The Size and Strength False Dichotomy, and Self-Defense

A recent article on Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength website piqued my interest in the 'size and strength' debate within the BJJ community.  Being someone who has been into lifting for several years, I shared the author's sentiments; especially this bit to kick things off:

You do not have to be strong to do Martial Arts.

There. It has been written. Without a shadow of a doubt, my opening sentence is true, and true in all cases. As you continue reading, you may feel your fury rising at something I have put forward as an opinion. If this happens, you can go back to the first sentence, take a deep breath, read it again, and enjoy being Right.

You. Do. Not. Have. To. Be. Strong. To. Do. Martial. Arts.

But, being strong is pretty fucking useful.

And beautifully sums up his article with this:

Strength or technique is the false dichotomy that is presented to us in the Martial Arts. The reality is that they're interdependent. When someone muscles out of your technique, it wasn't necessarily that your technique wasn't good enough, it might just be that they're stronger than you, and that's all there is to it. It's a bitter pill to swallow. You don't have to be strong to do Martial Arts – this is as true now as it was at the start of this overly long article – but in reality, we all know the truth: when skill is equal, the bigger and stronger person will win.

Aside from the obvious flaws underlying the logic of those who argue the technique side of that dichotomy, there are larger ramifications from the, for lack of a better expression, argument against size and strength (and the development thereof via strength training).

In general, by creating an atmosphere where size and strength are deemed irrelevant, you can discourage people both from strength training (which has numerous benefits), and you could discourage people from training with larger people--or at least give those folks a false sense that there is little difference between training with larger and smaller partners, which is very problematic for those training for self-defense.

As the author of the SS article notes, "size and strength really does matter. Children know it. People with very little knowledge of fighting know it."  Size and strength always matter.

The problem comes when those who argue they do not matter point to an example a larger opponent losing to a smaller opponent.   The issue there is that "matter" is completely outcome determinative, so whether a variable "mattered" is dependent completely on the outcome.  Size and strength don't matter only because of the loss.  But is that correct?  Is a loss just a loss, with no degrees of difficulty?  Assuming she could defeat all of them, would an experienced purple belt say there is no difference in rolling against a highly athletic former heavyweight Division I wrestler as they would an overweight, middle aged smoker, or a 130 pound desk jockey whose athletic endeavors stopped in the 6th grade?

Whether a variable matters depends on whether or not it created some likelihood of changing the final outcome (i.e., created a higher level of difficulty for the other person) . . . and one would assume the likelihood of an outcome changes if the opponent is a former heavyweight Division I wrestler vs some 130 pound desk jockey.

So what does this have to do with self-defense?

As Jay often points out, smaller people are more likely to be targeted by assailants (I am simplifying the concept of target selection down to one element, I realize), and assailants or more likely to be in the 200 pound ex-football player mold than the aforementioned 130 pound desk jockey mold.  In short, if you ever find yourself in a self-defense situation, you are likely to have to deal with a size and strength deficit.  And if you've never trained with larger partners because you believed that size and strength don't matter, then you could be in a world of trouble.

So how do you avoid this?  For starters, understand that size and strength do matter, and prepare and train accordingly: