Little Jiu-Jitsu…. How to Persevere in BJJ as a Smaller Competitor

4 min read
Discover how being smaller in Jiu-Jitsu has its advantages and when met with challenges, how to overcome them

Little Jiu-Jitsu…. How to Persevere in BJJ as a Smaller Competitor

Discover how being smaller in Jiu-Jitsu has its advantages and when met with challenges, how to overcome them

Location: Canada

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Photo by: Anett Meszaros

In many species, it is typically the smaller group members that have difficulty surviving. “Runts,” as I grew up calling the smaller souls in a litter of cats or dogs. The truth is, it’s not a whole lot different for humans. 

The smaller the size, the bigger the fight is to survive. And, in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, this is felt prominently. Put a one-hundred-pound opponent against a two hundred eighty-pound one, there will be size challenges, but it is not the end-all, be-all, especially with the gentle art. 

Feelings of being a smaller competitor

During my white and blue belt days, I was consistently the smallest athlete in a room and often in a competition too. Countless times, it was either I withdraw from a match or move up one, two, three, and even four weight classes…. I was fighting giants! 

Feelings of unfairness, anger, sadness, defeat, and ultimately not caring anymore were emotions felt all too often as I struggled to counter all the bigger athletes. I even started to believe that my size held me back from advancing in promotions regardless of how much I trained. 

How to overcome bigger BJJ opponents 

But those were all simply feelings toward what I could not control. I can only control my own actions in a situation. So, if I get a larger opponent, I need to control my actions and go about the round as best I can. 

If they throw their weight down, that’s not something I can control, but I can counter it. If they pick me up, that’s not something I can control, but I can react in a technical manner that will play in my favor. If they muscle a submission, I can’t control that, but I can learn to avoid a similar position with them next time.

Winning against bigger BJJ opponents 

Wouldn’t you know it, not giving up and controlling only what I could, my actions, led me to win matches against athletes in higher weight classes. I became so absorbed in becoming a better athlete rather than giving in to my feelings that I actually started feeling like I was bigger too. I didn’t see and sometimes did not even feel a difference in my weight when going against an athlete weight classes above mine anymore. 

Training with bigger BJJ Athletes

As my advancements in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu continued, I gained the nickname “mighty mouse” and was called “beast” or “tiny but mighty.” In training, I even sought out the more giant male team members to drill with because I was used to and comfortable with the weight. Then when I trained with a team member my size or smaller, I felt like a giant! 

I once felt so large compared to a female teammate, I asked how much they weighed, assuming it was twenty pounds or more lighter, but they actually weighed the same as me! I did not believe I was small anymore, and I did not allow feelings to come before my efforts.

Helping other small BJJ athletes

My past successes in overcoming the size and weight gap in competition and BJJ training helped shape my future. And now, when I am faced with a smaller opponent in training, I have an empathetic starting point, and I can use my experience to make sure theirs is a good one from the start. I can show smaller Jiu-Jitsu athletes how I worked out of larger opponents’ grips or how I accepted defeat and used the feelings to fuel me positively and just keep showing up to practice. 

Mental strength in BJJ

Ultimately, I used my smaller size to my advantage. Sometimes it was better for a technique, and sometimes it made me fight harder, making me a more formidable opponent in the following round. However, the greatest outcome from being a smaller athlete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been developing my mental strength, shaping my character, and giving me more appreciation for the challenges I conquer.

Moral of my experiences

The moral of my experiences, especially to my smaller friends in this beautiful sport, is, keep trying, you’re only going to get better in the end, and that is a fact if you have the right mindset and come back the next day training no matter what.  



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