Ask Dr. K: Tips for female grapplers

Some tips for female/newer grapplers, in response to an email I received. The scenario: A small female grappler who is getting stuck/pinned in particular positions by larger male opponents. Here’s my advice:

1. The purpose of rolling/drilling is to learn.

You cannot learn if someone just stonewalls you. So, one thing you can do is simply say to your training partner, “Today, I’d like to work on X. Could you give me a bit less resistance here so that I can do X?” Over time, you can agree that they will make it increasingly difficult for you to execute X, but in the beginning they’ll just give you minimal resistance, so that you can get some practice actually completing the technique.

2. Understand that often, your stuff doesn’t work because you probably suck at BJJ… for now. :)

This is advice that Felicia Oh gave me once (including the “you suck” part, LOL), and I think it’s great. It seems to a beginner/newer grappler that stuff doesn’t work because their opponent is stronger. Sometimes that is true. But more often, beginners simply can’t do the technique properly yet. That’s OK! Be patient!

Over time, things will eventually start working. At first, they’ll probably only work on the smaller guys. Then medium guys. Then finally you’ll at least be catching the bigger guys some of the time.

Again, if you work on #1 and really drill the parts where you specifically get stuck, you’ll have better success. So, corner one of the smaller/medium guys, ask for help, and work specifically on that part where you get caught. It could be that your wrists get pinned because you’re letting them set it up. If you can figure out how to “break that chain” of events, you have a better chance of avoiding that particular strategy. If you need to work specifically on grip breaks, then ask your instructor. Again, you may be missing some small technique piece.

Don’t assume that you always get stuck just because your opponent is stronger.

2b) On that point, you can also find techniques that work against that situation. I got stuck in closed guard with my head controlled a lot as a beginner. I couldn’t do the “posture up” type guard break. So, I learned a guard pass that involved my head being pinned to their chest. It’s still one of my favourites today — and it’s great because it works from that “bad” position. In part, I can do it because I’m smaller.

There may be techniques you can learn that will give you some advantage because of your size, or that will work in that “bad” position.

3. Where possible, work with the most experienced partners.

Usually they won’t let you have things because your technique isn’t as good — not because they’re just going to muscle you. Newer grapplers often don’t have good body sense and don’t know what they’re doing or not doing. They think they are going easy but they may be totally spazzing out, clamping on to you, or going too rigid. Work with the more experienced folks as often as possible, and ask them: “How are you trapping me in this position?” They’ll explain how they are able to do what they do, and you can figure out how to avoid that.

4. “Don’t let.”

If you find yourself getting triangled all the time, keep your damn arms inside the vehicle! :) If you find yourself stuck under side control all the time, find a better way to respond to their pass before they can flatten you. Don’t get to where you are weak.

If them getting your wrists is a problem, don’t let them get your wrists. Understand that wrist control is the key to all your problems (if that is the case) and make it a priority to keep your wrists away from their clutches.