BJJ Training with Larger Opponents

Get ready because there will be a day when you show up at the gym and you are going to be the smallest and/or lightest weight person in the gym. Get ready to be crushed!! Or maybe not. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was founded and perfected by the Gracie family who were men of small (light weight) stature that relied upon leverage not strength and size. The beauty of BJJ is the fact that you can beat a larger opponent with leverage. So please, look forward to the days when you are the smallest person at the gym and you HAVE to work with larger partners. Just so you know, when I show up at the gym I’m always the oldest and typically lightest weight (as of this writing I’m 52 and weight 180 lbs).

So if you are a white or blue belt, how do you turn this into a great day of training? Follow these 4 basic strategies and you will have a good day.

    1. Never Be Flat On Your Back – Since it is highly likely you will be on the bottom a lot when training with a larger and stronger opponent, concentrate on never being flat on your back. By constantly working to stay on your side you are creating opportunities and space. Like I have already said, I weigh 180 lbs. But, even when I train with a white belt that achieve side control and flattens me out, I have a miserable time working back to the guard or half guard. On the flip side, when I train with world class black belts that easily pass my guard, I give them a hard time by never being flat on my back. By being on your side and not flat, you have better defense and more opportunities to create space to recapture guard.
    2. Use Your Hips -Do everything you can to not let a larger opponent shut down your hips and movement. If your opponent shuts your hips down, you’re in trouble. Your only option at that point is to use strength-based movements to improve your position. Strength-based movements are low percentage and will zap your energy. There is nothing worse than having someone that out weights you by 100 lbs. on top of you when you have no energy left. Keep your hips moving and never let your opponent settle his hips in a dominate position, or shut your hips down.
    3. Be Aggressive – Now this doesn’t mean go crazy like it’s the last seconds of the Pan Am’s and you need one point to win the gold. But, when you are aggressive, you set the pace and terms of the roll. By attacking with legitimate submission attempts and sweeps, you put the larger player on defense. Since your opponent is thinking defense, he’s not thinking offense and you have more opportunities.
    4. Conserve Your Energy For Techniques That Help – Not every position that you end up in while rolling needs all your energy. Conserve your energy when you can and try to relax as much as possible. But, when the timing is right, explode into the technique that improves your position. Think about the hierarchy of positions and use your energy to work up the ladder. By using your energy appropriately you will enjoy rolling a lot more.

Rolling with larger and stronger opponents can help you make huge strides in the development of your game. It is the ultimate proving ground for your BJJ techniques and how you use them. So embrace the challenge and as always have fun!

I’ll see you on the mat!


Wayne Spinola is an instructor at Open Guard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing.

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