There are seven basic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu positions. These positions range from more control to less control depending on your perspective. If you have the positional advantage, more options are available to apply control or submission techniques.
As the student progresses through the BJJ belt ranking system, he or she cultivates a deeper understanding of each position. Knowing the appropriate time to apply a technique will depend on your position. For example, trying to apply an Americana arm bar while your opponent has you in close guard will likely result in an escape, sweep, or worse. Applying the wrong move at the wrong time may cause you to lose your position or the match. It could also lead you to believe that the technique is not effective.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Position Control Hierarchy
The ranking below is determined by the self-defense and techniques available during a confrontation. One of the core principles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is control. Each BJJ position listed below has different levels of control. The more control you have, the more patient and perhaps more “relaxed” you can be during a confrontation. In addition, the more control you achieve while applying BJJ techniques, the less energy you will waste. The positions below rank from having more control to less control.
- Back Mount
- Full Mount
- Side Control / Side Mount
- Close Guard
- Disengaged – standing or otherwise
The positions listed above are not absolute. Each of those positions have variations of the same position. Below we will discuss each position and describe some of the variations.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Back Mount
You can achieve full back mount when you have your opponents back while your opponent is face-down to the ground. Your leg hooks are in with one arm under the arm pit and one over the shoulder. Please refer to illustrations to see other back mount variations.
In self-defense, it is especially important to keep your head close to the opponent to prevent your opponent from head butting you. Keeping control of the opponent’s arm is also important so he or she cannot hit you or escape. Crossing the feet is a common back mount mistake. This is dangerous because your opponent could submit you with a foot lock or simply roll over and escape the back mount.
In the realm of sport BJJ, reaching back mount or rear mount is worth 4 points. This is one of two positions where you do not need to progress. In other words, if you achieve the back mount, you can stay there the entire match without penalty. It is a dominant position that opens many submission options.
When you reach back mount, the classic technique that opens is the rear naked choke. However, there are many other choke options such as the bow and arrow choke and lapel chokes. In addition, there are multiple arm locks and arm bar submissions available.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Full Mount
Achieving full Mount is the second most dominant position in BJJ. From this position, you can achieve full control of your opponent and protect yourself from strikes. Full mount means that you are sitting on top of your opponent’s torso so that you are facing each other. Your opponent’s back is to the ground. Some variations are low mount, high mount, technical mount, s-mount and reverse mount.
With proper mount control, your opponent has little chance to escape. The risk usually occurs when transitioning to a submission move. Control before submission is the mantra here. In other words, do not lose your position trying to apply a submission.
In sport jiu-jitsu, achieving full mount means 4 points and you do not have to transition further. You can spend the entire match at full mount without penalty. Of course, if you need more points, many submissions moves are available. Your opponent may get frustrated and impatient, so their escape attempts can be opportunities to submit with an arm bar, Kimura, cross collar choke, Ezekiel choke, Americana, and many other moves.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Side Control / Side Mount
Ranking the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu side control (aka side mount) as number three may be controversial. If you research BJJ position hierarchy, you will find that knee-on-belly ranks above side control. Knee-on-belly ranks higher because it provides more attack options. Because we are ranking the position based on control, BJJ side control is a dominant position. It deserves the bronze rank (3rd).
When applying side control, the key is to keep the opponent’s back to the ground. If the opponent goes on their side, he or she has a much higher chance of escaping. Maintaining control during side mount is key.
In sport BJJ, you do not get points for side control. It is a transition move; you have 20 seconds to move on or risk penalization. It is also a position from which there are limited submissions available compared to full mount or back mount. This possibly why many people dismiss it. However, there are various effective and relatively safe submissions such as the baseball bat choke, Americana or Kimura.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Knee on Belly
The BJJ knee on belly is a great attack position that will earn you 2 points in sport jiu-jitsu. During application of this position, it is important to make sure your upper body is vertical. The foot should touch the waist and the leg on top of the opponent’s belly. The other foot should be planted on the floor for balance. To maintain better control, one hand should control the opponent’s knee and the other in the collar while putting pressure on the opponent’s hips to lock him or her down.
The problem with knee on belly is that when applied slightly incorrectly, the opponent can escape. When applied correctly, the opponent will usually make a mistake and open-up even more submissions or attacks. The classic submission moves from knee on belly are near side arm bar, cross choke, and baseball bat choke.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Half Guard
On the BJJ half guard on top position, you are on top of the opponent but your opponent traps or controls of one of your legs. To maintain half guard while on top, it is key to keep the opponent’s back flat on the ground. It is progression position that the top person’s goal is to go to side mount or full mount. It is possible to apply submissions while on top of the half-guard. From the top, you have chokes and shoulder locks.
The person at bottom will try to be on their side. This is key to stop the person on the top from progressing. In self-defense while at the bottom with half-guard, keeping close to the chest is important to protect from punches. While at the bottom, escapes such as “take the back” are available. Attacks such as advanced knee bar and other leg locks are also available.
From the perspective of control, the half-guard (top position) ranks higher than close guard only because it more difficult for your opponent to strike you.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Close Guard
The close guard in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a classic position that provides good control. When you apply the close guard, you are on the bottom with your legs wrapped and locked around the waist of your opponent. In self-defense, many consider this a neutral position. The person at the top can strike blows and the bottom person has multiple submissions and sweeps available. If applied improperly in self-defense, it can be dangerous because the opponent can strike you. The key here is knowing the safe positions of the close guard. For self-defense, you want to keep your opponent close to you. If you understand the position, it is the best jiu-jitsu guard to control, submit or sweep the opponent.
In sport BJJ, the person in close guard would have a slight advantage. The person on top only has the option to escape. The top person does not have any submissions available. Some competitors have successfully applied the Ezekiel choke and even Americana. However, a knowledgeable competitor can easily counter these moves. The person at the bottom can apply sweeps and even multiple submissions while the opponent tries to escape. If the opportunity arises, straight arm bar and even the triangle chokes are available when you have the close guard.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – Disengaged
In the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you start the fight while standing and disengaged. This is a neutral position. However, if you mismanage the take downs, you may lose the match. Learning to apply take downs or avoid them are some important aspects of the sport. For advanced BJJ practitioners, submission chokes are available.
In the realm of self-defense, while disengaged, you must manage the distance. Jiu-jitsu offers two safe positions, two arms away so the opponent cannot strike you or close where your BJJ training can take over. There is no better self-defense than not getting into a confrontation. Avoiding threatening stances can avoid a confrontation. Of course, maintaining a ready position that is not threatening is also a good idea.
What about other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Positions?
As previously mentioned, there are many variations or progressions of the top seven jiu jitsu positions we have described. Positions not described in this article should not be considered unimportant. Learning positions such as north-south control, open guard, x-guard and many others are important in the growth of your Brazilian jiu-jitsu journey. A good jiu-jitsu practitioner can attack and submit an opponent. A great BJJ practitioner will dominate or control the opponent and will apply a submission only if no further negotiation is available. In sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you must control before you can submit an opponent. The 7 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu positions described above are key to understanding this gentle martial art.