How to deal with being substantially larger or stronger than your training partners

I would never be so arrogant or presumptuous to tell a jiu-jitsu practitioner to not use their physical strength, flexibility, or any other physical attribute, because the reality is that we all have physical attributes that we use to our advantage. Even the smallest, weakest guy in the room will eventually find something that their body can do that yours can’t and will find a way to use that against you when you roll.  But the reality is that being larger than other people in the room can ultimately lead to some inherent disadvantages

I do, however, notice that some people insist on only playing to their strengths when they roll. While that can be good for me as it forces me to learn to work around the other person’s strengths, which then translates to me being able to address opponents who possess those strengths when I compete, it is ultimately harmful to the individual who relies upon their strengths.

Jiu-jitsu is about learning how to use technique to overcome adversity and make the act of overcoming adversity look effortless.  It’s about using timing to off balance another person to the point that whatever physical advantages they may have become irrelevant.

A problem arises when your mindset in the gym is binary.  When you view the outcome of any given roll as “win” or “lose” rather than simple “rolling,” you begin to place value upon positions and situations that will require you to overuse your physical attributes. That can lead to the development of bad habits.

This article was prompted by one of my training partners who is substantially larger and stronger than just about anyone else on my team.  The gentleman in question is a fantastic training partner from whom I’ve learned so much from because of the pressure he is able to apply, his ability to use his physical strength to get out of submissions, and his ability to improve his position. Once he gets to a dominant position, he demolishes me.

The problem that I’ve seen arise for this fellow is that when he comes up against someone who is as large or strong (or worse yet, larger or stronger than he is) he finds himself at a disadvantage.  He is not a closed-minded person nor is he the kind of person who gets prideful on the mat, so I have been trying to help him come up with a solution to the unenviable issue of being the biggest, strongest guy in the room. I have some thoughts that may be helpful to anyone in that situation.

The larger the size difference between you and a training partner, the more screwed you should be when you are rolling with them.  If you have 20 pounds on the other person, play a position that you don’t normally play.  For example, if you’re a closed guard player, play spider or half.  When that advantage reaches 40 pounds, start to give them dangerous positions like side control, mount, or back mount.  I think that once there’s a 70-pound deficit or more, the person with the size advantage should try to start rolls in submissions and try to find their way out without exertion.

Here’s the thing: if there’s a large size difference between you and your training partner and you make a real effort, you will never find yourself in trouble in training, and will never get used to being in trouble.  One of the best tools that jiu-jitsu gives us is the ability to be comfortable and composed in uncomfortable and dangerous positions.  Don’t let being larger than others in the room rob you of that gift that the gentle art offers us.

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo ( NottaRookie, YM ( discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap ( discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


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