Tag Archives: BJJ

Size Matters

There are differences between the way men and women fight.  Some are physical due to size and strength discrepancies.  Others are psychological or physiological.

Good fighters, male or female, know what works for them.  They train moves to see how their own bodies respond and to find out if they are able to make different techniques work.  For self-defense/combat fighting, it’s important to practice the moves on opponents of varying sizes, shapes and abilities.  A 250 pound male isn’t going to be as easy to hip throw as a 130 pound female.  But the biggest guy goes down like a tree if you sweep his feet out from under him.  Conversely, leg sweeps are harder to accomplish on short, stocky men.

Smaller size can be put to advantage. Men in my classes sometimes comment that it’s harder for them to do certain holds, locks and traps on women. Larger hands have difficulty maintaining intricate grips on slender limbs.  Sometimes women can slide right on out.  Joint locks are harder to perform on women because females are naturally more flexible.  It can also be harder to knock a woman off balance because her center of gravity is lower.

Women need to use leverage as much as possible when fighting and to avoid being hit. TV and movie fights aside, in reality, one fist to the face is devastating to a woman’s small bones.  A trained female fighter also isn’t going to slug a guy in the jaw.  It’s her bones that will break in that contest as well.  Strikes to soft targets are a female’s best bet. Kicks/knees to the groin or belly allow a woman to use the largest muscles in her body, her legs, to deliver a blow to a man’s weakest points, which fall in a straight line from a man’s face to his groin.  If hand strikes to the face are required, then a woman should use a heel palm instead of a fist to keep her fingers intact.  A chop or half-fist (fingers bent at the second joint) fits nicely in the throat.  Eyes can be gouged with fingers or thumbs.

I’ve found that my female students are often more technically correct.  Because of their smaller size, women have to be more precise. If they don’t perform the maneuver perfectly, it won’t work on someone with a hundred pound weight advantage.  Men can muscle over technical errors.

In addition to size/strength issues, men are hard-wired differently than women.  Males are naturally more aggressive.  They have a reflex in their brain. When they are struck, they automatically strike back with equal force. (This is another reason why women should never initiate a striking match with a man.  She’s better off leveraging her body into an optimal position for a crippling blow to a soft target.)   Young male fighters often have to learn to control their natural responses in order to keep a cool head.  Strategy is a critical element to any fight.  There are exceptions to every rule, but most women will avoid physical confrontation until they’re backed into a corner or their children are threatened.

In my own experience, I’ve found that in the sparring ring, men will come right out swinging.  Women, myself included, tend to hand back and wait.  They fight reactively.  I like to get a sense of my opponent’s style.  Then I wait for him to commit to a strike and use his momentum against him.

All in all, size and gender do matter.  The best way for a fighter to overcome physical and psychological differences is by using the most important organ in the human body:  the brain.

Melinda’s “Size Matters” blog first posted at Romance University over the summer.

Same Mat, New Martial Art

I’ve mentioned before that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be a good martial art for women to learn. It’s all about using leverage, enabling a smaller person to successfully defend against a larger individual. I recently had the opportunity to try the sport out for myself. I’ve only been to two classes, but so far I’m having a great time. Even in just two lesson I’ve seen how a smaller person can use this martial art to their advantage.  The class is mostly men with the exception of Melinda and myself so it was inevitable that I would have to practice with one of the guys. It’s really cool and a confidence booster when you perform one of the techniques on a male partner and, woohoo, it works.

One of the first things you’ll have to do before you step foot on the mat is set aside all of your personal space issues. With Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you are going to get up close and personal with both friends and probably a few strangers. You will get sweat on, have to wrap your arms and legs around someone and vice versa, pin, and be pinned. If having your personal space invaded in this manner freaks you out, BJJ may not be for you. But, if it doesn’t bother you you can have a blast.

It’s interesting to go from one martial art where you work mostly from a standing position to one where you spend the bulk of the time rolling around on the floor. You engage a whole different set of muscle and employ a somewhat different mind set. For me, karate is almost like a dance. Learning a kata is like learning the choreography of a dance routine. The movements of the various techniques flow. One rolls into the next then into the next. BJJ is much different. You really can’t flow. The movements are much less artistic, especially since you’re twisting each other like pretzels. In our last class, we focused on passes. They are exactly what they sound like techniques that allow you to move past your opponent and they turn the tables on them. All of these techniques start with your partner in the closed guard position. In closed guard, you are flat on your back with your legs wrapped around your opponent and your ankles are locked together behind them. So there I sit with Melinda’s legs wrapped around me (and we thought we were close before. LOL!). I’m now expected to break the grip of her thighs using the pressure of my elbows, hook my arms under her legs, bend her in half, duck under her legs and pin her to the mat in side mount position. Easy right. HA!  I kept forgetting intermediate steps and wind up in the wrong position. It was often comical and less then graceful, but I eventually I got the hang of it. Sort of. I did discover that it’s easier to work the techniques on a person larger then you then smaller then you. An opponent with a slighter build can be much tougher to maneuver because it’s much harder to brace against them.

The instructor ended class by grappling with some of the advanced students. It’s really fascinating to watch.  It’s much slower paced then I would have expected. With karate it’s fast pace, fast reaction the whole way through. With BJJ it’s periods of quick movements interspersed with periods of slow adjustments as you set up for your next move. There is also an unexpected gentleness to it. I know it sounds like a contradiction,  but it’s true. When the instructor and his assistants grapple they aren’t slamming into each other or using brute force. It just goes to prove the point that you don’t have to be the biggest or strongest, you just need to be smart and use your body to your best advantage.