With 2x European Champion, Emilia Tuukkanen || Instagram @emiliatuukkanen
Being smashed in BJJ is something I can bet almost every girl and smaller guy has experienced. It can be annoying, humiliating and anti-motivating – as well as dangerous. Being beat up by someone using only force and muscle without any technique is very discouraging and not at all what BJJ is about.
I don’t want you to confuse being beat up by technique, the right kind of pressure and speed with being beat up by over-powering strength. Nothing makes your jiu jitsu better that getting your ass kicked by someone with better technique than you, no matter what size they are. My favourite sparring partners are often a lot bigger than me, and they kick my butt with beautiful, perfectly-timed technique, pressure and movement. Without them and those rounds I wouldn’t be half as good at BJJ as I am now. The difference is, that when someone smashes you, they often just grab your wrists, hands, legs, ankles etc and want to keep you still. They pass your guard by just grabbing you and pushing your legs to the ground and falling on you with their full weight. They don’t move, if they feel you might escape the side control or mount, they just want to win the round and don’t care if that means 8 minutes of staying still on top of you so you can’t move. They don’t care about putting their full weight and strength on you in knee-on-the-belly if that means they can keep you still, or sometimes they even want to tap you there. The only submissions they usually get are kimura and americana, often yanked with full force so you don’t even have time to tap. When you try to defend yourself or just move under their pressure, there is a good chance of getting accidental elbows or knees to your face.
I wanted to get some input from more experienced people, who have been dealing with being smashed longer than me. I could not think of a better person for that than Caio Terra, the living image of technique conquering all:
“Being small, two things will never change: 1. I know I will never be bigger than the people I train with and 2. I’ll never be stronger. This forces us to focus on technique, especially our guard, because when they pass it is very unpleasant. Instead of settling from side control where they can put lots of pressure on your body, as they pass always try and turtle, where you will have stronger frames to deal with their weight.
“Another important thing is to choose who you train with. When I train with bigger people, it’s usually upper belts or black belts, because they have more control of their bodies and don’t go crazy where they could hurt you.“
Many people (often bigger guys who have no idea what I am talking about since they have never been smashed) say that jiu jitsu is about smaller people being able to win bigger opponents. And it is! That is the reason BJJ even became a popular martial art, and that is one of the reasons I love jiu jitsu. But, it was also because the big guys didn’t know what the Gracies were doing, unlike in BJJ classes today. Often there is no problem with bigger opponents, but then there are these meatheads who might have egos that can’t handle the thought of losing to a girl or a smaller guy. They will do everything they can to make sure it doesn’t happen, regardless of what happens to the opponent. They feel like winners after beating up a higher belt, no matter what sizee. Once we had this huge white-belt guy who actually went around bragging about tapping out a judo brown belt in BJJ class, he just never mentioned that it was a heel hook (prohibited) and a 55 kg girl. That perfectly sums up what I mean with the ego-stuff.
I wanted to get some female perspective as well, so I asked the purple belt roosterweight World champion 2014 and 2015 brown belt World roosterweight silver-medalist, Outi Järvilehto, about the same thing. She is as small as it gets, and has almost never had a chance to train with someone her own size:
“I have learned to tell people if they smash me. I am sort of okay with people using a lot of force with me, but if the strengh is used very explosively or it feels like I could get injured, I might even tell them in the middle of sparring. Almost always the ones using a lot of power are beginners and either don’t realise the difference of our physical powers, or they simply don’t have the technique to match mine and replace that with force.
“If someone doesn’t get the point after I have told them, I will avoid sparring with them in the future, or if I absolutely have to train with them, I will be very passive and just focus on keeping myself safe and not getting injured. The whole point of BJJ classes is to train together so that we both get better at jiu jitsu, so it is important to tell your partner if they are smashing you.“
One reason I hate getting smashed so much is that is it such a waste of my precious training time. The only thing it helps develop is my ability to breath with horrible amounts of weight and pressure on me and my ability to hold back tears after feeling humiliated. Neither one of us is getting better at jiu jitsu with that kind of sparring, and smashing is a huge risk to my health, since the smaller one gets easily injured (broken ribs, toes, fingers, or any injury from over-powered submissions).
I understand that it is hard for big guys who have just started jiu jitsu to see if they are “smashers”. One good rule of thumb is that if after sparring you are totally out of breath and exhausted, while your smaller partner seems fresh and unwinded, even though you dominated the whole round, you most likely used a lot of force and your partner just focused on surviving uninjured. It should be exactly the other way around, the small one using their everything while the bigger one concentrates on using just technique. The big one should not be the one dying after rolling with small guy.