Am I Too Big To Play ‘Small People Jits’?

In the scheme of things I haven’t been training long at all. I’m almost four years into my journey; however, the experiences I have had and the opportunities I have had to train and learn from so many people have helped me develop a solid base for my game.

At my first and current club, my full time head coach is a World Champion blackbelt. Awesome right, she is about 5’5″, weighs about 65kg, and is quick, flexible, agile, and obviously her jiu-jitsu is second to none.

Enter me: 6’1″, 95kgs, medium pace, as flexible as steel, agile as a rhino, and well my jiu-jitsu, let’s just say it is under development. When I first started training I would sit on the mats and laugh to myself when my coach would show her favorite techniques and assure us that it would work no matter who tried it. I wasn’t convinced. Although I always did it exactly as she showed it.

Needless to say it wasn’t really going to be a part of my long term arsenal, or so I thought.

When I brought to my coach’s attention that I wasn’t sure how I was going to replicate her game, she told me that she didn’t want me to replicate hers; she wanted me to develop my own. I was very fortunate to ask this so early into my training. She went on to tell me that her head coach was actually my size and that a lot of her game had been adapted from his, so there is no reason I can’t make the adaptions from hers to suit me.

The penny dropped, sort of. Keep in mind at this point I was two months in. The first 12 months was mayhem. Imagine a 100kg white belt trying to go inverted or play De La Riva and its many variations. I decided with some coaching to stick to the basics get a hold of them before trying anything too exciting.

This is where things started to get interesting. After about a year of training I went to the USA with my family and managed to sneak into a couple of gyms to train. I was super nervous, it was the first time I had trained outside of my gym and I was about to learn from someone I had never met or seen coach before. What if I couldn’t do the things he wanted? Would he simply kick me off the mats and tell me to come for a beginners class? There were so many questions running through my head.

When I met the instructor, he was super accommodating, asked me a lot of questions about my journey, where I trained, and how long I would be staying in California? He told me a lot about himself: where he was from, what he had done, and what friends he had in Sydney. He really put my nerves at ease…until we started the warm-ups!

Most of the warm-ups he did, apart from the standard hip escapes and upas were completely new to me. There were a lot of throw entries, a lot of trip set-ups, and then he said the dreaded word cartwheel. I laughed it off and said, “Nope that’s not for me!” He simply looked and said it was about to be and to try my best. I did, I failed.

To be honest, even after four years, I still try, I still fail. We got to drilling and eventually rolling when he came over and asked me who my coach was back home. Before I could answer, he said to me that he thinks my coach is much smaller than I am. I told him about her and he laughed. He knew of her and had met her at the previous year’s world masters. He asked me a little more about my game and how I like to play. We had a roll and said that I was still too focused on playing a small person’s game, that I needed to adapt it to suit my body type, and showed me a few tips on how to adjust it to suit.

We rolled again, and with just those small adjustments, I finally started to understand what my coach was talking about. I could play a similar game after all. The difference was that, rather than using speed and agility like her, I mostly used pressure and control, which suited my frame much more. I returned home with a new outlook on things.

As I mentioned at the start of the article, I have been very fortunate to learn from many different coaches over the period I have been training and I have developed an idea of how I want my game to look. I have dropped a bit of weight, changed my body composition since I started, and although you still won’t see me pulling off any serious attempts at a cartwheel pass, my game has developed a nice mix of pressure, control and brief moments of explosiveness. It still has a long way to go, but I am happy about the way it is developing. I am excited about the direction my game will take in the future and especially excited about all the people I may meet and learn from along the way.

Personally I think it is important to learn from as many different people as possible. If we expose ourselves to only one style, I feel as though our games become stagnant and predictable. The more we have in our toolbox the more success we will have over time. If you are reading this and you are in your first six to 12 months of training BJJ, I encourage you to ask questions. If you don’t understand a technique or feel like it won’t work for you due to your body make-up, ask for variations.

Seek progress, don’t expect it. If you are of a smaller build training under a man mountain, ask how you can use your size to your advantage when you are outweighed by your opponent. If your situation is like mine and you are always one of the bigger guys on the mats, focus on a slow controlled style of jiu jitsu. Who cares how it looks, as long as it gets the job done, right? I guess I’m still working on that part.

Until next time

See ya on the mats!


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