Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ground Grappling at a Size Disadvantage

Last night I led an interesting class. Fall has officially made its mark. With the change in temperature came the onslaught of illness, causing many people to miss class. That and the Smashing Pumpkins concert. As a result of the various environmental and social factors, I only had one student, Dave, show up for class.

What you need to know about Dave is that he's about 240 lbs, over 110 lbs. heavier than me. This was my chance to get some serious grappling training in that would really push my limits.

After we did some light sparring for the cardio component to our Jiu-jitsu work-out for the evening, we moved on to resistance training: ground grappling. I can't think of any better resistance training in the martial arts than to grapple someone who is nearly double my weight.
The first round seemed to go rather quickly. Dave remarked at the end of it that he was finding it hard to get past my open guard as opposed to the closed guard, which most beginners tend to favour.

The closed guard (i.e. me on my back with my opponent wrapped between my legs which are locked behind his back) is pretty much useless against a guy as big as Dave. Dave has quite a lot of girth to him, and though my legs are quite strong, they are still pretty short, making it easy for someone of his size to just expand his chest then pry his way through my grip.

The open guard (i.e. me on my back with my opponent between my open legs), on the other hand, is far more versatile and therefore more useful for someone of my size against someone of Dave's size. I am more easily able to spider my feet and legs across and around his limbs, keeping him from gaining a position from which he can use his size and weight to more to his advantage. I was able to transition into a butterfly guard, which I also found useful for keeping Dave at bay.

At the end of four 3-minute rounds, Dave was huffing and puffing. I was tired too, but I had used my nimbleness on the ground to tire him out more than he was used to. He was just having a bitch of time trying to submit me. But then by the fifth round, I could feel my agility failing me. Tiredness was leeching my speed and my ability to react. Toward the end of the round Dave managed to get the mount position (fully sitting on my chest while I'm on my back), the one position from which he knows well how to apply an arm bar. As I felt his weight shift, and roll to the side onto his back and into the devasting position, I knew instantly and very urgently it was over.

So what does this tell me? That it's not worth it to grapple someone much bigger than me and vice versa. Hardly. With a developed base understanding of grappling fundamentals, someone of his size should be able to easily gain a dominant position and submit someone of my size. What we learned from this exchange is that even someone of Dave's size should learn proper leverage and technique application so as to not tire himself so that he can best make use of his size advantage. While on the other hand, someone of my size had better learn to use their legs deftly in order to prevent a significantly larger attacker from gaining a strong position while simultaneously preventing themselves from tiring quickly.

But let us not forget the most important rule of ground fighting against someone who has a significant size advantage: Stay the hell off the ground! The ground is a bad place to be when there is a drastic size difference. The longer you stay there, the more likely it is that you'll eventually tire out and leave an opening that the larger person can easily exploit.

And if you do get taken to the ground against your will in a street defense situation, no matter what size you are, do what you have to do, even fight dirty (hair pulling, eye gouging, groin grabbing, pinching, etc.), to get back to your feet as soon as possible. On the ground, you are vulnerable to debris that may be on the ground, concealed weapons that your attacker may be carrying, communicable diseases, not to mention the possibility of your attacker's friends kicking you in the head while you're tied up with the one attacker. And the number one cause of death in a street fight is a kick to the head.

Freestyle or competition grappling has its place in skill development, but you have to remember that there are no rules self-defense in a street situation, only results.

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