Sun Tzu once said that, in war, skillful fighters put themselves in positions where defeat is unthinkable. In jiu-jitsu, the same applies. As a result, jiu jitsu positions are the starting point for every escape, sweep, and submission attempt. For this reason, these positions become every grappler’s key to victory — if grapplers master them, that is.
Whether an athlete is a white or black belt, these six positions are ubiquitous in every BJJ match. By knowing and training in these six jiu jitsu positions, grapplers leave no holes in their mat games. Also, victory can be one submission attempt or sweep away.
Learn more about the six fundamental positions every BJJ athlete should know and master!
No. 1: Guard Position
No other position exemplifies the art of jiu-jitsu better than the guard position. Therefore, the guard position is one of the most fundamental positions in BJJ. And it’s for this reason that it’s one of the first jiu jitsu positions white belts learn.
Grapplers assume the guard position by lying flat on their backs and locking their legs around their opponents’ hips. The legs wrapped around the opponent’s hips or midsection prevents the opponent from moving into a more advantageous position like side control or full mount.
A grappler can bring someone into the guard position in several ways. For example, grapplers and MMA fighters move to the gourd position after the opponent attempts a takedown. Meanwhile, another common way to assume the guard position is to pull someone. The pull can be with the gi lapel or with an arm drag.
To the average onlooker, being in the guard seems disadvantageous since it’s a bottom position in grappling. But make no mistake.
The guard position is where many BJJ submissions start. Grapplers adept in the position finish fights with triangle chokes, guillotines, armbars, and Kimura locks. Masters of the guard position can also attempt more challenging moves like the omoplata and gogoplata.
Grapplers can also sweep from the guard and end up in the full mount, a more advantageous position in BJJ, catch wrestling, and MMA.
In short, the guard is a position that opens up various opportunities to outscore or defeat an opponent. So it’s a move worth mastering for anyone serious about the mat game.
No. 2: Side Control
The side control position is a top position in jiu-jitsu and other grappling disciplines like wrestling and Sambo. It’s also one of the most popular positions in catch wrestling, as shown by grapplers like Josh Barnett.
The side control or side mount is similar to a wrestling pin position. In BJJ, a grappler can get into the side mount by staying on top of an opponent. The grappler’s knees must be at the armpit or hip. Also, grapplers who wish to hold side control must have their arms clasped around the arm and neck to prevent the opponent from shrimping.
Side control is a position BJJ athletes can assume after a successful double-leg takedown. Grapplers can also move to side control after passing the opponent’s guard position.
Side control or side mount is an advantageous position in a grappling match or MMA fight. In BJJ, a grappler in side control can attempt various shoulder locks like Americanas and Kimuras. Athletes with longer forearms can also slide their arms in for arm triangle chokes, ala Jacare Souza.
Other possible side control submissions include scarf hold arm locks and side chokes like the one Josh Barnett used against Dean Lister in Metamoris.
If submissions aren’t possible in side mount, grapplers can move to full mount by sliding one knee across the opponent’s belly. The grappler can also “ride” the opponent by going knee-on-belly.
What’s the knee-on-belly position? Read on to find out!
No. 3: Knee On Belly
Side control or side mount is one way to control the fight from the top. Knee on belly is another. And it’s a painful high-percentage way of imposing one’s will on the opponent!
Getting the knee on belly position begins from side control. Once a grappler achieves side mount, all the grappler needs to do is slide the knee on the opponent’s stomach and posture up. Next, the grappler can post with the free leg and grab the opponent’s armpit or gi for added stability.
Knee on belly works the same way as side control. It places the grappler’s weight on the opponent’s midsection, preventing escape. However, knee-on-belly adds more discomfort with the pressure of the knee atop the opponent’s belly (as the term implies).
With the knee on the opponent’s stomach, the opponent will breathe heavily, shrimping slowly. The added benefit of the knee-on-belly position is the space it gives the grappler. In this position, the grappler can fish for the opponent’s far arm and attempt an armbar.
As the opponent tries to turn in the direction of the knee, the arm is also susceptible — vulnerable enough for the grappler to attempt a Kimura.
The added benefit of the knee-on-belly position is the number of options the position opens up. For example, the grappler can transition into full mount or North-South position from knee on belly. The grappler can also take the opponent’s back if the opponent turns to the knee too much.
No. 4: Full Mount
The entire mount is a position where a grappler sits on the opponent’s midsection with the legs on both sides of the opponent’s body.
For many, the total amount is the most advantageous position in any fight situation. A fighter can rain blows from the mount on an opponent’s head. Some of the best exemplars of this application include the likes of Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Diego Sanchez.
In jiu-jitsu, the full mount opens up various opportunities for submissions. It’s one of the most high-percentage positions for armbars and mounted triangle chokes. Grapplers can also attempt specific chokes from the mount.
Getting to the full mount requires work. The position demands working from several positions. One option is to pass the opponent’s guard to get to side control, then to full mount. Grapplers may also sweep the opponent from guard to get to full mount.
No. 5: Rear Mount or Back Mount
The back mount is also one of the most sought-after jiu-jitsu positions. As the name suggests, the rear mount is a position where a grappler grabs the opponent from behind.
The rear mount has many versions. The most commonly taught version of white belts is the one where both feet are between the opponent’s thighs. Also, the arms must be in a “seat belt control” position where one arm is over the opponent’s shoulder, and the other comes from underneath the other shoulder.
Other versions of the rear mount include what’s known as “the truck.” The truck is in a rear mount position where both legs hook just one of the opponent’s legs. With the free leg exposed, grapplers who attempt the truck can attempt uncommon submissions like the electric chair or the twister.
From rear or back mount, many submissions are possible. The most commonly attempted one is the rear naked choke. However, with enough flexibility, grapplers can attempt triangle chokes and armbars from the back mount.
No. 6: Turtle
Grapplers need to master the turtle position to add to their defensive arsenal. It’s also an excellent position to master for high-level jiu-jitsu competitions like ADCC. Just ask ADCC 2022 Superfight Champ Gordon Ryan and BJJ black belt Eduardo Telles.
The turtle position allows grapplers to defend themselves from back takes and chokes. A grappler gets into the turtle position by getting on all fours and keeping the arms, legs, and chin tucked. The tight position of the limbs and neck prevent the opponent from attempting any submission.
The turtle position is one of the most versatile defensive jiu-jitsu positions anyone can learn. Unfortunately, just like the guard, it is a misunderstood position. More specifically, most people deem it a vulnerable position.
However, grapplers can use the turtle position to defend and escape the bottom at the same time. An athlete whose opponent hasn’t taken the back can roll to either create distance or establish a better position. Athletes who have “turtled up” can also prevent opponents from scoring points for attempts and position takes in competitions where winning is possible by outsourcing the opponent.
In short, recreational or competitive grapplers must develop a solid turtle game.
Drill and Master
Developing a well-rounded ground game requires mastery of the six essential positions mentioned here.
As we’ve said in the past, mastery requires drilling and repetition. If you’re looking for an academy to master your ground game, head over to Granite Bay Jiu-jitsu and sharpen your game in any position!