One of the most common claims in martial arts is that ‘our style will allow a smaller person to beat a larger, stronger opponent’, which I like to call 'David and Goliath Technique'.
It’s mostly prevalent in Krav Maga (and any other ‘reality based’ system), BJJ, and traditional grappling styles like Aikido, Jujutsu, etc., but is a common advertisement in most martial arts.
However, when we look at most combat sports, there are strict limitations on weight – and by extension on size and strength. The idea is to take two competitors who are similar so that the competition becomes one of skill.
So… Is there truth to that claim? Does size, so to speak, actually matter?
Let’s start with an analysis of attributes and skills.
Attributes mean pretty much everything outside of one’s technical base – strength, power, speed, endurance, etc. It can also mean intangibles, like fighting spirit, timing, toughness. Skills refer to the actual techniques that one knows.
All things being equal, attributes trump skill. Here’s a hypothetical for you:
Take two people who are identical in everything except skills and attributes – same age, size, weight, etc. The first has no skill, but is strong, fast, powerful, can get hit for days and doesn’t care, and has the endurance of an ultramarathon runner. The second has poor attributes (i.e. unfit, weak, etc.), but has an incredible technical base and knows all the techniques and can execute them well. Which would you put money on in a fight?
For me, it’ll be the former 99 times out of 100.
However, the core assumption in the above was ‘all things being equal’, which is the exact opposite of ‘smaller person can beat a larger, stronger opponent’. Is there a middle ground? What other things can impact this?
The answer, as always, is context.
So what things do we need to consider? Well, loads. But to start with, let’s look at the ruleset, disparity in skill, and the training methodology and preparation.
Let’s start with the ruleset and definition of winning.
Can a smaller person, highly skilled in BJJ defeat a larger, stronger boxer? Potentially. Are they in a BJJ match or a boxing match?
Can a smaller person, armed and highly skilled in the use of firearms, defeat a larger, stronger person who is unskilled and unarmed? Potentially. At what distance do they start the engagement? You may recall that's how David beat Goliath...
Even when taking these into account, the outcomes are not definite. However, by asking these questions we can get a pretty clear idea of the likelihood of certain outcomes.
I can hear the screams of discontent from many a practitioner already saying ‘this is not what we meant, we were talking about self defence’ or ‘what about Royce Gracie in the UFC’.
Well, self defence situations also come with a set of assumptions that affect the rules, though it maybe in a different way. For example, psychological attacks such as intimidation and distraction, as well as lack of consent to engage in violence (unlike a combat sport or martial art), as well as potential relationship or history with the person can impact the rules, even if that is not necessarily explicitly articulated. Add to that environmental factors, not to mention the critical fact that you can potentially defeat an opponent in the physical engagement of a self defense situation, and still lose in court, suffer from trauma, and/or be the victim of retaliation, means the definition of ‘defeating an opponent’ becomes very different.
And as for Gracie and the UFC, while the rules were looser than many combat sports today, there were still rules that were agreed upon in advance and given how the world has changed, unlikely to have the same result today given the fact that all fighters today know how to grapple (which is credit to the Gracies and the UFC’s early days).
And this is a nice segue to the next topic, which is that of skill disparity, though that still happens within a given ruleset.
Can a smaller BJJ practitioner defeat a larger, stronger opponent within a BJJ ruleset? Yes, but that will greatly on the level of skill of both combatants. If they are both of equal skill and experience, the answer is likely to be ‘no’. If we reframe this to ‘can a small BJJ black belt defeat a larger, stronger BJJ white belt’ then we start evening the odds a little bit. But the amount of training time required is significant for this to happen and is rarely advertised in the ‘get your black belt in one year’ circles.
Which opens another issue to consider, which is that of training methodology and preparation.
Many of the one-year-black-belts don’t test their techniques in any way that can be considered combatively effective. In other words, how you train a technique is often more important than the technique itself. The concept of aliveness as a methodology for effective realistic training is critical to things working or not, even more so when there is a distinct size disparity.
Can a smaller opponent defeat a larger, stronger opponent who offers zero resistance or intent to their attack? Mostly, yes. While the second part of the sentence (you can guess which one) is left unsaid and is unlikely to be what either the trainer or student meant, it is implied in the training methodology.
With all of that in mind… there are certain things that work better and can give someone an advantage. But the statement in itself, well, is highly unlikely.
A more realistic statement is ‘I have a technique that can help a smaller, highly skilled person who has been training for a long time and using specific training methods defeat a larger, stronger but unskilled opponent under very specific rules that were agreed upon in advance, with an unambiguous definition of winning, and with agreed upon levels of resistance’.
But that’s a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t sell as well…
So what’s the lesson here? Size matters. Training methodology matters. Rulesets matter. And there are no absolutes in training.
Stay safe, stay tuned!
OK - we turned 10 in the middle of COVID on June 1st but we wanted to save the party til things calmed down a bit ?
Please share this link, and mark your calendar - we hope to see you on the 29th!
This time as a part of our 10 Year Anniversary Event - 100 Rounds of Boxing / Kickboxing or BJJ for a worthy cause.
The concept: a friendly 100 Rounds of sparring to raise funds for a CAIA family member who needs assistance to pay for an important surgery. 100% of funds raised will be donated.
Around 2014 I broke my right ulna quite badly in a training accident. I had emergency surgery, and my right arm was useless in training for the next 6 months. And yet, by the time I got back to boxing, I had improved tremendously in sparring despite not having sparred at all for 6 months. Many people asked me how I continued to improve and were surprised when the answer was ‘I trained by myself a lot’.
It’s been a while!
Over the last couple of years, writing has taken a back sit to, well, pretty much everything… family, work, training, work, studies, work, work, gym, work, video content, and, occasionally, more work. But I have missed writing dearly!
Over the next few weeks I'll share some of my favourite hacks for getting more out of your martial arts training. I chose to start with writing, because after not having ha time to do it properly for a while, I was reminded how important writing has been to my growth as a martial artist… and why it can be a catalyst for your growth as well.
Wanna know how?
One of the best things about martial arts training is that, especially early on, we lose often. Whether that’s doing scenarios, whether that’s sparring, rolling, randori, etc., the fact that we lose helps us develop resilience, analyse our performance and get better over time.
That being said, if we lose over and over again, it can be a real hit to motivation and become so frustrating that we may stop training altogether.
At the same time, if you are only training in an environment where you win every single time, your training is probably unrealistic – whether that’s for self defence or combat sports. Developing the perception that you will always win can lead to developing a big ego or false confidence in your skills that can put you at risk.
We need to find a balance between winning and losing that will encourage us to grow, show us are weaknesses and motivate us to get better. So how do we do that?
Dr Gavriel Schneider 7th Dan
Sensei Noah Greenstone 6th Dan
Sensei Dave Hughes 4th Dan
Master Mannie de Matos
Sensei Ron Amram 3rd Dan
Sensei Hylton Silver Shodan
Sensei Max McGregor Shodan
$195 Full price
$150 Interstate Participants
Does not include airfare or accomodation
Proceeds from the funds raised through this event will be donated to a CAIA family member who is battling a brain tumour.
The Concept: A friendly 100 rounds of sparring - with the proceeds going to a great cause!
How it works: This is friendly endurance event in which fighters do 100 rounds of kickboxing and get sponsors in order to raise funds for a worthy cause. Each round will be one minute and fighters will change partners every round for 100 rounds of pure adrenaline.
We are seeking sponsors for each fighter for 100 rounds! You could donate a dollar per round, or it could be ten cents per round. Every dollar helps.
What can I do? Fighter Registration is now closed. PLEASE SPONSOR A FIGHTER by filling in the PayPal form below. If you are thinking of coming down to watch, make sure and arrive early as space is limited!
Today’s society is more divided than ever about the role and place of violence.
On one extreme, we see a segment of society who proclaim violence is evil and has absolutely no place in a civilised society whatsoever.
On the other extreme, we see a segment of society who explicitly support the use of violence as a way to resolve most arguments.
Combine this with the fact that we, as a society, are grossly misinformed and underinformed about the realities of violence. This creates unhealthy and often inaccurate polarised opinions about what violence is and where it can and should be used, if at all.
So where is the place for violence in society?
COVID-19 has seen the world change many aspects of life that were considered basics, given or even a god-given right.
It has also resulted in an increase in aggression and violence. Self defence training feels more important than ever.
Unfortunately, quarantine, isolation and contact restrictions have also limited and changed how we can train for self defence.
So how can you train for self defence in the COVID era?
What do you think is the most important element of self-defence classes?
Giving the student real self defence skills, in all their facets, is the obvious answer, but is it the first one and the only one?
Usually the argument will then go to discussion about technique, or scenarios, or the level of contact or how long it takes to get a black belt. These are all valid discussions, but often miss one important point.
Read more to find out what that point is!