Thursday, September 13, 2012

Big Chicks: Men's take on larger women

We're a bit of an enigma in BJJ. Women that outsize men. Most discussions on training with women will focus on advising men how to train with smaller, weaker bodies...but what do you do when the body is larger, possibly stronger and female?

So, rolling out of my previous post on Christy Thomas, and to make up for my stupidly missing a seminar by Gabi Garcia, I want to get this theme started. I've written on it a couple of times before, but hadn't talked to any actual men about the situation. (I'll definitely be doing more in the future, so if you've got any stories, tips or questions, hit me up.)

First up, the man himself, Slideyfoot and my favorite BrownBelt Instructor, Ryan Gallagher of American Top Team West Palm Beach. I don't have any experience with Slidey (though I hope to in the future), but Ryan was one of the first to comment on my size/strength and was instrumental in shaping my perspective. I was glad to see them both answer my curiosity about the control of larger women vs. the control of larger men.

Thanks guys!

How accustomed are you to training with women?
Can: Very used to training with women: my first training partner in 2006 was a woman, then from about 2007-2009, my main regular training partner was also a woman.

Ryan: I’m pretty well accustomed to training with women. As an instructor I like to train with my students as often as I can. That being said, I have quite a few students that are women. I often train with some women to begin my live training session for the evening. I feel this gives me the option to not have to be forced to use strength when I train.

What was your first reaction to rolling with a larger woman?
Can: I was pleased: I generally find women more mature, considerate and controlled then men. The machismo that can often rear its head with men (particularly if they are young and strong) is also rare in women. Rolling with a more powerful woman meant that I had to rely on technique, but could do so without being as concerned about injury as I would be with a larger man. That's not to say there are no good training partners who are larger men: I have had the pleasure of training with several very helpful but very large men. However, I've found that to be comparatively rare.

Ryan: Training with a larger women is no different than training with someone else for the most part. Sometimes this forces you to become even more technical because of their size and strength. When training, you always want to try to be as technical as you can, utilizing leverage and correct technique as much as possible. Sometimes training with a male that uses a lot of strength you find yourself trying to match them and at times becoming a little rougher with them to prove a point. Personally when I find myself training with a woman that is larger and that is strong I will always avoid taking the path of strength because she is a woman. This only leaves me with the option of using my technique and speed to overcome this obstacle.

What difficulties (if any) do you have now?
Can: With larger women? None, except that I don't get to do it as often these days due to the smaller number at my club. If you mean with training in general, my main problem is probably not taking enough risks, being too passive and relying too much on my defence. However, I think the benefits of training that way outweigh the negatives, with the biggest plus being a reduction in injury and therefore a longer lifetime on the mat.

Ryan: I don’t find any real difficulties that I wouldn’t normally have with anyone else.

How does it compare to rolling with men in general?
Ryan: I feel the only difference with rolling with larger men than women is that I always try to avoid using strength and I find myself not playing as tight of a game against a woman.

Have you learned anything or do you have any advice to guys who may be new to the experience?
Ryan: I learn something with any individual that I train with. My advice to men that train with larger women is to treat them just like you would anyone else. Sometimes you will even find women that would be offended if you didn’t treat them as such. Don’t let a woman win just because she’s a woman and you’re trying to be considerate. They need to win and lose just like anyone else to better their jiu jitsu. I always try to avoid winning by solely relying on strength with anyone but most specifically when it comes to training with a woman.

Can: I would highly recommend that men train with women generally, particularly small men, as you will probably find that often women are the closest to you in size. In regards to training with larger women, this is also especially beneficial to smaller men, as you have the opportunity to focus purely on technique (because you can't fall back on strength) without an accompanying risk of injury (generally: there are exceptions, though I haven't met any large women who were uncontrolled).

Thanks to both Ryan and Can!


slideyfoot said...

Hopefully I'll be able to make it out to Florida in the not-too-distant future. Until then, I guess you could always pop over to Texas while I'm there this November... ;D

Georgette said...

Oh Megan that would be awesome! I have enough guest rooms at the house, if you wanna come for Thanksgiving... :)

Now here's my thought on your post:

I've rolled with lots of women who are bigger and stronger than me, most frequently (before) with Christy Thomas (she's about 6' tall, 185lbs.) And currently, with Ketra, another blue belt who's about 5'9-10", about 155lbs.

I find that bigger women are VERY challenging to roll with, because unlike men of similar size, they tend to have no compunctions about treating me carefully. (Not that the gals I mentioned are rude or rough or anything else... just that they will NOT give you an inch.) They're used to having to be very careful and tight and efficient with people their size and bigger, so when they finally get to be "the bigger one" against another woman, they seem to enjoy the role reversal. I find I have to be my MOST careful, economical with movement, perfectly timed, and fully on my A game with bigger women. I do not have the luxury of experimentation and playing around that I enjoy with guys, who will let me play a bit (kind of like a lion lets a cub play.)

Megan said...

@Can, strangely, I think it's more likely I'd show up in the UK. I'm horrible at domestic travel but ready to get a stamp on my passport whenever I can...that said, a trip to see Georgette does sound fun (though I'm already hitting Orlando for this Thanksgiving...EPCOT Food and Wine festival!)

That's REALLY interesting Georgette...thinking about it now, I do think I'm less likely to go soft on the other ladies in class than the guys are.

erika said...

Great post! I'm also a larger woman (roughly Megan's size).

Georgette, I agree that women are less likely to go easy on each other. I also notice it when I roll with them and I love it.

That said, I don't think I experience a role reversal with women, because given the rough size (and occasionally strength) parity between me and my male rolling partners, I don't actually spend as much time defending as I imagine smaller women do. So for me it isn't so much that I am excited to finally be the one dominating and therefore go balls to the wall, it's more that the same style and moves just happen to work better and more easily and I don't try to lighten up. (I'm curious if Megan also sees her rolling sessions with men as less defensive than is typically described in a lot of women's BJJ blogs.)

I feel like I worded that awkwardly and it makes me sound like some super strong badass, but I just mean that I do not feel I have to go out of my way to protect myself against injury.

Megan said...

Funny you mention that Erika. I was just driving today and thinking of a couple more guys I need to have "the talk" with. Which is basically "dial up the intensity...I need to learn."

There are only a couple of guys with whom I end up playing a lot of defense. It's rough, but I'm glad it happens. I'd really like to learn how to deal with men my own size. I feel like I'm still a LONG way from that.

Triin said...

Have to agree with Georgette on this one, larger women and larger men roll very differently. Larger men usually let you work on top position and are aware of the size difference, larger women however have no problem going all out.

christy said...

Great Article, Megan!! Well written. I felt like the guys kinda lost steam at the end in those final questions! I feel like there's so few ladies of all sizes at any given gym and the ones lucky enough to have us, lavish in the knowledge of actual experience.

I have to go the opposite way from previous comments. Personally, I don't have anyone treat me like a tiny cub lion & I chose not to go all out knowing I'll make a dumb mistake ... I have guys trying to cleverly and definitively submit me. I play to end it: I attack until I have to defend, defend until I can get a good chance to better my position/opportunity to submit them.

I think large people (any sex) go two ways: They don't want to abuse their weight or they are stuck/comfy/complacent & rely on it. I recommend my larger students to have a technically sound game with intelligent defense on the forefront b/c there will always be someone who can put you on the defense. Don't let it be a surprise that leaves you unprepared.

I don't have a single person who takes it easy on me ... even if they aren't hurting me or going 100%, they are surely trying to submit me.

Megan said...

@Triin You are so right. I noticed that about myself this past weekend at a seminar. If a woman is anywhere near my size, I hold back less.

@christy...I wish I could say no one at my club went soft on me...I think they're getting used to it though. It takes time sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I don't practice ju jitsu, but I am a taller, large-framed woman who has participated in karate. From my perspective, taller women are at a bit of a disadvantage because we are (usually) not very strong for our size. I started karate weighing 165 at 5'11", and at that size I did not have much muscle mass or strength especially compared to a man of similar weight or height. (A lot of my weight is breasts and hips, and I'm narrow between.) In fact, I probably wasn't as proportionally strong as a more "average" woman of 5'4" and 130 pounds. And I was often shown just how much stronger a guy who was several inches shorter than me might be. Maybe it is different in wrestling because weight is more of a factor in submitting people, but in karate, a heavier body without much increase in strength is a disadvantage.

I just thought it was strange that some of the statements seemed to assume that a taller woman would be significantly stronger than a shorter woman, even rivaling male strength. That's not been my experience.

Megan said...

That's interesting. I've never done any striking so it's a bit difficult for me to comment.

I will agree though, that body type is a huge determinant of strength. I'm tall, but I'm not a willowy tall. I've trained with women my height but of smaller, less muscular builds and I could feel a huge strength difference. Same goes for the guys.

I still feel like I'm at a huge disadvantage to have the weight I do and not be able to move it very well, though I can learn to use my weight as is as a tool. I would expect that wouldn't be true in striking.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying. Even though I don't wrestle, I find your blog interesting. It's nice to get the Amazon perspective, as I've always been the only tall woman at the dojo.