Oftentimes, a martial art can be instantly recognized through a still image because of the fighting stance used. The way the body is positioned when standing reflects what the offensive and defensive purposes are. The stance is usually the first thing you learn in martial arts, but not in jiu-jitsu, where the ground positions are more important. But is there a BJJ stance, and what does it look like?
The typical BJJ stance is a hybrid between the judo and wrestling stances. In jiu-jitsu, the stance is relatively low, on staggered feet, with the back straight, elbows tucked, and hands in front.
Stand-up grappling is not a priority for many jiu-jitsu players and is often neglected in many schools, which is why not everyone spends time perfecting their stance. But every BJJ match starts standing, so learning a solid stance on the feet will benefit every practitioner regardless of their preferred fighting style.
A fighting stance is the way you stand and distribute your weight on the ground while on your feet. The height of the stance and the position of the head, back, and arms are all parts of the fighting stance.
Every BJJ match starts on the feet, and you need to assume some stance to engage with the opponent. The BJJ stance is a hybrid between the judo and wrestling stances.
While a fighting stance is only a standing position, in BJJ there is a possibility for one player to be on the mat while the other is standing, which creates the necessity for a distinct stance.
Each martial art has a specific fighting stance corresponding to the goals of the practitioner. Striking stances are more varied and more important than grappling ones because the entire fight is on the feet and spent in an upright stance.
The stance in grappling sports is also important because it influences the success of attacking and defending, meaning taking the opponent down or preventing him from doing it to you.
But whereas in wrestling and judo, the takedown is the most important part of the game, in BJJ it’s not as significant, and many players even willingly choose the bottom by pulling guard and bringing the opponent on top of them.
This is why the upright stance in jiu-jitsu is considered merely a transition to the important domain—the ground.
The same cannot be said to the same extent for submission grappling because rulesets like the ADCC penalize guard pulling, and takedowns are more important, so the stance has more significance.
Regardless of what your style is, you will need to spend some time wrestling on the feet and have at least some fundamental knowledge of what the different stances offer.
It’s also important to understand fighting stances are always fluid. They can and should change almost constantly (at least slightly) according to the actions of the opponent.
Judo Stance vs Wrestling Stance
The stance in wrestling is crucial. Wrestlers need to protect their legs and the inside of their bodies from the opponent in order to prevent takedowns.
At the same time, they need to be able to quickly engage and attack the same areas of the opponent. This is why there are two types of stances in wrestling: offensive and defensive, and the difference is in the width of the feet.
The defensive stance is square, with both feet in line, providing more stability and easier sprawls, while the offensive stance is staggered, with one foot in front of the other, allowing faster movement forward.
Most wrestlers usually have one foot slightly in front of the other and rarely go into a squared stance. But as i explained above, the stance is not static and it changes all the time.
The remaining details are the same regardless of foot position:
- The center of gravity is very low and the knees are bent
- The head is up straight and the eyes look forward
- The elbows are close to the body and the hands are
The judo stance is quite different, especially after the leg-grab ban in the sport. Judokas stand completely upright because they are not allowed to attack below the waist, and their entire focus is on the upper body.
By standing upright, judokas have a strong posture, which makes them harder to throw.
The elbows remain close to the body, but the hands are halfway outstretched forward, ready to grab lapels and sleeves and prevent the opponent from gripping.
As I said, stances are dynamic and change during a match. The judo stance is very upright in general, but this doesn’t mean judokas don’t change levels and never assume a lower stance. In the video, you can see a good demonstration of how the two stances compare.
Both judo and wrestling predate jiu-jitsu and were the basis on which BJJ was developed. When we also consider the rules of BJJ it’s easy to see why the BJJ stance is somewhere between the judo and the wrestling stance.
The BJJ Stance
The jiu-jitsu standing stance in general is higher than a wrestler’s and lower than a judoka’s. Especially in the gi, there are a lot of possibilities to take the match to the ground.
You can grab and manipulate the gi for a judo throw or sweep; you can shoot for a takedown through the legs; or you can pull guard.
This variety means the stance must be able to respond as best as possible to all threats. But it also means different players have different styles, and the stances they use will vary more. Here is what a fundamentally solid basic BJJ should look like:
- Staggered stance with one foot slightly in front of the other
- Feet are shoulder width apart
- Knees are bent for a relatively low stance
- The back is straight and not bent. The head is also up
- Elbows are tucked close
- Hands are in front ready to grip fight
Every BJJ competition match starts on the feet. Unlike other sports, one player can choose to accept the bottom position by pulling guard, but even so, they must start on the feet.
This means that even for the brief time jiu-jitsu players stay on their feet, they need to assume a fighting stance. The proper stance is more important for those who prefer the top game.
For them, wrestling and judo have a lot to offer in terms of teaching ways to take someone down.
The amount of stand-up training in jiu-jitsu varies drastically from gym to gym.
Depending on the expertise and style of the instructors, it may be from almost 0% of the time to a fifth of the training time if the academy is more wrestling-heavy or prepares competitors for rules that value takedowns more than guard pulling.
In the Jiu-Jitsu stand-up game, there are a lot of ways to take the fight to the ground. There are takedowns by attacking the legs, trips, and throws with or without the gi as well as the option to pull guard.
The BJJ stance needs to answer all of them and is reactively low to protect the legs, while the back is straight to prevent attempts at breaking the posture, the elbows are tucked to protect the inside space, and the hands stay midway forward to battle for grips.