Brazilian jiu-jitsu is best known for the numerous submissions practitioners use to dominate opponents on the ground. But not everyone knows each submission is only available from certain positions you need to be in. Many positions are found in BJJ, but do you know which are the fundamental ones?
The six basic positions in BJJ are closed guard, half-guard, side control, full mount, back mount, and knee on belly. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages for both players and knowing how to control, defend, and advance positions is crucial for jiu-jitsu success.
In addition to looking for a submission, having positional control over the opponent and advancing to a more dominant place is the primary purpose of each BJJ player. To do this effectively, you must have a solid understanding of the most fundamental positions.
The main goal of BJJ is to submit the opponent. Still, the way to do that is by first securing a position in relation to the opponent, which allows the application of certain submissions. Some less dominant positions, like the full guard and half guard, still provide opportunities to attack, but generally, having the more dominant position means you have much more options for joint lock or a choke.
This principle is fundamental in BJJ, and actively looking for and securing dominant positions is scored in competition and is the second way of winning a match outside of tapping out the opponent.
Guards are one of the most important things to understand about positions in BJJ. The definition of a guard in BJJ is when the bottom player uses his legs to control the distance between him and the person on top and his posture.
When one player is in one of the many guard positions, he is still on the defensive but also can attack. All other non-guard positions are considered better or dominant for the player on top.
A closed guard is a position where you are on the bottom, and your legs are wrapped around the player on top. This position is also known as a full guard.
The closed guard is perhaps the most definitive position separating BJJ from most other grappling martial arts. Whereas in judo, wrestling, and many other combat sports, being on your back means you lose the match, in BJJ, it is a crucial position players can attack and defend.
The closed guard is very common not only in sports BJJ but also in MMA and for self-defense. But the use in fighting is different from pure grappling. The closed guard removes the distance required for strikes in mixed martial arts and real fights. Still, those incoming strikes can be used effectively to lock in a submission, like the armbar and triangle choke.
In sports BJJ, the closed guard is the most common position at which matches are played, and it can be equally positive for the bottom and top players.
Many high-level competitors are great guard players and prefer to operate from this position, which created the pulling guard tactic. The fighter intentionally assumes the bottom position in full guard because he is confident in his submission attacks.
The main goal of the top player in a full guard is to pass it into some of the other positions that offer more offensive potential, ideally side control in sport BJJ and mount in MMA.
Half guard is very similar to the full guard position, but this time you have only one leg of the person on top entangled.
The half-guard is more of a transition between a more dominant position on top and one that allows for even more sweep options when you are on the bottom. When you try to advance into a full mount or side control and do it successfully, you’ll usually end up in half guard first.
But this is also a dangerous position because there are many more opportunities for a sweep, in which case you will end up on the bottom. Successful sweeps score 2 points in competitions. Many players do not mind being taken down into guard because they can return the points with their superior sweeping game.
Side control is the position where you are on the side of the opponent and form a T-shape against his body, pinning him to the ground chest-to-chest. This is the first dominant position for the top player as opposed to the guards, which offer few offensive options for him.
Side control usually occurs when you pass the opponent’s half-guard. Passing the guard into side control or mount brings 3 points in sports BJJ competitions.
As the name suggests, side control offers a high level of control to the person who obtains it. Once in side control, you have many variants to attack or freely move to other positions like the mount, north-south, or knee on belly. It is also a great position to apply many different submissions, including arm locks like the armbar, Americana, and kimura.
Being on the bottom in side control is very unfavorable. It becomes a purely defensive position from which you have to watch out for submissions, look for ways to secure a guard, and have attacking and more sweeping options once again.
The full mount is a very dominant position in which the top player is sitting on the chest or midsection of the opponent, who cannot use his legs to control the distance anymore. The mount is a powerful position of control for the person on top. There are many joint lock options and chokes from mount. Being on the bottom of a full mount is terrible in sports BJJ and even worse in MMA.
Especially in traditional BJJ with a gi, many dangerous chokes are available from the mount that use the lapels and sleeves, like the Ezekiel choke and cross choke, in addition to many more that don’t require the gi, including guillotines, arm triangles, and many more. Even without completing a submission, securing a full mount brings you 4 points in competition.
In MMA, the mount is even worse because the person on top can reign down punches and elbows, while the defending fighter has few options to defend.
But maintaining a mount is difficult against proficient grapplers, and you can easily be reversed. Then some submissions from there require you to transition into a different position, which can lead to a reversal, so you must be careful even if you manage to reach a full mount.
The most dominant possible position in BJJ is back mount. In this position, you control the opponent from his back and wrap your legs around him.
The back mount is a great position to attack from and is very dominant in jiu-jitsu and fighting. There are several ways to attack from the back, including the highest percentage finishing submission in all martial arts—the almighty rear naked choke.
The back mount is commonly the result of the opponent exposing his back while defending finishing attempts from mount. Especially in MMA, ground-and-pound strikes often force people to turn their backs, ending up in an even worse position. In sports BJJ, the back mount also scores 4 points.
If you find yourself the victim of a back mount, your only options are defensive, and they have to be on point. But there are options to escape this dreaded position and return to a more neutral place.
Knee On Belly
The last basic and scoring position in BJJ we will look at is the knee on belly. It is a position similar to side control, but instead of chest-to-chest, you have your knee on the opponent’s belly.
As a controlling position, the knee on belly is scored with 2 points. It is a very versatile position because you can use it to float in top position and use it as a transition to other positions. It can also open up the opponent because it lets him move around more than he would from typical side control.
The knee on belly creates pressure and forces the opponent to remove the knee, which can create possibilities for submission, especially against those who like to curl up and protect their limbs tightly against side control and mount attacks.
What Is The Strongest BJJ Position?
The back mount, also referred to as the rear mount or taking the back, is considered the strongest position in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Controlling the back creates a huge advantage in multiple ways. First, the opponent cannot see you and can’t be sure what you are doing.
Then he has no offensive options whatsoever and must constantly defend chokes. The back mount is the gateway to the rear naked choke, the most successful choke in sports BJJ and mixed martial arts. Applying a body triangle with the legs further makes escaping the back mount challenging.
The full guard, half guard, side control, full mount, back mount, and knee on the belly are only some possible positions in BJJ. Still, they are the most important, and each practitioner must be well-versed in working from them both in attack and defense.