Review by Charles Smith
This is one of the few video series that delivers on the ubiquitous jiu-jitsu promise to help the smaller person deal with the larger. The instruction centers around two points: First, size does matter. Second, you have to fight hard, smart, and continuously to AVOID it.
Emily Kwok has an instructional style that is both strategic in organization and personable in style. She’s one of those rare teachers that can make an amiable connection, making training fun, while still delivering the hard, practical, details to get the job done. Basically, I think it’s because she’s small in stature, been crushed a lot, and truly enjoys sharing how to turn things around on the big guys.
The production, content, and delivery of How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent 1 are excellent.
One of the most vivid memories from my early training is of the frustration that comes from wasting time stuck under a larger challenger, round after round, learning nothing. We were told not to tap out, just to “get used to it” and keep training.
It’s a truism that jiu-jitsu requires a lot of practice. It’s also one of the most inveterate excuses incompetent instructors hide behind. “You just need more practice.”
In fact, what we need is an effective strategy, laid out in a clearly articulated curriculum, that we can practice, practice, and practice some more. We need to be smart, as well as tough.
How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent is a five DVD set featuring instruction by Emily Kwok, produced by Stephan Kesting. It is BJJ the smart way.
DVD 1: Drills and Gripfighting
DVD 2: Compensating for Strength
DVD 3: Top Five Moves
DVD 4: Question and Answer
DVD 5: Body Stability, Roy Duquette
The first three videos follow a standard instructional format, the forth is a question and answer session, and the fifth covers a body conditioning program.
The production values are solid throughout with good lighting, well edited videography, and clear audio. The only quibble might be the very faint thunder you hear every now and then from a rain storm. Noticeable but not intrusive.
DVD 1. Drills and Gripfighting
Stephan Kesting briefly introduces the video series by explaining that, yes, size does make a difference but there are indeed strategies you can use to compensate for it.
After the introduction, DVD 1 starts with an extensive set of drills, listed below. The exercises are for grappling specific conditioning and motor skill development. They’d be good for home training, class warm-ups, or technical prep work. Emily demonstrates Grapplers Lifts, Butt Scoots, and Butterfly Lifts–for example–that she later refers to in DVD 2, when teaching seated guard strategy. You can also see them used live and in-action during a seminar recorded on DVD 4.
Gripfighting is “…probably the single biggest thing that a smaller person can do to make their life easier when they’re facing a bigger opponent.”
In the last half of DVD 1 Emily covers a set of grip fighting skills that work gi and no-gi, from the stand game, mount game, and guard game. These grips get you in position for the various sweeps, submissions, and transitions demonstrated in the next videos.
The logic goes something like this: If challengers can’t get their grips on you, they can’t bring their weight advantage into play. First, never concede grips to your challenger. Second, turn their gripping attempts into the grips you want for yourself. It’s not easy to do, but it is straightforward to learn if you know what techniques to focus on.
Emily also discusses using the pistol grip to avoid finger injuries and lessen the wear-n-tear on your hands. Good advice.
The final section of DVD 1 rounds things out with a discussion of gripping in a no-gi situation.
DVD 1 Chapters
Why You Should Drill
Butt Scoot Forward
Butt Scoot Backward
Four Point Rotation
Leg Switching on Hips
Drag with Sleeves
Jumping Guard Sit Ups
Introduction to Gripfighting
Four Fingers In
Lapel and Sleeve
Stripping Sleeve Grips
Stripping Lapel Grips
Stripping Elbow Grips
Stripping Over the Shoulder Grips
Stripping Grips on the Ground
Stripping Leg Grips
Demo and Summary
No Gi Grip Fighting
DVD 2: Compensating for Strength
The second DVD in the How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent 1 set covers playing guard, passing guard, and the oh, so important principle of avoiding mount.
The instruction starts with general concepts like space management, framing, and setting the pace–then moves to more concrete mechanics and techniques.
The key concept here is that–if possible–playing a more upright, seated guard, or an under guard, or a half guard, is better than playing the typical closed guard. We all need to know how to work from closed guard, but it does keep you under a challenger, and if they’re bigger, that’s a big disadvantage. Don’t concede it. The other guard types keep more of a challenger’s weight on the mat, instead of on you, and help you maintain a greater degree of hip mobility.
Emily teaches a fairly standard set of sweeps, highlighting the details for a more technical application. It’s not the techniques though, that make this section valuable, so much as how well they are couched in an overall strategy for avoiding, and manipulating, someone else’s body weight.
This section details passing the seated guard and half-guard, again, using a strategy that minimizes the need for size. More importantly to me though, is that to understand the seated guard game, presented in the last section, you have to be prepared for how your challenger is going to try to pass it. By showing us how to pass the seated guard, we learn how better to play the seated strategy itself.
As with the section on passing, each of these techniques combine to form a strategy for avoiding and countering pins, but also demonstrates entries back into a seated guard game. Transitioning to seated guard, preventing the pass, and sweeping our challenger gets us to launching points for submissions.
DVD 2 Chapters
Compensating for Strength
Intro to the Seated Guard
Knee Push Sweep
Butterfly Sweep with Head Control
Butterfly Sweep with Knee Push
Single Leg X Guard
Intro and Shin-to-Shin Entry
Butterfly Sweep Entry
Side to Side Finish
Heel Grab Finish
Dealing with Grips
Transition from Single Leg X Guard to Regular X Guard
Intro to the X Guard and X Guard Details
Intro to the Half Guard
Taking the Back
Leg Grab Sweep
The ‘Vomit’ Sweep
Strategies and Tactics
Standing Step Pass
Leg Drag & Hip Trap
Pin Escapes Intro
Block and Elbow Wedge
Side to Side Bridging
Transitional Mount Escapes
Improving the Elbow-Knee Escape
Leg Trap Mount Escape
DVD 3: Top Five Moves
Two things stand out in Emily’s top five submissions. First, she’s always using techniques that allow her to bring her whole body into play against just one, isolated part of challenger’s body. Second, she emphasizes chokes. Chokes attack arguably the most vulnerable target on the human body–the neck.
Some of the chokes involve the cloth, some don’t. In regard to the age old argument about relying on cloth, Emily sums it up thus: “If it’s there, why not use it.” It’s also worth noting that this is a gi oriented instructional so that’s the whole point. Viewers will find more on no-gi in How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent series 2.
The sweeping section of this instructional revolves around three principles. First, developing momentum with the hip movements seen on DVD 1: Drills and Gripfighting. The movements get Emily’s hips, and thereby her entire body weight, into motion for off balancing challenger.
Second, Surprise. If you do something that challenger can see coming, that’s typically when they’re going to block your technique.
Third, setting up multiple attacks, pairing techniques together to feint challenger out of position and bait them into the sweep.
The counter to the backstep-pass, in particular, is a technical delight.
Transitions & Escapes
This is where the game is played, in transition. At least, it is if you’re facing someone larger and stronger than you. The key point of all the skills shown in this section–and indeed, the whole video series–is that skilled grappling takes place in the split seconds before things get settled into a clear position.
I’d say this is the most disappointing part of DVD 3 for me. Not the skills demonstrated, they are spot on, but that there were only five in each section. I would gladly watch an entire DVD, or set of DVDs for that matter, on this type of material alone. More! More I say!
DVD 3 Chapters
Top 5 Submissions for Smaller People
Choosing your Submissions
Cross Side Lapel Choke
Modified Baseball Choke
Reverse Armbar from Mount
Bow and Arrow Choke
North South Choke
Top 5 Guard Sweeps for Smaller People
Developing your Guard Sweeps
Knee Push to Single Leg X Guard
Knee Push to Sickle Sweep
Scooting Butterfly Sweep
Double Shin Lever
Counter to Backstep Guard Pass
Top 5 Transitions and Escapes
Moving in Transition
Closed to Open Guard
Elbow Push vs Guard Pass
Leg Over Head Escape
Granby Roll Escapes
Two-on-One Rear Mount Escape
Some Final Words of Advice
DVD 4: Question and Answer
The fourth DVD starts with a seminar group going through a warm-up using the exercises from DVD 1, then moves into Q&A.
Sometimes question and answer sessions work on video, and sometimes they don’t. It usually boils down to the instructor’s communication skills, and the videographer’s editing. In this video, everything works.
* Setting up the guillotine, positioning and timing, especially from a kneeling position–highlighting the vertical principle.
* Rear mount harness (seat belt) grip work to set up the rear choke, bow and arrow choke, and train tracks–highlighting the principle of controlling the upper body (shoulder).
* Moving on your hands, and using your hooks (feet) in seated guard against a standing challenger–highlighting the concepts involved in teaching timing (strategy and context vs technique and mechanics).
* Varying the butterfly sweep, entries and re-counters, to avoid predictability–highlighting the principles of pro-action and diversity.
* Relating x-guard, y-guard (single leg x-guard) and leg locks–highlighting the principle of setting the pace.
* Keep an eye open throughout this video for Emily’s particular way of folding the collar when working for a cloth choke from the rear mount. I wonder if it would work from a front choke, like Ezekiel.
* Entering y-guard differently from the left and right, and trouble shooting–highlighting the principle of framing on the floor.
* Keeping your fingers healthy doing the Ezekiel choke–highlighting the concept of head position. Use your head!
* Dealing with the x-guard, the standing step pass, breaking the hooks–highlighting the principle of prevention. Don’t let those hooks get in.
It’s fun to see instructors in a more open, natural setting, where you can get a sense of their personality. (I thought Emily was going to slap Ritchie if he asked about train tracks again!) This section also gave Emily a chance to expand on both grappling theory and learning theory. The concrete techniques shown are good, but I think the discussion of strategy (principles and concepts) is what makes this DVD valuable.
DVD 5: Body Stability, Roy Duquette
This is the bonus video for the set. It’s not directly about grappling, but rather documents a conditioning method Emily uses to enhance her training. It’s not about your typical macro conditioning routine with high energy, large motion, killer cardio. To oversimplify, it’s about posture, not power, and the micro side of body control. You can think of this as the other end of the spectrum from the grappling specific exercises done on DVD 1.
While I enjoyed seeing the method, I know from experience that this type of training requires working with a coach, in person, face to face. The entire point is precision, which it’s hard to get when you’re the one both monitoring and doing the exercises. Fatigue clouds judgement.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll get a look at a certain type of conditioning in this video, but if you actually want to do it, you’ll need a coach to take you through it, like Roy Duquette does with Emily. In that sense, I don’t think this is really a follow along type workout or instructional. It feels more like a documentary to me.
DVD 5 Chapters
Standing Active Posture Series
Dumbbell Overhead Press
Upper Body Stability Bicep Curl
Sequential Roll-Up Series
Roll-Up with Alternating Leg Raises
Roll-Up with Double Leg Raises
Double Arm and Leg Extension
Simultaneous Flyes and Leg Curls
Standard Plank Series
Plank with Alternating Leg Raises
Swiss-Ball Bridge Series
Alternating Leg Raises
It almost seems trivializing to say that you can boil down How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent 1 to three concepts.
1. Fight hard for your grips and deny challenger their’s.
2. Work hard to stay mobile.
- Play seated guard instead of close guard whenever possible.
- Attack the back, where it’s harder for challengers to bring their weight to bear on you.
3. Use submissions and other techniques that allow you to bring your whole body into play against just one, isolated part of your challenger’s body.
The devil, of course, is in the details.
Over the years, I’ve seen oh so very many instructionals that teach good techniques; good techniques if you’re the same size as your challenger. It’s a mind set that’s very common in sport oriented grappling where there are weight classes that, for men’s divisions at least, ensure you’ll be within five or ten pounds of the guy on the other side of the mat. Those same techniques don’t necessarily work as well on someone who’s larger than you though.
Emily Kwok’s experience, on the other hand, comes from her time on the mat with usually larger men, and in more variable competition with women. Women routinely have smaller divisions in tournaments and therefore face a wider range of weights as a matter of course. It’s common for women to give up twenty, thirty, or much more pounds. I think that’s why, in How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent 1, Emily Kwok is able to deliver on the smaller-person strategy side of things, where so many other instructional video series fall short.
In summary then, Emily Kwok and Stephan Kesting have done an excellent job of organizing grappling specific conditioning, and high efficiency technique, into concrete strategies for dealing with larger challengers.
This video series will help you train smart as well as hard.