Drew wrote a great post here about whether or not size matters in judo and grappling. It really made me think, so I’m going to write a post about size too (sorry man!), albeit from a somewhat different perspective. Considering my moaning about weight and cutting lately, you can tell this issue is on my mind, haha.
One of the main selling points of BJJ has always been “with BJJ, a little guy can beat a bigger guy!” And this appeals to us, I think. Everyone for different reasons– in Asia, it’s appealing because there are a lot of little guys. In my (American) generation, it’s appealing because of what I like to call the Karate Kid Syndrome– everyone wants to beat up that bully with mystical, magical ease. For many women, this is a fundamental reason to get into BJJ: if I take BJJ and practice regularly, I’ll never be raped, I’ll never be assaulted (wrong; maybe someday I’ll write about being assaulted and very nearly raped by a big MMA dude who wears a purple belt to my brown belt). Regardless of why, for most people, “little people can beat big people” is a really alluring concept. It really sells the art to people who may have otherwise been on the fence about participating.
I have to confess, everyone: I bought this, hook, line and sinker, from day one, and it’s one of those myths I wish I had never believed. My ego will never recover. 😛
Back in the day, “size doesn’t matter” was more true than it is today. It ignores (and ignored) the fundamental caveat, though: size doesn’t matter if the bigger person is untrained. Not even “less trained.” Untrained. A less-trained person can still win against a better-trained individual. So I can buy that before BJJ and the UFC became ubiquitous, “size doesn’t matter” was more true in a street fight than it is today. But now everyone has at least seen BJJ on TV in some form, and that exposure makes a huge difference.
I’m small, even for a woman. I know, intellectually, that if I’m beating up on (male) purple belts that are bigger than me, those people shouldn’t be purple belts. Even significantly bigger blue belts; I shouldn’t be tearing them up. I know size matters. I have a large friend who regularly deals with my evil, tricky, drunk alter-ego by picking her up one-handed and tossing her into taxis. If I could tap him out against his full strength, he doesn’t deserve to tie a purple belt around his waist.
But guys. I STILL get annoyed. I STILL get frustrated. And then I get really angry when I hear our black belt perpetuating the old saying: “In BJJ, power doesn’t matter.” I respect the hell out of that man, but it makes me want to scream at him: “when you are of average size for a man, and of large size for a Japanese man, how can you know that size doesn’t matter? How can you sit there and say, with a straight face, that your arm length, leg length, strength, and weight doesn’t make a difference?” This is what I want to say. Because if you don’t actually know what it’s like to be small, shut it. I have to say, I did take great pleasure when he got absolutely pancaked by a massive Brazilian black belt and came out looking quite shaken and smushed.
Instead, I take the smaller guys and gals aside. I tell them it’s ok; I tell them not to get frustrated when they just don’t have the power to complete a movement. I tell them not to feel bad about refusing to play with people who are too rough or just too big. I tell them that bigger guys are not necessarily less technical players, but they usually play a less technical game because they don’t have to be technical. And no, it’s not fair, but little people are either technical or fast, or ideally both. Maybe at first, what I say rolls off them like water, because they are too frustrated or too angry to really accept it. But I see them slowly grow and learn to accept their limitations without all the anger, frustration, and ego I carry around (do as I say, not as I do, right?).
Because I’m the teacher now. How weird is that? I have some semblance of control over the attitudes and techniques of new players. I want to get rid of this “size doesn’t matter” crap, because I think it’s toxic. I think it’s toxic to people’s growth as players and I think it’s one of the things that chases people away because of frustration.
So instead of selling BJJ to people with “size doesn’t matter,” tell the truth, teachers. Size does matter. Size matters a lot. What BJJ does is give a small person the tools he or she needs for survival, not for superiority. If I were attacked by a large man tonight, I would probably escape intact, but not unscathed. If I fought Gabi Garcia or even Luanna Alguizar in a match, I would lose, because guess what? Size matters. People who I’ve met on the mat and then go out with in a social setting are always saying to me: “wow, you’re a lot smaller/shorter than I thought you were.” What more can a little person ask for when it comes to BJJ?