(Excerpt from Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts)

Use your weight to your advantage. This principle is rather self-explanatory and very simple… to understand.

In practice, proper application of weight is the hallmark of high level grappling, and it is one of the more esoteric skills to master.

In this chapter, we are talking about the mechanical advantage side of things and that aspect is much simpler:

Top = good; bottom = bad.

If you watch the UFC, you have no doubt heard Joe Rogan talk about how tiring it is to carry your opponent’s weight. He can’t go five minutes without mentioning it and he is right.

There are however some very important details when it comes to “making your opponent carry your weight”:

1. If you carry your own weight, your opponent isn’t carrying your weight.

How obvious is that? Well, apparently not so obvious because people do this very mistake all the time. They get on top and you can see 90% of their weight is on their own knees and toes. Even if you are a heavyweight, your opponent is only carrying about 10-15kg. No big deal. You have to adjust your position to make your opponent carry the weight. A 60kg grappler with excellent pressure might be able to apply 45kg of weight on his opponent and be effectively 3 times as heavy as a 100kg man who doesn’t know how to apply pressure.

Standing, when people are told to put weight on their opponents, you will often see them bend at the waist. Oops, about 75% of your weight is wasted: Only your torso leans on the opponent and your waist acts as a fulcrum… YOU are carrying your weight, and usually, you are tiring your arms and your back trying to muscle your opponent down. Standing, try this: Apply weight on your partner and try lifting your legs completely. If your weight is on your legs, you will have to shift your weight before you can lift them. And if that’s the case, it means you were the one carrying your own weight.

Same thing on the ground. Is your opponent carrying your weight? Try to take out your posts (knees, hands, feet, head) and you will find out. You will have to shift your weight fully on your opponent before you can lift all your posts. Surprisingly enough, making your opponent carry your weight is not an easy skill. It requires a lot of practice and it’s very much worth it.

2. Make your opponent carry your weight WITH HIS MUSCLES.

As explained earlier, your opponent can easily “carry your weight” with a frame and spend no energy at all. Take a partner, lie down on your back, lift your legs straight and ask your partner to lean on your feet. If your legs are straight, you have a frame and holding your opponent takes almost no energy. You could easily read a book while “carrying your opponent’s weight”.

Now, bend your legs half way. Same weight, but your muscles are working. Completely different story. Next, put your hands on your knees and straighten your arms. That’s a frame again, your muscles are no longer carrying the weight. Now, put your feet down, knees up. Your partner can sit on your knees and it will cause you no discomfort.

Making your opponent carry your weight means forcing him to use his muscles. Leaning on a solid frame doesn’t count as making him carry your weight.

3. Stay in control of the position.

The danger of making your opponent carry your weight is that he could then throw you or turn you over. Standing, when your opponent is balancing your body on his hips or on his shoulder, he is “carrying your weight” but you are just a fraction of a second away from getting slammed. Not good. On the ground, if your weight is positioned incorrectly on your opponent, you could be rolled over or swept and end up on the bottom.

You have to position yourself so that your opponent carries as much of your weight as possible and is yet unable to flip you over. On the ground, make sure you have the proper posts ready. Standing, keep your feet under you. You need to support some of your weight to ensure you are safe. The better you get, the more weight you can make your opponent carry while remaining safe.

4. Bonus points for awkward posture (of the opponent).

The body is not equally strong in all positions. A well-conditioned athlete can easily carry his own weight on his shoulders while standing straight and he would hardly get tired. That wouldn’t affect him much. However, if he is carrying your weight with his back bent, or on his neck (such as a front headlock position) or with his arm/leg/face in an awkward position, he will be wasting tons of energy in the process. This is the essence of making your opponent carry your weight: make him carry the weight in the least comfortable way possible.

5. Apply as much weight as possible on the smallest area possible.

Your body weight spread out over the whole body of your opponent isn’t so bad to carry. The smaller the area receiving the weight, the more effect the weight will have. If you apply your weight chest on chest, you don’t not get anywhere near the same effect as if you apply your weight with your knee or your hip bone.

6. Disrupt the breathing of your opponent.

Exhaustion of the muscles is caused by a build-up in lactic acid. Normally, glucose (your body’s fuel) is combined with oxygen and broken down into CO² and water. And if there is enough oxygen to burn everything, you don’t get tired. When your muscles don’t receive enough oxygen, lactic acid is produced. Accumulation of lactic acid causes muscle pain and “burns out” your muscles. The other side of it is that all the fuel that gets converted into lactic acid doesn’t get converted into energy. When your cells produce lactic acid, the energy output drops. How tired your muscles get is directly related to the amount of oxygen your body receives. It’s more complex than that, but the overall idea is that the less oxygen you get, the more tired you get and the weaker you are.

Naturally, if you want to tire out your opponent, you want to prevent him from getting enough oxygen. Keep this in mind when applying weight on your opponent: If you apply a lot of weight on his belly or his rib cage, he will need to work a lot more to breathe oxygen in and his breathing will be shallower. His oxygen supply will drop and his muscles will start building up lactic acid. If you are going to make your opponent carry your weight, figure out how to best disrupt his breathing and you will exhaust him/her.

7. Target weak muscles/structures.

Most people can easily push 150kg on an inclined leg press. The legs are very strong when pushing straight forward. Not so sideways. The floating ribs are not attached to the sternum and are weak to pressure. Etc. Even the strongest powerlifter types can’t do more than a few curls with your body’s weight before burning their biceps up. If you are going to apply your weight, might as well go for the weak targets.

As you can see, making your opponent carry your weight is a lot more complex than it sounds and in my experience, it is an area where smaller grapplers tend to be lacking.

Heavyweights have early success with applying weight (obviously, they have a lot more to work with) and spend a lot of time developing pressure, whereas smaller grapplers have a tendency to overlook pressure (which doesn’t work for them at the beginning) and rely on movement. It is not uncommon to see smaller grapplers go through dozens of really dominant positions without getting a submission because they lack the proper pressure to make the position work.

But make no mistake. 50-60kg properly used is plenty to make your opponent’s life miserable on the bottom. Even if you are small, learn to use your weight.

To learn more vital concepts of grappling, get a copy of Principles and Concepts of Martial Arts.

– Guest post by Sylvain Galibert

A lifelong martial artist, Sylvain Galibert received his Judo black belt at the Kodokan in Japan and trained Muay Thai in Thailand. He is the author of Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts and Chess principles for Martial Arts.