Why Does Jiu-Jitsu Work Against A Bigger Opponent?


I had a very new student try a jiu-jitsu class and, to my surprise, then return to sign up for a membership. I was surprised because she was far from a shaved head, early-20’s dude with tribal tatts and a load of testosterone. She was a slim, pretty girl who worked in an office wanted to start learning jiu-jitsu.

I asked her what made her interested in jiu-jitsu?

She answered simply “I can see that the smaller person can defeat the bigger person and the technique is more important than muscle.”

Size and strength DO matter when it comes to fighting. But it is also true that sharp technique can make up for a large difference in size and strength.

Without the mysticism of the old Oriental martial arts traditions of “Death touches,” pressure points, and chi power knockouts, it really is based on a few simple principles.


“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” – Archimedes

Most jiu-jitsu sweeps and positional controls, even guard passes, can be dissected into using levers against the opponent. You can think of many BJJ techniques where using the correct leverage can effortlessly sweep a much bigger opponent.

Helio Gracie perhaps is most known for refining many jiu-jitsu techniques to work using maximum leverage.

Matching Strongest Against Weakest

Your arm might be twice the size of mine, but I bet that my legs and hips are still stronger than your arm. Even the smallest person in your BJJ academy can leg press two-hundred pounds or more, which is more than enough force when applied to a weaker joint to cause a tap out.

Let’s use the straight arm lock from the mount as an example. If the smaller person can use the most powerful muscle chain in the body (the legs and hips) and apply force to the much weaker elbow joint of the opponent, a submission is possible.

How often has your instructor corrected your technique and implored you to “Use your entire body!” to apply the Kimura, or “Use your hips!” to escape underneath a heavy opponent?

Action / Reaction

This is the main underlying principle behind the effortless execution of a judo throw.

Illustrated simply: if you and I push each other (and you are bigger and stronger) you will win. However, if I trick you and when you go to oppose my push, I suddenly pull you, I will, in effect, be using your own power against you.

You don’t need to be a wise old Tai Chi master from the mountains of China to use this principle. Push. When the opponent instinctively returns the push, you surprise them with a pull. Sleep!

There are more principles, but these are three of the main principles that allow a smaller, weaker opponent to defeat a larger opponent.

Isn’t jiu-jitsu great?!