Fighting the big guy

February 01, 2000

How do you deal with an aggressive attacker who is much bigger and stronger than you are? This is a question that plagues all martial artists who are in pursuit of a functional self-defense methodology. Some people may tell you that size and strength don’t matter, but the truth is that they matter a great deal when the aggressor is determined to use those attributes to his advantage. How many combat sports do you know of that do not have weight classes? Boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and no holds barred fighting all implement weight classes so that smaller contestants can get in and use their techniques and training against an opponent of a similar weight. The reason that this has evolved is that when two fighters of comparable weight compete, the contest will be determined by superior technique, tactics, and conditioning. If two fighters have similar skill levels, but one is considerably heavier and/or stronger, the larger opponent will usually win. A much larger fighter will almost always be more powerful, and power counts in a fight. A street situation has no weight classes or rules, so we must be able to use our tactics and skill at implementing those tactics to make up for the size advantage of a much larger attacker.

To better understand the tactics we must employ, let’s look at the different ranges of empty hand combat, broken down into the three most basic components. These would be kickboxing range, the clinch range, and the ground fighting range. Most martial artists have been trained primarily in the kickboxing range. This is where you punch, kick, elbow, and knee an opponent without actually grabbing him. The second range is the clinch, where you are grabbing the opponent, or he is grabbing you, or both. The ground fighting occurs when one or both fighters are on the ground. I hope we all agree, now that we have reached the year 2000, that any serious martial artist should train to be functional in all three ranges. We may not have a choice of ranges in a real street fight, so we had better be prepared for anything. Each of you probably has a range that you feel most comfortable in. If you got into an altercation that you couldn’t walk away from, which distance would you prefer to fight in? Do you like to duke it out and win the fight standing, are you a clinch fighter who grabs the neck and throws knees, or do you like to grapple on the ground, looking for superior position? Now imagine that your opponent is 6 inches taller than you, outweighs you by 100 pounds, and is very strong. Which range would you prefer now?

Most of us would prefer to stay away from a big man, opting for long range techniques. I was asked by Sumo champion (yokozuna) Akebono what I would try if I had to fight him. I am 6′ 1″ tall and weigh about 190 pounds. Akebono is 6’7″ tall, weighs about 450 pounds, and is a fantastic athlete. I said that if I couldn’t run, I would try some low line kicks, hoping that he would bend over so that I could score an eye jab. He agreed that it was a good strategy, but I would not want to have to try it! Good footwork along with low line kicks and eye strikes may work if the aggressor is not determined to enter, but if you are close enough hit the eyes or groin, a much taller attacker will probably be close enough to land a big punch that will rattle your brain. The simple haymaker can spoil many long-range techniques due to it’s tremendous power. Even more problems come up if the big attacker is very aggressive with striking, and you don’t have the space to maneuver. You always have to be ready to go to plan B!

What is plan B? Working for the clinch may be a logical next step from long range, but it is difficult when there is a considerable size disparity. If you can grab a big man’s hair, you may be able to pull him down to take away posture, thus minimizing his strength. This is a possibility, assuming that the opponent has hair, and that you can reach up to grab it without being crushed. Grabbing the neck is another way of off balancing an opponent, but you have to be so close that you are in real danger of being lifted off the ground and slammed. In most instances, the clinch is the last range that you want to be stuck in with someone who is bigger and stronger.

Where is it that a big man has the least power, and is less of a threat? When he is on his back. A sound tactic for dealing with the big guy is to shoot in low and hit him with everything you have. If you can hit a double leg takedown at the knees of a large man, you have a good chance of bringing that big tree down. Most large people are very uncomfortable on their backs. Putting someone there will give you a chance to escape from the situation, or if necessary, put you in position to strike down at the felled opponent. If your grappling is very good, you may be able to control the big man while looking for submissions. Of course, you first have to score the takedown. Pulling off such a takedown takes work, but so does anything that is worth doing. The knees are the weakest link in that giant’s stance, and if you can shoot in hard and fast from a good angle, you can take down someone who is double your weight.

A large attacker has the advantage of raw power, so you have to be able to develop the skill to deal with that power. The two safest ways to accomplish this involve manipulating the range at which the fight occurs. Either stay away and strike from the outside, or get in deep and put him on his back. Easier said than done, but with proper training you can do it! If you are a stand up fighter, find some wrestlers to work with on your takedowns. If you are a grappler, get with a mobile striker to help with your evasive footwork and striking power. Don’t neglect the clinch either, because you may end up there, and your skill at close range will allow you to transition to long range or the ground. Work it all so you don’t have to let a big guy get you down!

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