Friday, September 23, 2011

Big and Bad

This is one of the things that is so obvious I sometimes don't mention it at all. It only comes up when someone says something about fighting different sizes and the only way to get to that conclusion is to miss this point...and that's weird, because I don't think you can miss this point. I believe that you must choose to be willfully and actively blind to miss it.

You don't fight very large people and very small people the same. It's an entire galaxy of reasons, from differing legal justifications (very unlikely that the force you need to stop an angry 100 kilo guy is the same force you need to stop an angry 40 kilo guy) to different angles (a foot difference in shoulder hight is a foot difference in the origin of all the hand strike attack angles) to different dead zone sizes and different access to the dead zones. The threat's lever arms are different lengths and the mass you need to control with those lever arms can vary widely.

It's not just that you take the skills in your weight class and take on someone three weight classes up and do your stuff harder or better or more. The things that work are qualitatively different.

Take the elbow leverage point, (what Al Arsenault calls, "the magic place"). At around my weight class I can reliably control the threat's entire upper body. Someone smaller, unless they have extraordinary rooting, I can get absolute control with one hand. But on an immensely strong or big threat, it takes all my structure to turn or to prevent him from turning and the wonderful control technique buys me time to get to someplace else and do something else.

And that's not all. If I have the edge in size and strength, I can work the elbow point with unidirectional power-- just push where I need the threat's shoulder (and then spine and pelvis) to go. With the super strong, I tend to shock-stop it and wait for the recovery power I know is coming and use that.

We all know this. If you have any exposure to judo at all you know that some throws are very difficult to make work against some body types, and some may be difficult depending on your own body type. Full-entry hip throws work great short-and-stocky versus tall-and-lanky but are hard to work the other way. The momentum throws tend to work great against strong, aggressive people in a fight, but not very well in matches at all.

Simple and obvious things-- whether you go over the humerus or under it to turn a body at close range is a matter of comparative height. So is the efficiency of working the back of the neck versus the chin. Head hunting on someone a foot or more taller is completely different (and loses a lot of efficiency).

There's more going on than just size or strength, or even just the threat's size and strength for that matter... but it's still one of those things so obvious that it might be missed.


Mike H. said...

I think martial artists usually want to believe that each technique will work if you do it "right," regardless of size differences. More to the point, perhaps, is the contrapositive: if it doesn't work, you did it "wrong." If you think this way, you can take what is empirically obvious and turn it into a reason to try harder when the technique isn't working.

Anonymous said...

It's also why there are weight classes in martial sports, big guy fights big guy.reason is little guy would get wiped out if he fought big guy.sad to say but you need a reality check here.superior size,strength,speed means..........superiority.and you need an equalisor.gun is the best, then knife stick or club.IMHO don't waste time on none weapon arts unless you are a big guy

Rob Lyman said...

Anon, I don't know how big Sgt. Miller is, but with a couple decades of jail work, I'd say he's had a reality check or three when it comes to empty-hand control. Maybe, anyway.

Jason said...

I disagree with Anon's comment implying that there is a superior size: being big doesn't make you a good fighter, being a good fighter makes you (effectively) big.

Journeyman said...

Great point. And you're right, it's so obvious, it's often overlooked.

There are no universal techniques that always work. That's why any training/teaching has to be flexible enough to adjust to a variety of circumstances.

And no technique exists in isolation. You can't 'bank' on any one to work every time.

Jim said...

Size doesn't matter -- but it does.

To say that you should only worry about unarmed techniques if you're big enough to use them on anyone, anytime limits unarmed combatives to the Hulk. Maybe Andre the Giant.

As Rory said -- relative size has to shape what you do, for all sorts of reasons. I was doing some grappling recently; when I took one guy a bit bigger than me down, I ended up so high on his back that my options changed from when I took someone closer to the size I oughta be down.

Different relative sizes will shape what will work, and won't work. Try putting a half or full Nelson on a child; you just can't get it. And I basically curled my way out of an arm lock with someone the other day. Rory really already covered this better than I can.

Michael said...

Hmm, interesting. It seems like this is another arena where the (applied) physics really change depending on what you're doing. This has previously come up in relation to levels of physical commitment in the dojo vs. in a "Ima rip off your face" scenario.

Would it be right to say that /what/ to do doesn't change much in the abstract (i.e. the biomechanics and axis are the same) but /how/ to do it is different?

If so, then there are two diagnostics points if your tech suddenly stops working against someone bigger:
1. does this actually just not work if I don't have the size/strength advantage, or
2. this does work, but I'm not doing it well enough to make it work against someone bigger (i.e. my execution is 50% tech but 50% patch, where it ought to be 100% tech every time)?

Michael said...

*axis = axes.

Lise Steenerson said...


Whoever said size doesn't matter has never ridden in coach class ;-)

Jason said...

Quick quote from Water chapter of "The Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi:

"The man whose body is small should bear everything in mind about the man whose body is large, and the man whose body is large should bear everything in mind about the man whose body is small. But whether the body be large or small, keep the mind straight and in a way that it will allow no personal preferences."

Anonymous said...

Yeah Musashi was a swordsman, when you use weapons, size becomes less relevant

Maija said...

As a smaller person relative to most, I think much of the bad logic regarding size comes from feeling somewhat hopeless and then making things up to assuage the depression about how hard it is to fight from disadvantage.
It also comes from imagining toe to toe sport fighting as the image of what all fighting looks like. That great clip Wim Demeere put up recently of sparring with his students showed it very clearly. Watch how he takes his female student off her feet with absolute ease. I think this is what we imagine a fight is, not understanding that this is what it should NOT be, outside a ring with weight classes that is ... ESPECIALLY if you are smaller.

I think what us smaller people need to know is that there are things that work so noone needs to go to fantasy land any more -
Awareness and not having to go physical in the first place will work regardless of size - if you are not there for them to attack, well, all well and good.
Talking and psychology in general, also not size dependent (apart from what you choose to say).
If you need to fight, surprise helps, and 'when' you decide to 'go' - picking your moment, definitely picking your moment (gifts) ... or making the moment happen. (Alongside targeting, leverage, position etc)

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, guys, so all those women who you size doesn't matter?

They were being kind to your ego ...

Josh Kruschke said...

Anon - 9:15

I would imagine it would be more important, not less.

The margin for error becomes tighter I would think.

But now we are getting into the realm of a past post.

I wonder how many duels where decided because of a difference of arm length?


Anonymous said...

It is very complex when you fight the parts - size, gender, age, tools, environment, etc., but much simpler when you perceive the intention and manipulate the script.

Anonymous said...

Indeed it is, but what would you rather have in your pocket, a book on the musings of real world violence or a rather large knife....taking all the bad words and snypes, monkey dances and what nots into consideration.I'll go with the advantage is all you need ,call it a force multiplier or what you will but all it is is an advantage

Nick Lo said...

Rory, I've got to thank you for this sentence "Take the elbow leverage point, (what Al Arsenault calls, "the magic place").". I've been repeating "elbows, elbows, elbows" while play-fighting with my daughters in the secret hope that they will develop some subconscious bad-guy repelling ninja skills. I was able to point to this post and say "Look this is a guy that faces real bad guys and he says elbows, elbows, elbows too!".

Melisa Spence said...

In my subjective experience, what people think my size means matters a lot (along with all the other demographics and variables)....

Being small is nice if I want to start whomping on a guy who catcalls me, because usually (not always) to appear to be beating a small woman -publicly-, or in a fist fight with that woman, is enough of a no-win to make him physically run away or beg "leave me alone!"

And very deflating to hear self defense students say "that was great to be able to do that to you, but I don't think I could do that on a large man..." when I know (s)he would do just fine. Of course, it is convenient to be a small female teacher when there are large attackers available.