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Dealing with Bigger, Stronger, AND Skilled Opponents in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Updated on September 11, 2016

When The Absolute Division Becomes Daily Living

Students of the grappling arts eventually develop their own personal game. A personal game is going to be one that is unique to you yet still adheres to the basic structural principles of the art. You can do whatever you want with the techniques you have learned, but you still have to perform the techniques correctly. If not, then your technique and skill is going to be lacking and filled with a number of holes. This is going to be true of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Submission Wrestling, Judo, Amateur Wrestling, and, honestly, any martial art or combat sport you can think of. Weight classes exist for a reason.

Your game may be a consistent one, but it does have to be tweaked when you are dealing with different types of opponents. You basic game may be employing chaining three different guards together to execute your go to moves which could be triangles and armbars. A purple belt can likely work very smoothly hitting his submissions from his guard when rolling against white belts, but he/she is going to have a less easier time when rolling against other purple belts. Against black belts, the window of opportunity to hit the triangles and armbars is so narrow that the ability to even try for such moves can be a major risk.

The game you employ is always going to be based on the moves you are the best at performing. How you perform them does have to change when you are facing different opponents.

The Bigger, Stronger Opponent in Context

The most common opponent in which you have to tweak your game for is going to be one who is bigger and stronger. Unless you are someone who is 210lbs or more, you likely are going to run into some who has a weight and strength advantage over you. Really, anyone who is a middleweight or smaller has to grapple with bigger, stronger opponents all the time. Changes to the game are going to be necessary when you are rolling with someone outside of your weight class.

What about the smaller opponent being able to beat the larger one? Context is everything.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has always been promoted as an art where a smaller person can defeat a larger one. This is a partially true assessment. A good level of skill in BJJ helps out the playing field when having to deal with someone who might not know any Jiu Jitsu. Size and strength may even hamper the opponent's ability to come out on top. A big strong person solely trying to muscle a skilled, smaller technician might do little more than just open himself up for being countered. Using nothing but strength and muscle all the time makes escapes and taking the back a lot easier for the BJJ player who has dealt with larger opponents time and time again.

When you are grappling against someone is a larger, stronger, and has some skills, well, that extra strength and power can worth in the big man's favor.

Bigger, Stronger, AND with a Year of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Submission Wrestling Skill

For a 130lbs or 150lbs blue belt to survive against a 180lb white belt who has a year or more experience, well, it is going to a lot harder for the small person to come out on top. Harder does not mean impossible. The key here is to always tweak your game so that you can work around the size and strength of the other person.

The first rule should always be do not act like you are rolling in your weight class when the other person is quite bigger and heavier. Trying to match a person strength for strength when they are stronger than you is going to lead to a very predictable result. Most will get frustrated when they try to overcome their stronger opponent/training partner, but the shouldn't. Instead, they should start working on wrestling and BJJ grappling strategies that can aid in overcoming the strength and weight advantage. Work a strategy better for the absolute division than one for the even playing field of a designated weight division.

This does not mean you should roll at a competitive pace in class. You can slow things down to the degree you wish. (Rolling slower and more controlled in class is most advisable) Just never lose sight over having to contend with a skilled opponent who may have 30lbs on you. Frustrating the opponent might be the one thing that works tremendously well.

Posture, Pacing, and Deliberation

There are some very basic things that can aid in making a stronger opponent the one who is frustrated. Keeping your limbs in close and your neck tucked down makes the stronger person have to work a lot harder to submit you. Curling yourself up a bit so you can gain mobility not unlike a ball is helpful because doing so allows you to get under the other person's center of gravity easier.

You also have to be a little smarter when trying to defeat a bigger opponent. A smaller person is going to have a much harder time submitting a stronger and bigger person with a bent armlock of a kneebar. Taking the back for a choke or using the triangle are more logical offensive strategies to employ. Sweeps are truly great to specialize in because a good sweep can take anyone who is a lot bigger off his base and onto his back quickly.

Having patience is going to be enormously important. Sometimes, you really have to wait the larger opponent out so he makes a mistake. Picking the right time to make a move enhances the ability to pull it off. You do not want to mistime a move because you may end up in a scramble, which gives an advantage to the bigger, stronger, heavier opponent.

The Live and Learn Maxim

Nothing is going to help you become better at beating larger, skilled opponents than experience. Take a live an learn attitude and do so over the long haul. With each and every wrestling session with a larger, stronger training partner, note what works and what does not. Slowly improve your weaknesses and work on your strengths. Do this every time you go to class and you slowing will gain the savvy from experience that can aid you in overcoming heavier, tougher fighters.


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    • TCaro profile image

      Tony Caro 3 years ago

      Yeah, the early UFCs were quite shocking to the martial arts community back in 1993/1994.

    • profile image

      Brian Urbina 3 years ago

      Nice article, I can't help but remember Royce Gracie in the UFC, taking on seemingly bigger and more powerful opponents.

      As you mentioned, the great thing about Jiu Jitsu is that the more technical fighter will always prevail over mass and strength