I think I was supposed to maintain some semblance of professionalism and decorum when Lachlan Giles heel hooked his way through Kaynan Duarte, Patrick Gaudio, and Mahamed Aly — all 99kg or +99kg competitors — at ADCC last weekend, but I could not, and I did not.
Instead, I joined the thousands of people in the Anaheim Convention Center who threw their hands in the air in shock, yelling, “Holy sh*t. Oh my god. Holy sh*t.” I felt like my team had won the Superbowl. I had no idea how emotionally invested I was in Giles’ ability to win a medal in a division full of huge, brawny dudes until it actually happened and I realized it was the only thing I would be able to talk about for, like, a week.
To be clear, I’ve been a Lachlan Giles fan for a while. He always gives great interviews, which makes my life way easier:
Beyond that, though, Giles is super, super smart. He wrote his thesis on knee rehabilitation, has a PhD in physiotherapy, and put four peer-reviewed publications out into the world. The guy is an expert on how not to hurt your knees, and he’s made a name for himself by putting others at risk for necessary knee surgery.
Giles is like a real-life Marvel superhero: an unassuming nerd who uses his own strengths to defeat guys who embody the traditional definition of “strength.”
That’s why I believe I and so many others felt a personal connection to his victories at ADCC. For every Nick Rodriguez who walks into a jiu-jitsu gym and immediately thrives by adding hard work into their already existing talent and physical advantages, there’s a smaller grappler who walks in and immediately gets smashed by everyone they roll with. If they’re like me, they’ve probably also had coaches who had the very best of intentions, but as larger grapplers themselves, couldn’t understand how to solve the problems that face smaller jiu-jitsu practitioners when going up against opponents who were over 100lbs heavier than them.
Now, Giles is not itty bitty, having competed in the 77kg weight class instead of the 66kg division before slaying his way through the absolute division, but compared to Duarte, Gaudio, and Aly, he sure looked like it. And for us smaller grapplers (what’s up, fellow 125lb-ers?), that was all that mattered. We saw Giles implement a game plan that used his strengths (ability to eliminate space, leverage, speed, and advanced leg lock knowledge) against his opponents’ weaknesses (primarily not being as good at leg locks as Giles, but also being a bit slower and unable to untangle themselves from the space that Giles had eliminated). That basic concept is what jiu-jitsu is all about, but seeing someone with a distinct size disadvantage force his opponents to play to his strengths and then tap them out was awe-inspiring.
Beyond the competitive side of things, though, Giles’ wins were straight-up validating for me. Like many smaller people, I was told when I started training that jiu-jitsu was perfect for dismantling larger, stronger opponents. As I improved over time, I found the statement to be true… against big, muscly new guys who didn’t know what they were doing. After a few years on the mats, though, those once-new guys added technique to their brute strength and size, and my superior use of angles and leverage would start to become less efficient against them. It’s not that I no longer believed that technique could conquer size — it was that seeing it in action at the highest level of grappling took what I’d heard on my first day of jiu-jitsu and applied it to three scenarios involving some of the best grapplers in the world.
The result was a mix between a reminder and a fresh breath of inspiration.
The word “can’t” enters all of our heads when we train sometimes, and for me, it often pops up as an excuse when I roll with my gigantic teammates. It’s the lovechild of my exhaustion and frustration, and it cries extra loud when I’m getting squished by someone twice my weight or can’t get my t-rex arms or tree stump legs to maneuver around my larger training partners the way I want them to. It’s easy to give up when you’re small and your opponent isn’t, especially when you don’t see anyone below the upper weight divisions winning in absolute categories. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re just not meant to win against these bigger people. You can go home annoyed, but comforted by the fact that your size acts as a shield, offering itself as an answer to questions like, “Why can’t you sweep him?”
In just a few minutes, Giles shattered that shield. Regardless of how sure he was that he’d do that well in the absolute division, he didn’t just shrug his shoulders or try his best to simply survive until the clock ran out. Instead, he went in there with a solid plan and put himself in the perfect position to execute it. The result — bronze and shiny around his neck — speaks for itself.
I am not half as talented or dedicated or intelligent as Giles is. I enjoy my time in jiu-jitsu as a hobbyist who competes sometimes and have no desire to go through the crazy training required to get to the level of all the ADCC competitors. Both the hobbyist and competitive side of me, however, have taken home some valuable lessons from watching the Giant Slayer earn his new nickname. After all, taking down the giants in our own minds is the first step to taking down the giants on the mats.