Jiu-Jitsu Physical Attributes: Lankiness

In some of my other articles I’ve touched on the value and potential drawbacks of some athletic traits that jiujiteiros may possess (other than strength.) Size is a big factor but there’s another that is very often emphasized and that is length. By length I am referring to height/limb length. Lanky people have an advantage in some positions and situations and a disadvantage in others.

For starters, the longer you are the more you have available with which to wrap an opponent up. Being a bit on the lanky side means that I can put huskier opponents in my guard than many, and make them suffer there. I always love the look on someone’s face when they go for a knee cutter pass and find that the length of my legs means they’ll have to either figure out a modification or another way around.

Leverage is a huge strength for lankier competitors. The idea is that having long limbs means you have longer levers, longer levers means more force is available to you with less effort. This is particularly potent when certain submissions are being used (arm bars are a key example.)

Lankiness has some distinct disadvantages too. For starters the longer you are the more of you there is to submit. I love taking weird sleeve grips on really tall guys and letting them try to figure out a good way to break those grips. Try it sometime on someone 4+ inches taller than you: take a grip right near one of their triceps and watch them try to deal with it.

Another disadvantage of lankiness is that it can be very difficult to find gis that fit right. This is actually kind a big deal. Certain brands offer L sizes, if you’re lanky and are having a hard time finding a decent fitting gi, try a brand that offers L sizes. They may be able to hook you up right.

Yet another disadvantage of lankiness is that very often your muscle mass is much lower than others in your bracket. For example: if I am 6’5 190 pounds I am far less physically dense than someone 6’0 at the same weight. Given that this is a physical attribute that cannot be changed, regardless of your height learn to use it to your advantage and know that at any height you have SOME sort of advantage, though many of the greatest jiujiteiros ever have been lean and lanky…

Unlike strength, speed, flexibility and even overall weight we have absolutely no control over the length of our limbs. Therefore, from the very beginning of learning jiu jitsu I’d advise anyone to begin learning the game suited for their height. Long/lanky people tend to be good at playing guard. Just look at Keenan Cornelius who has come up with some of his own guards, that guy is really lanky.

Are you lanky? If you are lanky do you find that you favor certain positions or techniques that are attributed to having longer limbs? If you aren’t lanky, do you find that lanky people are able to take advantage of their lankiness when rolling with you?


  1. As a jiu jitsu fighter who is about average, I’ve trained with both lankier fighters and shorter fighters. I’ve found the biggest advantage to being lanky is the ability to create distance when passing guard, especially the torreando pass and not allowing the opponent to regain their guard. Contrary to your point on leverage, I’ve found that having longer limbs creates levers in favor of the opponent where they are more easily able to control me because my muscles have to work harder when their is more distance from a major joint to the end of a limb. To counter this, I typically wait for them to let go and anticipate the next move rather than try to out-muscle their grip.

    When the opponent is lankier than me, I’ve found I have to recalibrate all my moves to account for the location of their hands and feet. From almost any position, I will usually have to reach further to control one of their appendages, which causes me to over-expose myself.

    Another great article, Emil! Keep it up!


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