Big Guys Need to Start Playing Guard

Photo by MP Sports Photography

Being a big guy in Jiu-Jitsu has its advantages but it also comes with a slew of disadvantages. Yeah, big guys tend to be strong on the top. Gravity really helps with all of those pressure passes and with making top pressure unbearable to an opponent on bottom.

However, while on bottom, big guys tend to have the most trouble. It’s difficult to move, shrimp, or do much of anything that requires effort. Big guys get stuck. A few years ago, Bishop BJJ conducted a scientific study of how matches are won at worlds in the black belt divisions. For super heavyweights and ultra heavyweights, usually the person who scored the takedown won the match. As you can see in the graphs below, even when pulling guard, big guys don’t tend to win unless they are on top.


Is it because big guys are incapable of working guard? Does all of the added weight make it impossible?

I would argue that no, that is simply not the case, but I admittedly do so based on anecdotal evidence. For example, I had the chance to compete against Rick Camarero last year. At one point I wound up in his guard. Rick played an exceptional open guard and made life very difficult for me.

Any other big guys I have rolled with that have done well with their guards all have one thing in common: they play an opened guard.

I had the chance to learn a few things from Brian Littlefield of Origin recently. Though he isn’t massive, hes still a fairly big guy. He taught lasso guard and expounded on its efficacy against larger opponents. As I took time to dwell on this, it occurred to me that this is also a technique that many smaller competitors use against larger opponents.

Closed guard can be wonderful against an opponent of an average or smaller frame. However, when an opponent is larger and closed guard is more difficult, an opened guard seems to be the way to go.

So should big guys be practicing open guard? Yes. Absolutely.

I think I speak for most big guys out there when I say that being on bottom when grappling against someone our own weight is miserable. We hate it just as much as any smaller opponent. The difference is that we intentionally avoid it. We know we’re good on top and so we stay there while practicing. Being on bottom is painful and tough.

I would argue that as big guys we owe it to ourselves and to the sport to be more opened to working on our bottom games. We need to put that effort in to advance the sport in our weight divisions. If we want to be the best, we need to sturdy our weaknesses. I challenge all big guys reading this to work on being on bottom for at least a week. Pull guard on everyone you roll with in your gym and see how it goes.


  1. Playing guard is great, but looking over the statistics, (very interesting btw), looks like bigger guys would do very well to spend more time cross training Judo and Wrestling.

    And the smaller guys should learn to apply proper pressure too.

  2. I’m a super-heavy competitor. I try and work my guard in the gym a lot, and that’s mainly because I want to expand my jiu-jitsu and not be a one trick pony.

    However, when I compete I try and smash as much as possible and play the top. Like you said, we big guys have weight and gravity and believe me it sucks when a 300 point dude lays on top of you.

    So, in the gym/dojo, sure, big guys work the guard. In a tournament, do what works to win.

  3. When I first got my blue belt my instructor told me that I was on bottom until he said otherwise. For almost a year i started on bottom and worked my way to top. This did a couple of things. I learned some really nice submissions from bottom, and I am comfortable being there.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here