Tips for Rolling with Larger Opponents

In jiu jitsu there is a big demand for information about How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent; after all, the sport was designed to help David defeat Goliath. Unfortunately, size does matter and though the skilled has a better chance at beating the unskilled, when there are large size discrepancies, your technique just won’t work.

When I arrived at Titans Fitness Academy today for open mat, only Craig Ferguson and Danny Paterson had shown up to train. Both guys are much larger than I am however I didn’t despair because they are great training partners and we always have good rolls – we just have to practice some give-and-take to make sure we both get something out of it.

Remember, training isn’t always about going hard AF and getting submissions. It’s also about teamwork and learning. This article discusses the kinds of rolls where you are getting better together at a pace that is easy on the body. In addition to constant improvement, we strive towards longevity.

Since the gym was quiet, we decided to film a couple of rolls to show that even though Danny and Craig are twice my size, rolling together can be fun. Afterwards, I asked for a few tips for the smaller person when it comes to making the rolls better for our larger partners. Often smaller people expect the roll to be all about them but we must try not to be selfish otherwise we may find that people don’t want to roll with us.

Me and Danny Patterson

Keep moving

Danny and Craig had some great pointers. Craig recommended that the smaller partner keep moving. “The hardest thing for the biggest guys is dealing with opponents who can out-maneuver them. If I am giving you space, don’t take the opportunity to try grinding me out. That’s my game and I will beat you every time. I need to give smaller people space to avoid crushing them, so use it to give me a challenge where I am weakest.”

Danny agreed, he said, “I always love rolling with you and the quickness and technique that you possess; it pushes me to work on my speed and technique.”

I was concerned that sometimes the speed of smaller people might be too much, especially the spazzy lower belt trying desperately to do well. I worried that random elbows and knees may be off-putting.

Danny said, “I think the spazzy stuff partners do is something we all go through early on in our jiu jitsu journey. I was probably horrible to roll with when I started but as I got more comfortable with myself, I appreciate and value rolling with both big and small partners. I think I would have to have an insecurity or self-worth issue if I had any issues rolling with smaller people. I always keep in mind that I am a very big person and want to adjust so that rolls are fun and enjoyable for everyone!”

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You never fail if you don’t try, right?

When we are newer or much smaller, we may doubt the effectiveness of our games and not try things because we fear failure. I will basically try anything because I am just at the gym having fun and getting some exercise at the same time. If someone gives me an opportunity, I take it. Who cares if they let you? Who cares if it doesn’t work? What if you try something and it does work or even almost does? What if you can evolve the movement over time by repeatedly trying it in a new way when you have the opportunity?

Craig stressed, “Don’t concede positions because you think the escape is unrealistic given the size difference. I need to see the escapes and reactions in order to improve. If you tap every time I even put on even the lightest grip it doesn’t help me against somebody stronger.”

Additionally, “If I say “come at me, bro”, then COME AT ME, BRO! Nothing is worse than a smaller person (especially if it’s a lower belt), who won’t engage. I am going to let you try some stuff so please use the opportunities I am giving you . Take the pass. I am probably working on my side control escapes. If you don’t pass when I am not even trying to play guard, nobody is getting anything out of this”

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Me and Craig Ferguson sporting TechNacity gis

“It would work on someone my size”

One thing I always struggle with when rolling with larger opponents is when my technique doesn’t work and I think I’m doing the move correctly. Is it because my technique is wrong or because I am the size of a preteen? Only time will tell. What I don’t do is write it off as a size issue right away.

Craig agrees. He said, “The absolute worst is when somebody does a shit move and says, “It would work on somebody my size.” No, it won’t. It’s a garbage technique.”

Input from your partners can be valuable. Take heed. You’re probably not the first person to try that shitty technique on them. Your best revenge is to prove them wrong, if you truly believe in your game.

My rolls with Craig and Danny are below. We had a lot of fun! I hope you make the most of your training with all of your training partners, big or small!

Sally vs Craig

Sally vs Danny

Responses to “Tips for Rolling with Larger Opponents”

  1. The Philosophical Fighter

    I’m about 185 with many of my students being 225+. I also do Sumo in open weight divisions. You offer great advice. I agree with Craig. Size does not make up for or add to poor technique.

  2. How to Survive and Thrive in Martial Arts Training – Eat. Train. Lift.

    […] make it fun for you and your partner, ie. let them try stuff, too, and enjoy the rewards of being a good partner. Maybe people will like you and want to train with you more than […]

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