How Does Size & Weight Difference Matter in BJJ?

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BJJ is supposed to be a martial art where a small but skilled player can beat a bigger but less skilled player.

It’s also a sport with different weight categories just like other major grappling sports. I think the difference between two division in these sports is about 6-7kg/13-15lbs, and that sounds fair enough. Even that much of weight difference can make things difficult for you.

But if you’ve spent some amount of time practicing BJJ, and unless you weigh over 115kg/255lbs, you are likely to run into training partners who are heavier than you from time to time.

When you roll against someone much heavier than you, what’s reasonable to expect, considering size difference?

If you have ever wondered about it, this email is for you.

I’m going to write about how I go against bigger training partners so you can feel more assured about your experience.

For those of you who don’t know about me much, here are my stats quickly:

  • I started practicing BJJ in 2002.
  • I’m 38 years old at the time of writing this email.
  • I competed a lot in the past, and I still compete.
  • I trained in many places & countries, and I know I’m decent in terms of my skills. Competition and sparring are different things, but I can hang in and do a decent job against high-level gi players around my size in a sparring context.​

Now, my weight… I usually weigh about 68kg/150lbs. While this is more or less the average weight for a Japanese guy, that’s not the case here in Serbia — I think most of my training partners are about 13-22kg/30-50lbs heavier than me.

What happens if I roll with a guy who weighs around 100kg/220lbs? (So, the weight difference is about 30kg/66lbs.)

Of course, this person’s skillset matters a lot regarding how difficult it will be for me to deal with him. But I can tell you this right away…

No matter his skill level, the weight difference alone will make things difficult for me. I repeat, his skill level doesn’t matter. If he is much heavier than me, it becomes more difficult to deal with him.

If he is a complete beginner and has no clue about what he is supposed to do, I can make him wonder how a smaller person like me can sweep him like a rag doll and create pressure that feels like getting stepped on by an elephant.

But if he knows better than that — say, he is a blue belt or above — it’s a different story. He could use brute force to escape my positional control if he wanted to. It probably won’t work repeatedly, but it can work once or twice in a sparring round.

Sweeping him would be difficult, especially if he kneels down and sits on his butt. The more he disengages, the harder it becomes for me to move him. And if I’m not careful, he can capitalize on a small mistake I make. So, from my perspective, against bigger opponents, I really can’t allow myself to make a mistake — especially against higher belts.

For smaller players, it’s crucial to know how to create the greatest amount of pressure they can create by focusing on controlling the right spots precisely because they can’t substitute the lack of precision-based pressure with their weight.

It might sound harsh, but bigger players can often rely on their weight to create pressure. It’s not the best kind of pressure, but it does the job. So, even if they don’t know how to be precise about their weight distribution and where to concentrate their weight, they can give a hard time to smaller players, who may be more skilled.

And, if they do know how to distribute their weight well and have proper technique, it becomes much more difficult for lighter players to deal with them.

If you are a lighter player in your training environment, you already know it’s difficult for you to deal with heavier players. What I’m sharing with you here is basically that it’s difficult for an experienced person like me, too! So there’s absolutely no shame in, say, not being able to deal with a super heavy blue belt or purple belt (or even white belt) well when you are a purple/brown/black belt.

But in the long run, I think we should all aim to become able to handle bigger opponents with around blue-purple belt level skills. I just made it up, but I suppose it’s not such a bad goal to have.

Practically speaking, you can start with survival against bigger opponents. Survival is always the first step of learning your new BJJ skills (in this case, a skillset required for dealing with bigger opponents). It may feel like a boring sparring round but focus on staying safe and not getting crushed. And if you do get crushed, try not to get submitted. Escape from a bad position, and get back to your guard, and so on.

Another thing you can work on is controlling your opponent rather than relying on your speed and size advantage that comes with being smaller than your opponent. One of the best things you can learn from rolling with bigger opponents is how to control a stronger opponent. If you can pass or pin someone much heavier than you with the greatest pressure you can create, it will be much easier for you to pass or pin someone around your size.

Be careful if you get caught in a position where your opponent’s weight is loaded onto you in a bad way. Verbal tap early, if necessary, and reset your position. There’s no shame in that. Preventing yourself (and your partner) from getting injured is one of your main responsibilities in your training environment.

The size difference is real, and your skill level must be way superior to your opponent’s to nullify your opponent’s size advantage over you. So, don’t worry or be discouraged if you get “beaten” by heavier but supposedly less skilled training partners.

People may not talk about it, but it’s pretty normal for most people. With that realistic expectation, focus on improving your skills and enjoy this challenge of dealing with bigger opponents.

p.s. Take a look at how Lucas Lepri takes on someone who is nearly twice heavier than him in this match. Lepri’s skill level is insane. His opponent is not just a big guy, either — he’s a legit black belt. But Lepri beats him with superior technique🤯