Last week's blog was written about the challenges that women face everyday on the mats. This past week, as I contemplated the topic and had discussions with training partners I realized that challenges are apparent on both sides of the isle. Men, especially large men, have a difficult time finding their fit in a school's Jiu Jitsu culture and training partners who like to train with them.
I tell my students that each person has physical gifts that they bring to the mat. Traits like Size, strength, endurance, speed, and dexterity are all important in their own way. The most intimidating of these gifts however is size. People shy away from training with big people, not bendy people. People don’t like to drill with large people and have no problem drilling with quick people. Let us not discriminate against our larger friends, rather let's communicate and stay safe.
Let’s look at a larger training partner through an empathetic lens. Larger training partners want to learn Jiu Jitsu for the same reason smaller training partners do. They want to learn self defense skills, or saw it in the UFC, or their friends do it and suggest they try it. Almost never does a large person go out and say I want to join this Jiu Jitsu gym so I can hurt random 140lb people.
As a larger person scans the mats for someone to roll with, they can see the eyes go to the mat. They can feel the people moving away from them. They overhear people talking shit about rolling with them. The thing is, most people don’t know why! We as instructors and other long term gym students get lost in assumptions. An assumption that a larger person could hurt a smaller person just by falling on them. An assumption that a larger person knows that their size and strength matter.
These assumptions lead to poor communication. Nobody says to the new larger person to be careful. Jiu Jitsu does help to even the playing field however if there is a 100+ lb difference a certain amount of care is still needed to ensure the safety of both training partners. Additionally, nobody tells the big people that holding someone for 5 minutes does not make their Jiu Jitsu any better. Stagnating movement stagnates growth.
Big people are just as nervous to start Jiu Jitsu as small people. They get on the mats and feel like they have to be good, they are big. It can be a huge blow to an ego having a smaller person tap you. While that is a benefit of Jiu Jitsu, it still needs to be mentally dealt with. Ironically, larger people will also complain about physical gifts others have. They will talk about how inflexible they are or how slow they are compared to the 150 lb guy. The grass seems to always be greener on the other side.
Here are some important takeaways for everyone reading this. The Jiu Jitsu mats are supposed to be a safe place for all, not just people that are of similar body types. That said, size and speed matter and it is important to communicate through challenges with your long term training partners. Don’t be scared to voice a displeasure, it is ok to talk to somebody before a roll. All people need an opportunity to learn.
Big people, smaller people are fearful of going with you because if you move or fall the wrong way you can injure them. If you are not careful with your weight you could break a rib with a quick knee on belly. If you are not a trusted or long time training partner that is a lot of trust a smaller person is placing in your hands. My suggestion is to communicate with your training partners, ask them if your rolls were ok. Gain the dojo’s trust by listening. If you don’t want to do that, find a gym culture that fits you going hard. That is ok as long as both parties know how to act.
Small people, big people have feelings too! You don’t need to go back in the locker room and talk shit about rolling with so and so. Try communicating with said big person as that may make the gym itself a safer place to train. Try not to hate being smushed and held down by bigger people. They almost certainly are smushing you because that is the only thing that “works”. They are using the gift they have just like you use the gifts you have. If you can’t get out, that is on you as much as it is on them to move more to learn.
On the off chance that you have tried everything but the giant white belt spaz still won’t learn, it is ok to not want to roll with them for your safety. Own that decision. Almost all of us have day jobs, families, and other hobbies we need to be healthy for. Give the big guys a try, but as always safety comes first.
~Joshua PS. Part of the coaching I do with Gentle art lifestyle is navigating difficult communications in Jiu JItsu. Creating an understanding with yourself as to what is acceptable for your training and how to hit those training goals. Gentle art lifestyle coaching is all online and pairs perfectly with the gym you already train at. If you have questions, ask!