Lose Now to Win Later (As a Big Guy or Gal in BJJ)

Are you playing the long game or are you trying to win?

Robert Van Valkenburgh at Kogen Dojo: Photo by Mike Oswald Photography

As a big guy in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), I am often encouraged to use my weight and size to my advantage. It is common to hear, “No one tells the smaller guys to be less fast or flexible. Use what you’ve got.” On the surface, this seems like reasonable advice, but I am not sure that it is a fair comparison. In fact, I think that this mindset is a trap.

In the beginning, when skill is equal, larger, stronger folks tend to dominate over smaller folks in jiu-jitsu. As time goes on, however, smaller folks begin to learn how to use leverage, timing, and technique to neutralize and escape their larger opponents’ size, strength, and pressure. For the sake of survival alone, they have to. Eventually, these neutralizing and escaping skills begin to develop into attacking skills and the smaller practitioner begins to get better, a lot better.

If, while the smaller practitioner focuses on surviving and escaping, the larger practitioner continues to focus on winning because, let’s face it, winning feels good, something funny happens. The larger practitioner begins winning less and less often against the smaller practitioner. Eventually, the smaller practitioner begins winning. Now, in the face of diminishing returns, the big guy (or gal) has to make a choice.

Does he (or she) continue to try to win with size and strength or does he (or she) revisit the fundamentals of leverage, timing, and technique? The first option will likely lead to frustration and, eventually, quitting. The latter option will also lead to frustration and a lot of losing at first, but, if his or her pride can withstand the initial blow, it will pay off in a big way because it will allow him or her to become something very, very dangerous down the road: a technical big guy (or gal).

“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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