As much as we like to promote jiu-jitsu as “the small person’s martial art,” actual small grapplers know that being in the lighter weight classes isn’t as fun or inspiring when you’re up against someone who’s big, strong, and knows a lot of technique.
Being a smaller jiu-jitsu practitioner is empowering when you’re rolling with a hulking newbie who has never seen a triangle choke before (much less been submitted by one when they’ve thought they had the upper hand), but beyond that, it’s often just frustrating. Techniques taught by large instructors may not always work right for you, and even when you’re using every bit of technique and every ounce of your limited weight to hold down a larger teammate, it can all feel futile when they have any amount of their own technique backing up their natural ability to push you off their chest with the strength of one arm.
Then, of course, there’s the frustration that comes with some people not taking you seriously as a rolling partner, feeling like they have to take it easy on you to protect your fragile little hummingbird bones. They might also assume you’ll be a “rest round,” and while, hey, sometimes they’re right, they may also decide to max out their power levels when they realize you’ll present more of a challenge than they anticipated.
Every weight class and body type comes with its own set of perks and challenges in jiu-jitsu. It’s part of the game. But larger grapplers will likely never get the chance to roll with someone who’s literally twice their weight. They may never have to contend with the fact that they’re the lightest person in the room by a solid fifty pounds. And while that may feel frustrating to those of us who wish that everyone could understand what it’s like to be bicep-curled out of an armbar attempt, being on the smaller side in jiu-jitsu also has its benefits.
Among the biggest benefits to being a smaller jiu-jitsu athlete include the ability to make the most of whatever space you’re given. Yes, you may get absolutely squished in side control, but if you have the knowledge and skill, you’ll have an easier time working in your arms and legs to get the frames you need to recover your guard where other larger grapplers may fail. Any holes (literal or figurative) in your opponent’s game will be exposed if you have the ability to work your knees and elbows into even the smallest amount of available space.
While those of us with smaller limbs may have a hard time throwing on triangles and other submissions, we can take some comfort in knowing that once a submission is on, it’s on. Just as we may have an easier time getting out of someone else’s attempts at space elimination, our natural ability (not that we have much of a choice in the matter) to be the ones to eliminate space is also powerful. When one person’s “squeezing as hard as they can” feels the same as our “barely getting our legs around enough to lock in the submission,” that’s kind of a superpower.
And of course, the mere fact that we have to struggle to find the best way to maximize our limited weight means that a skilled lightweight grappler’s pressure technique will be airtight. We can’t get away with simply lying on top of our opponents — they’ll just push us right off. The slightest errors will render our side control and pressure passing useless, so we have to ensure that we have every last detail right if we want to have any hope of keeping our opponent where we want them.
We can try to muscle our way in and out of positions and submissions, but most of the time, any bit of missing technique will make itself known. We can’t hide behind strength or size like we can hide inside kitchen cabinets. It takes a lot of time and dedication to feel like we’re making any sort of progress, but that progress will come, and it’ll be obvious and oh-so satisfying when it does.
Being on the more squishable end of the weight class spectrum can definitely be painful and frustrating. But as you’re lying beneath the resident heavyweight’s knee-on-belly, contemplating if it would be wiser to tap or simply embrace the sweet release of death, may the good aspects of being a small jiu-jitsu athlete convince you to find the wiggle room you need to push through for another roll.
Featured image by Trinity SP Photography