an ox from competitive powerlifting. I was by far the strongest guy at the dojo and was the biggest guy there too. If you actually believe the non-sense that people can say or the Internet memes you would think that I came into Jiu-Jitsu with the ability to crush people (I don’t mean by sitting on them). This is so far from the truth and as I have found bigger and stronger guys like myself actually have a few disadvantages when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu the first being the stigma of being bigger and stronger than other guys and gals in the dojo and the idea that we only beat them because of the size and strength difference.
If you are a big guy (or gal) I am sure that you have heard the comment along the lines of “the reason why you beat me is because you are big” or “the reason that you submit higher belts is because you are big.” Every big person has most likely heard this at one point and time (or something similar). In that sense it could be more difficult for a bigger and stronger person to actually get recognition for hard work that they have been putting in (you shouldn’t really be rolling for recognition but you get the idea). Helio Gracie was not a bigger and stronger athlete. He was actually to the contrary, smaller and weaker and yet his system was developed for the little guy to beat the big guy. Take a look at Marcelo Garcia for instance; he is beating opponents that are bigger and stronger than him seemingly all the time. From my personal experience, I still get my ass kicked on a regular basis by guys who can’t even squat what I bench press and I also outweigh them by at least 50 pounds. This has not only humbled me but it has also shown me that size and strength is not as important or even the determining factor to who is going to win a match but flawless application of technique.
If a bigger and stronger opponent beats you, could it possibly be that there are holes in your Jiu-Jitsu game? This is a very humbling thing to admit especially if you have been training for a while. I see rolling with a bigger person the same as rolling with a higher belt, sloppy Jiu-Jitsu or technique that skips key steps isn’t going to work. When someone is beating me or passing my guard etc, I am learning to try to see how they are doing it. This allows me to ask the right questions. When I say, “So-and-so beat me because they are bigger and stronger” I am justifying my lack of ability in technique execution and miss out on the opportunity to learn. At the same time I am minimizing the skill level of the other person. If I get beat, it is because I did something wrong and the other opponent did something right. Sure we are not all the same or even come from the same background. I started lifting weights when I was 12. It has taken me years to develop of level of strength that I have. So yes I am stronger (because of years of lifting) but being stronger does not mean that I will be able to beat someone. It comes down to skill and how I can apply my skill.
I have to reiterate that when I first started I was tossed around by a brown belt who weighed maybe 150 pounds soaking wet. I was thrown through the air by a 170 pound black belt. I was dominated by a 180 pound brown belt and submitted by almost everyone. Wait. Shouldn’t I have won because I was bigger and stronger? If you follow the flawed logic of thinking that just because someone is bigger and stronger than you that they will win then I do not think that you really understand Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu is not powerlifting and it is not a strength sport. It is called the gentle art. So does size and strength really mean nothing? No. One night after class I just inquired to our coaches about this and they were under the consensus that size and strength is no replacement for technique and skill. They did say that if technique and skill were equal then size and strength would be the advantage tipping point though how often is it that you will go against someone who is of equal skill? I am not sure. It seems like the levels of skill vary wildly from place to place.
I guess we can say that my main thought in all of this is don’t just seek to discredit someone’s hard work or justify holes in your game. When our holes get exposed this is a good thing! This means that we are lacking in an area and now have room to grow! This past week I was getting my guard passed by a new guy who outweighs me by 50 pounds (he is also a 14 year wrestler) and it would be easy for me to brush it off as it is because he is bigger than me but that is not the case. I was making a mistake with my guard. I asked questions, fixed the mistake and that pass wasn’t effective anymore. To me that is Jiu-Jitsu. So as you can tell, I am not a fan of justifications or excuses. If I get beat it is because of something that I am doing wrong and something that my opponent is doing right. There is always going to be a bigger and stronger opponent and the only way to equalize the situation is to increase your level of skill. Isn’t that why we train? I train because I want to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
Maybe you agree or maybe you disagree and that is okay. My experience has shown me that size is irrelevant when you are out skilled. I keep pointing to the fact that I was thoroughly beaten by a guy who weighed less than a dumbbell that I would do presses with. That example right there shows me what Jiu-Jitsu is all about.