Struggling with sparring/rolling as a female

maxkawasaki

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I've started to get back into Muay Thai (5x a week), strength training (2x a week) and then BJJ gi and no gi (5x a week), which is manageable for me. But the issues im having is:

For Muay Thai: Everyone I spar with is a male and usually over 6ft and just built like an absolute unit, im 5'4 on a good day/semi strong and I'm really struggling with my reach. I just cannot seem to get in there enough to actually land anything more than a cheeky jab to the head or body before they hammer me with combos. Does anyone have some good tips on how to deal with this?

For BJJ: I really love BJJ but im finding whenever we roll, if i get caught on my back it literally feels like there is a boulder on top of me and i just cannot move or breathe for the life of me. I even asked one of the purple belts if he had any advice on how to get out of being stuck under top mount or side control and he said 'there's nothing you can do, just try not get caught in it' which I know is obv wrong. Its so frustrating rolling with people who are 40-50kg heavier than you and you're stuck being a starfish. I try thrust them up with my hips and grab their arm to sweep them but they over power me everytime. Could really use some tips for other methods please!
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Just for clarification, how long have you been training in each, and are your opponents new, or have they been training for a while?
Asking primarily since that will change the rolling answers a bit.
 
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maxkawasaki

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So I had been training Muay Thai for 2 years before i had to take a break due to my work, but only been doing BJJ for a month now.
I would say that 50% are new (1 week to 6 months) and the other half is blue to purple belts. We usually roll with a mix between the two.
 

skribs

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For Muay Thai: Everyone I spar with is a male and usually over 6ft and just built like an absolute unit, im 5'4 on a good day/semi strong and I'm really struggling with my reach. I just cannot seem to get in there enough to actually land anything more than a cheeky jab to the head or body before they hammer me with combos. Does anyone have some good tips on how to deal with this?
When you get into a competition, the size and strength of your opponent should matter. That's why they have weight classes. In striking sparring in class, it shouldn't really matter, unless your opponents are going too hard.

In general, my experience with striking is that if you're shorter, you want to get in close and stay in close. You want to be so close that you can't even use your knees or elbows. Because if you can't, they definitely can't. When they move back to get range, you use your knees and elbows, and you have to constantly pressure that gap.

It's like in BJJ during times you want to eliminate space between you and your opponent. Except instead of doing this by using our weight and strength to apply pressure, we use our footwork to apply pressure.
For BJJ: I really love BJJ but im finding whenever we roll, if i get caught on my back it literally feels like there is a boulder on top of me and i just cannot move or breathe for the life of me. I even asked one of the purple belts if he had any advice on how to get out of being stuck under top mount or side control and he said 'there's nothing you can do, just try not get caught in it' which I know is obv wrong. Its so frustrating rolling with people who are 40-50kg heavier than you and you're stuck being a starfish. I try thrust them up with my hips and grab their arm to sweep them but they over power me everytime. Could really use some tips for other methods please!
Ask your professor. I don't know what that purple belt was talking about.

It frustrates me too when I get someone who's got a ton more weight and strength than me, who doesn't hold back. But I know that eventually I'll be able to use technique to beat them. I'm not sure how someone gets to purple belt without knowing a mount escape or side control escape, unless I'm missing some sort of context in his reply.
 

Flying Crane

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Class time is when you should learn. The instructors should gear the sessions, including sparring and rolling, to you being able to learn. If you are getting stuck with partners who grossly outweigh you, have lots more strength and experience than you, and all they can tell you is, dont let yourself get caught like that then they dont know how to teach. You need a teacher who can help you progress, because this is a progressive experience.

I must assume that purple belt is not the head teacher. But you need to be getting actual instruction and not just thrown in to sink or swim. At the same time, you also do need to struggle and get comfortable with the interaction, and nothing but trying and failing for a while will get you there. But there must be a balance.
 

drop bear

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Standing striking reach is hard. You need to bait the taller guy forwards by being patient, throwing feints and being tricky. Once they ate committed to going in. You go in and bash them.

Then run away. And start the whole process again.
 

drop bear

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For BJJ: I really love BJJ but im finding whenever we roll, if i get caught on my back it literally feels like there is a boulder on top of me and i just cannot move or breathe for the life of me. I even asked one of the purple belts if he had any advice on how to get out of being stuck under top mount or side control and he said 'there's nothing you can do, just try not get caught in it' which I know is obv wrong. Its so frustrating rolling with people who are 40-50kg heavier than you and you're stuck being a starfish. I try thrust them up with my hips and grab their arm to sweep them but they over power me everytime. Could really use some tips for other methods please!

Take their back. Don't let them pass your guard
 

Tony Dismukes

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I even asked one of the purple belts if he had any advice on how to get out of being stuck under top mount or side control and he said 'there's nothing you can do, just try not get caught in it' which I know is obv wrong.
You are correct, he was very much wrong.

BJJ instructor here. Im heading out to the gym at the moment, but I will post some tips for you when I get back later tonight.
 

Tony Dismukes

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Okay, before I get into specifics, you need to know that there's a good news, bad news, good news deal going on.

The good news is that there are a lot of technical things you can work on to make yourself harder to pin, help you survive and feel more comfortable when you are pinned, and improve your chances of escaping when you are pinned - even against much larger opponents.

The bad news is that all these things are hard - especially against bigger, more experienced opponents. Someone can show you exactly what you need to do in every situation and it will still take a ton of practice and sparring until those movements become automatic under pressure. During that process, you will get squashed a lot. Think about it - if you have two physically identical opponents and one achieves a dominant top control position on the other. The top person now has a structural advantage and the bottom person will only get away if they manage to grapple significantly better than the top person at least long enough to effect an escape. Now imagine the bottom person is half the size of the top person. That means the bottom person is going to have to grapple much more technically than the top person in order to escape. (There are some slight advantages the smaller person can sometimes have for escaping, but they are very much outweighed by the disadvantages.)

The remaining good news is twofold. First, once you learn what you should be working on to avoid getting squashed, the process is less frustrating. You may still get smashed consistently for the next year, but at least you know what mistakes you made and what you should be working on to fix them. Second, once you've been training long enough to survive and hold your own, you're going to be very technically skilled. Bigger people get away with doing techniques 60% correct. You're going to be doing them 98% correct.

Now on to specifics areas to work on...

First and foremost - never let yourself be flat. Always be on your side. In the instant that someone passes your guard, you should already be turning towards them to get on your side. If their pass is one that forces you away from them, be on your other side. (That requires extra know-how to keep them from getting on your back, but that's a whole area of study which is difficult to explain in text.) If your partner does manage to get you flat, work a mini hip bump and shrimp to get ever so slightly on your side facing the, If you can get even 2 or 3 degrees of rotation towards your partner instead of facing straight up, it will make it way, way easier to breathe. Position your legs as braces to make it hard for your partner to force you flat. Also do a crunch towards the side you are facing. That will make it more difficult for your partner to flatten you.

Second - do not give up underhooks. When your partner passes your guard, try gluing your top arm to your side, reaching your hand down to and along your leg. Squeeze your elbow to your side as tightly as you can. If your partner tries to flatten you out while you have the underhook, then they give you a lot more escape options. Use your bottom arm to hand fight and try to stop the crossface. Use your knees to block their passage to full mount. (There is a use case for the bottom person framing with stiff arms long enough to recover guard. I don't necessarily recommend that for a beginner working with much bigger, stronger opponents. It's too easy for them to convert those frames into levers to use against you or to take advantage of the opening to get underhooks on you.)

Third - realize that there are a lot of mini-battles between the guard pass and a fully secured pin. We have a tendency to see things in terms of static positions. Now my opponent is in my guard. Oops, he got past my legs. So now I'm in bottom of side control and I have to work my side control escapes. But in reality, there are a lot of little steps my opponent needs to accomplish in-between passing my legs and fully securing my upper body. If I can shut down any of those steps, I make it a lot harder for him to keep me controlled.

Fourth - the more technically correct your escapes from bottom are, the less strength they require. A lot of times when you try an escape and your partner feels just too heavy to move, it really means that your positioning or your timing was not quite right. The flip side of this is that the better the technique of the person on top is, the heavier they will feel. So if you're a white belt trying to escape the mount of a purple belt who outweighs you by 40 kg, it really sucks on both fronts. To avoid total frustration, don't fixate on whether you are able to actually escape in that situation. Instead, focus on two things. To begin with, see what you can do to adjust your position so that you feel more comfortable, can breathe more easily, and can defend submissions longer. Next, try to identify one technical flaw in your escape attempts that you can work on improving for next time.

When I teach class tonight, I'll try to cover some of what I just wrote and record some video so you can see what I'm talking about. You might also want to check out Priit Mihkelson on YouTube. He has a lot of good material on defensive structures from the bottom.

You can also check out this video I made on the basic concepts behind framing. It's not necessarily the primary area you should be working on right now, but it's an important aspect that you need to understand while working from the bottom.
 
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maxkawasaki

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Okay, before I get into specifics, you need to know that there's a good news, bad news, good news deal going on.

The good news is that there are a lot of technical things you can work on to make yourself harder to pin, help you survive and feel more comfortable when you are pinned, and improve your chances of escaping when you are pinned - even against much larger opponents.

The bad news is that all these things are hard - especially against bigger, more experienced opponents. Someone can show you exactly what you need to do in every situation and it will still take a ton of practice and sparring until those movements become automatic under pressure. During that process, you will get squashed a lot. Think about it - if you have two physically identical opponents and one achieves a dominant top control position on the other. The top person now has a structural advantage and the bottom person will only get away if they manage to grapple significantly better than the top person at least long enough to effect an escape. Now imagine the bottom person is half the size of the top person. That means the bottom person is going to have to grapple much more technically than the top person in order to escape. (There are some slight advantages the smaller person can sometimes have for escaping, but they are very much outweighed by the disadvantages.)

The remaining good news is twofold. First, once you learn what you should be working on to avoid getting squashed, the process is less frustrating. You may still get smashed consistently for the next year, but at least you know what mistakes you made and what you should be working on to fix them. Second, once you've been training long enough to survive and hold your own, you're going to be very technically skilled. Bigger people get away with doing techniques 60% correct. You're going to be doing them 98% correct.

Now on to specifics areas to work on...

First and foremost - never let yourself be flat. Always be on your side. In the instant that someone passes your guard, you should already be turning towards them to get on your side. If their pass is one that forces you away from them, be on your other side. (That requires extra know-how to keep them from getting on your back, but that's a whole area of study which is difficult to explain in text.) If your partner does manage to get you flat, work a mini hip bump and shrimp to get ever so slightly on your side facing the, If you can get even 2 or 3 degrees of rotation towards your partner instead of facing straight up, it will make it way, way easier to breathe. Position your legs as braces to make it hard for your partner to force you flat. Also do a crunch towards the side you are facing. That will make it more difficult for your partner to flatten you.

Second - do not give up underhooks. When your partner passes your guard, try gluing your top arm to your side, reaching your hand down to and along your leg. Squeeze your elbow to your side as tightly as you can. If your partner tries to flatten you out while you have the underhook, then they give you a lot more escape options. Use your bottom arm to hand fight and try to stop the crossface. Use your knees to block their passage to full mount. (There is a use case for the bottom person framing with stiff arms long enough to recover guard. I don't necessarily recommend that for a beginner working with much bigger, stronger opponents. It's too easy for them to convert those frames into levers to use against you or to take advantage of the opening to get underhooks on you.)

Third - realize that there are a lot of mini-battles between the guard pass and a fully secured pin. We have a tendency to see things in terms of static positions. Now my opponent is in my guard. Oops, he got past my legs. So now I'm in bottom of side control and I have to work my side control escapes. But in reality, there are a lot of little steps my opponent needs to accomplish in-between passing my legs and fully securing my upper body. If I can shut down any of those steps, I make it a lot harder for him to keep me controlled.

Fourth - the more technically correct your escapes from bottom are, the less strength they require. A lot of times when you try an escape and your partner feels just too heavy to move, it really means that your positioning or your timing was not quite right. The flip side of this is that the better the technique of the person on top is, the heavier they will feel. So if you're a white belt trying to escape the mount of a purple belt who outweighs you by 40 kg, it really sucks on both fronts. To avoid total frustration, don't fixate on whether you are able to actually escape in that situation. Instead, focus on two things. To begin with, see what you can do to adjust your position so that you feel more comfortable, can breathe more easily, and can defend submissions longer. Next, try to identify one technical flaw in your escape attempts that you can work on improving for next time.

When I teach class tonight, I'll try to cover some of what I just wrote and record some video so you can see what I'm talking about. You might also want to check out Priit Mihkelson on YouTube. He has a lot of good material on defensive structures from the bottom.

You can also check out this video I made on the basic concepts behind framing. It's not necessarily the primary area you should be working on right now, but it's an important aspect that you need to understand while working from the bottom.

Thank you for this response! I've actually found this really handy. I think I really need to try focus on not being completely flat on the floor like you said. I have training again tonight and we will be rolling so I will give these tips a go. I usually find I'm exhausting myself constantly trying to hip thrust them off so even if I can try get a slight rotation and glue the elbow this should at least give me more of an advantage than being flat on my back and tiring myself out :)
 

Tony Dismukes

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When I teach class tonight, I'll try to cover some of what I just wrote and record some video so you can see what I'm talking about.
I ended up not video recording tonight because I wanted to have a demo with some size discrepancy between partners to illustrate my points, but neither the really small guys nor the really big ones showed up. Everyone was around the same size. So Im going to try again next week. We have a 140 pound purple belt who is usually there and if I can give him a 220 pound partner to demo with then it should help make things more clear.
 

Mostly Wu

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It sucks, basically, to have to train with those much bigger and stronger than you all the time, let alone if you are training with males and you are a women. Once in a while tis good as a training exercise, but otherwise在lah.
As a 6 foot, 185 lber, I only ever got a slight taste of what it was like when I sparred with a 66, 240 lber ( who was also really good).

This probably doesnt help much, but I would look to join a club that also has some women training there. Its easy to say that you need to close the distance to negate the greater reach, but you still have to deal with the greater strength and heft, nvm the fact that they will get in a free shot or two if they are any good.
 

MadMartigan

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Reminded me of this old meme...

Screenshot_20230216_230701_Chrome.jpg


In seriousness, let's face it. The guy on the bottom can't just be a little better than his opponent if he wants to survive. With a size/strength disparity that significant, he'll need to be at least 300% better than the other guy technically at everything to even begin to level the playing field.

When technique is equal, size and strength wins. BJJ is (perhaps) the best there is at giving the smaller fighter a better chance against a much larger opponent... but it's not magic.
 

Balrog

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For BJJ: I really love BJJ but im finding whenever we roll, if i get caught on my back it literally feels like there is a boulder on top of me and i just cannot move or breathe for the life of me.
Suggestion - learn about pressure points. It's amazing how quickly somebody will move when you start working their pressure points.
 

Flying Crane

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Suggestion - learn about pressure points. It's amazing how quickly somebody will move when you start working their pressure points.
Do you have a suggestion for how exactly she ought to go about doing that? Lets assume for a moment that her current gym does not have experts on pressure points simply because it probably isnt an emphasis on which they focus, as a grappling competition gym. So are you suggesting that as a beginner she ought to go out and join some other school somewhere that may or may not exist in her area, to learn about pressure points, so she can come back to her BJJ gym and then use that knowledge to try and get her heavier and stronger and more experienced training partners off her? Rather than spend her time and energy working to simply get better at BJJ, the fundamentals and concepts on which that method is built and on which her success in that sport actually depends, and which is the activity that she actually wants to do?

Honestly I believe @Tony Dismukes has a better bead on what makes sense here.
 

Tony Dismukes

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Suggestion - learn about pressure points. It's amazing how quickly somebody will move when you start working their pressure points.

Do you have a suggestion for how exactly she ought to go about doing that? Lets assume for a moment that her current gym does not have experts on pressure points simply because it probably isnt an emphasis on which they focus, as a grappling competition gym. So are you suggesting that as a beginner she ought to go out and join some other school somewhere that may or may not exist in her area, to learn about pressure points, so she can come back to her BJJ gym and then use that knowledge to try and get her heavier and stronger and more experienced training partners off her? Rather than spend her time and energy working to simply get better at BJJ, the fundamentals and concepts on which that method is built and on which her success in that sport actually depends, and which is the activity that she actually wants to do?

Honestly I believe @Tony Dismukes has a better bead on what makes sense here.
Yeah, pressure points have their uses, but they're not particularly effective as a way to escape a pin from an experienced grappler in a live grappling context. If I'm mounted on someone and they start attacking pressure points in an attempt to make me move, I'm not going to react beyond being mildly amused or mildly annoyed. If I'm annoyed, I might demonstrate how much more discomfort I can inflict from the top position.

I say this as someone who trained pressure points for a number of years before I got into jiu-jitsu. There is a big difference between how people react to the pain of a pressure point when you're doing a compliant demo versus how they react in a situation where they're allowed to fight back.
 

Alan0354

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I am not an expert, but I relate with OP. I was 5'5" and 140lbs in the 80s when I join TKD. Disadvantage of being short and light is VERY REAL. DO NOT TRUST people tell you technique can conquer all that. Sure, facing someone big that does NOT know how to fight, then it is true. BUT with people in your class that is training. Size, strength and reach is EVERYTHING.

I practice hard, I went to class 3hrs before class to practice on heavy bag and all. Some new guy join in that is tall and strong, I could punch and kick them at will the first 3 months. After they got to like orange or green belt( lower than me), I GOT MY BUTT KICKED. They just had so much reach advantage it's not funny.

That's the reason they have different weight categories. you don't put a light weight to fight a heavy weight. That's a myth that MA people keep tell others.

Weight training can help, instead of 5day/wk in muythai, do 3days and more weight training. Strength is very important.

More importantly. Main reason I even post is NOT about fighting, YOU TRAIN TOO MUCH, 5X/wk in muythai, you'll injure yourself in long run. I worked so hard, I injured my back after 3yrs from high kicks like side kicks and round kicks. I had to quit. I still practice at home with 2 heavy bags and all. But I never dare to go back to class. I was 30 at the time, I would never survive intense training like that.

THIS IS LIFE, I went down the same path similar to you. There's NOTHING you can do being 5'4" and light weight. Believe me, you think you are frustrating now. BELIEVE ME, when you are in pain and have to be FORCED to quit, THAT IS PAINFUL BEYOND YOU CAN IMAGINE. I KNOW, I WENT THROUGH THAT.

Good luck, sorry I cannot say anything to make you feel better. I can just say you don't know how much worst it feels when you have to quit in pain, quit the one thing you passionate about. Paste yourself, don't make the mistake like me.
 

Alan0354

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The other post is getting too long, so this is the second part

I would concentrate on weight training. Don't try to do weights in the movement of your muythai or BJJ training like some people tell you. Go to the gym, maybe get a trainer to do standard bench press, dumbbell curls and all the proven weight training.

When I was doing TKD in the 80s, I could only bench press 90lbs(pushing it already). I do DOUBLE that at my age now. Strength is one thing if you never train, you can gain a lot of strength start training seriously. Do squating and other leg exercise and more importantly CORE strength exercise. I am sure if I fight my younger self at the peak, I will win today being much stronger and still keeping up training at home at 70yrs old.

You already did 2yrs of muythai, you pass the steepest part of the improvement curve(hate to say that). It's going to be more steady improvement going forward. But you can gain a lot of strength in short period of time if you never work hard on it. So time is better used.

also weight training(standard way, not those FUNNY way some MA people like to you try like kicking with some stone, or throw weights etc.) like bench press and other standard ones are good for recovery from injuries IF DONE RIGHT. It might be important to have a trainer.

Believe me, I went through everything short of surgery on my back, finally the hospital put me on weight training program and that literally saved my life and my back. If I have to choose one type of exercise today, I don't even have to think, giving up practicing kick boxing and just weight training without second thoughts in 1sec.
 

Tigerwarrior

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I've started to get back into Muay Thai (5x a week), strength training (2x a week) and then BJJ gi and no gi (5x a week), which is manageable for me. But the issues im having is:

For Muay Thai: Everyone I spar with is a male and usually over 6ft and just built like an absolute unit, im 5'4 on a good day/semi strong and I'm really struggling with my reach. I just cannot seem to get in there enough to actually land anything more than a cheeky jab to the head or body before they hammer me with combos. Does anyone have some good tips on how to deal with this?

For BJJ: I really love BJJ but im finding whenever we roll, if i get caught on my back it literally feels like there is a boulder on top of me and i just cannot move or breathe for the life of me. I even asked one of the purple belts if he had any advice on how to get out of being stuck under top mount or side control and he said 'there's nothing you can do, just try not get caught in it' which I know is obv wrong. Its so frustrating rolling with people who are 40-50kg heavier than you and you're stuck being a starfish. I try thrust them up with my hips and grab their arm to sweep them but they over power me everytime. Could really use some tips for other methods please!
I think when you get more experience in bjj, you would feel a bit more comfortable training gi against people who are bigger. Going no gi with a guy that big is another advantage for them. With the gi you can slow things down a bit when you learn grips and grip strategy. With muay thai I'm not an expert or anything, but I've sparred people bigger and stronger in both muay thai and bjj, it's always harder. I'd like to know how hard those guys are going when they spar you. If they are going all out they need a ego check.
 
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