Float Like a Butterfly

Shout out to all the little guys!

Over the last week or so I’ve read a lot of stuff about little guy BJJ.

Being 5’6” and ~70kg (155lbs) puts me in the little guy category in my academy for sure. There are a few of us there, but we’re definitely out numbered by the big folk. Our gym seems to have it’s fair share of big men. Because of this I have had to be very aware of the kind of game I play when sparring.

Don’t let them get a hold of you- Float like a butterfly

This may sound odd at first. I mean, we’re grappling. We literally hug each other for the vast majority of techniques. That’s taken into account when this rule was established. So, I’ll explain.

Often, from head-to-head I’ll start in a seated guard position (see Marcelo Garcia for an amazing example of a seated guard). While here, I am in grip fighting mode. If someone grabs a foot I rip it away. If someone grabs a collar I rip it away. If someone pushes my shoulders I scoot to deflect the pressure. I scoot in and test the hooks. I fish for arm drags and underhooks. I scoot away if I’m not getting what I’m after… breathe… I scoot to the left. I scoot to the right. I jump up to combat stance. Fish, hook, shoot a single, grip fight, sit back down, scoot, pull, push… you get the idea. Basically, I never stop moving. Why? Because I can’t let bigger opponent’s dictate where the game takes place. I can’t let them get a hold of a leg or a collar or a sleeve. If they do, I’m stuck.

It’s the same in closed guard. I attack an arm, I attack a collar, I attempt a sweep, I attack another arm, I arm drag, I scoot to create a new angle, I attempt another sweep, I push on a hip, I pull on an arm, I push on a shoulder, and most importantly, I never let my opponent get comfortable when in my guard. I move and move and move and move… breathe… and move and move and move. Why? Because if I just close my legs and hold on I lock myself into their game. I give them permission to dictate how the fight goes. As the smaller fighter (most of the time) I will lose that fight. But, if they can’t catch me, they can’t beat me.

When passing the guard I never settle for one pass. Rule #1 for me is to never let an opponent close his legs around my back. That’s not safe for me. Big men can muscle sweeps on little men. I can’t allow that. I keep moving. I grab a leg. I push on a hip. I hold an arm. I move back. I stand up. I step in. I step away. I shoot a knee through. I pull back and get double underhooks. I push knees to the ground. If I get stopped in a pass I give up on it and reset, or transition to another pass. Pull the legs, push them, shoot around, grab a collar, overhook a knee, push a hip, stand up, kneel, combat stance, stand up again, step through… breathe… never stop moving. Never stop testing. Never just get stuck on one pass. If they get a hook I fight it. If they grab a collar I fight it. If they sit up I push forward, or kneel, or think about doing a front flip over their head but decide not to because I would probably break my neck. I never stop moving. Why? Because if they get a hold of me I lose my advantage. They can’t attack what they can’t catch. They can’t pin down what they can’t get a hold of. It’s my game (which might be the most important attitude for little guy BJJ).

When in side control I test submissions. If I don’t have what I need I transition to mount. No mount? Kneeride. If that’s not there I go to north-south. If I can isolate an arm I go to side control to attack. Mount? Kneeride? Rinse, repeat. I don’t stop and hold someone down and slowly work on an arm, or hold on tight to their head. That locks me into them and allows them to use their weight and size. My game is constant movement. When I stop moving I am playing their game.

From mount I tend to stay very light. I ride mount rather than hunker down and hold mount. I lift my legs. I throw out baits. I attack collars. I attack arms. I turn. I twist. If I lose position I bail quickly. If I get one deep collar grip and need them to move an arm to get the other I just let them roll me. If they roll me they usually don’t defend their collar at the same time. I’d rather finish a collar choke than hold mount. Mount is full attack mode. One after another after another after another… breathe… after another. My game isn’t holding on for dear life. That’s them. My game is changing angles and attacks. If they’re having to defend they’re not escaping, are they?

Underneath it’s the same. From side control I’m always looking to escape. If a big man decides to just hunker down, and I know I’m safe from submissions, I’ll take that time to rest. But, once he moves, I attempt an escape. I shoot for a mile with every inch he allows. If he’s moving I’m moving. He doesn’t get to rest up there. He doesn’t just get to apply weight.

I don’t stop moving. That’s not to say that everything is super speed. I can take it nice and slow. I can inch my way along. But, my natural game is fast and flowing. I don’t stop moving.

As a smaller fighter I would say that this is the biggest reason that I’m able to compete with bigger opponents. Movement, and lots of it. On the days when I don’t move, I tap a lot more often.

So, if you’re small and you find yourself constantly stuck against bigger opponents I would suggest spending a couple session in constant movement. See how it feels. See how they react. See how things open up.

Float like a butterfly.


3 thoughts on “Float Like a Butterfly

  1. Although that doesn’t work as well for small guys who are also lazy and unfit, like me. ;p

    I don’t like leaping around the whole spar. I prefer to get solid grips from the bottom, think carefully, keep them away with my legs, then hopefully sweep to the top and progress with a slow, steady, pressure game. Obviously it is important to still move, e.g., with things like side control transitions. I just don’t go very fast.

    Perhaps not ideal for somebody who only weighs about 65kg, but meh. ;D

    • Fair enough on the ‘lazy and unfit’ comment. That isn’t a gameplan for the lazy. I couldn’t stat doing this kind of thing until 6 months into my training. That’s when I was in good enough shape to keep the movement up. I’m not a strong man though, so I get more tired in a controlling/smothering game than I do from movement. My arms and legs get tired, then I’m stuck with a big fella on top of me.

      However, constant movement doesn’t mean that I’m jumping all over the place, yelling, and screaming, and putting on my speed effort face (the one where you close your eyes and your cheeks get blown back by the wind). All that’s required is a pace slightly faster than your opponent. It’s a way for me to ensure they can’t turn the inch into the mile. If I lose an inch, I take that inch back by moving away from the pressure.

      The movement is more about not allowing the opponent to get what they want, which for the big guys seems to be anything that’ll stop me from moving. The last thing I want to do against someone twice my size is to lock myself into them. I move until I have what I want, like a deep collar grip or attacking underhook. Once I have that I will smother/pressure.

      Thinking over your comment has made me realise that my movement is defensive. It’s a way to stop myself from being slowly consumed by larger opponents.

      Thanks for the comment, it’s given me a natural follow on into my next blog.

      Cheers, Slidey!

  2. No probs, I look forward to reading it. The other big thing for me is that I want to develop a game that will work as well for me at 50 as it does now at 30, meaning I need to make sure I’m relying on technique above any physical attributes. The main problem for me at the moment is passing guard: I had hoped that by purple belt I’d magically become better at that, but no such luck. Maybe at brown. ;p

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