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Basic BJJ Positions and Terms – A Quick Guide

There are six basic bjj positions which are full guard, half guard, side control, mount, rear mount, and turtle.

Here is our quick post on bjj positions. Of these six positions there are also variations and other more complex positions built off of them, but these are the most common.

1. Full Guard

Description: Full guard is a position where one person is on bottom with their legs wrapped around the top person.

It is what sets bjj a part from other grappling based martial arts such as wrestling and judo since the bottom person can be dangerous from this position and can effectively attack submissions and sweeps.

Offensive Goals: while there are some submissions the top person can go for, generally, their main goal is to break (open) the guard of the bottom person to escape the hold of their legs.

Once their guard is broken then the top person can go on to try to pass (get around) the legs of the bottom player and attack submissions.

Defensive Goals: from the bottom position there are a variety of submissions and sweeps available. Some of the most common are armbar, triangle, kimura, guillotine.

Additionally, the bottom player can also use sweeps to take their opponent over and get to top position.

Is guard a dominant position?

   In sports jiu jitsu (full) guard can be considered a dominant position where you can hit various attacks and sweeps. Generally, the person on top wants to break your guard in order to escape and avoid any of these possible attacks.

However, in the world of MMA, where striking is possible, full guard is not the most ideal position.

Unless you have a large amount of experience in playing bottom positions in the sport, you usually always want to be on the top position in order to avoid taking blows from your opponent where gravity is on their side and where you aren’t able to fully defend or counter attack.

2. Half Guard

Description: Half guard is a very, if not the most, dynamic position in bjj. It involves each person having one leg between the leg of the other person.

Where both practitioners almost have equal opportunity for attacks. The person who wins this half guard battle like many other position comes down to control and distance management. 

Offensive Goals: the top person is looking to pass the bottom person’s legs or attack a submission.

One of the main ways they will attempt pass is either by getting upper body control of the bottom person with an under hook and/or cross face and trying to get the bottom person flat to their back

Defensive Goals: from the bottom position, the person is looking to either attack submissions or get a sweep.

Common submissions from this bottom position are arm bars, triangles, kimuras, and guillotines. If they are able to stop the top person from getting upper body control and can control the distance through their own under hook and by getting their weight off of them, this can be a very effective position for the bottom player

3. Side Control

Description: Side control is when the top person has been able to move around the bottom person’s legs and control them with upper body control lying across them in a perpendicular fashion.

This is one of the most dominant positions in jiu jitsu and has a variety of submissions available to the top player

Offensive Goals: the first goal for the top player as with any dominant position is to maintain control and keep the position.

From side control this is done by keeping their knees pointing away and by maintaining strong upper body connection. Apart from that they can work toward several common submissions such as arm bars and kimuras or can work toward taking their opponent’s back and gaining the back mount position

Defensive Goals: The main defensive goal for the bottom person is to try to avoid submissions and then escape. This is done by keeping limbs tight to their body and avoid neck exposure then working toward a knee elbow escape

4. Mount

Description: Mount is when the top person is sitting on the bottom players hips/lower abdomen. Its a very controlling position and one of the most dominant positions in jiu jitsu.

From here, they can work towards several submissions such as an arm bar or head and arm choke – all of which relying on getting the defending opponents arm raised above their shoulder line. The top person can also work toward taking their bottom players back by driving arms across and exposing their back

Offensive Goals: Again, the first goal when in a dominant position is position maintenance.

Based on the insight from Gordon Ryan in his mount instructional, this is done by keeping your  knees inside the elbows of the defending player.

Additionally, controlling their lower body can assist when dealing with bridging or shrimping. From there, several submissions are the next aim.

This all involves separate the limbs of the bottom person from their body. Alternatively, if you are able to bring one of their arms across their body you can work towards taking the back.

Defensive Goals: as with side control, the first defensive goal of the bottom person is avoiding submissions. This is done by keeping arms close to your body and keeping your elbows inside their knees. After avoiding submissions, you can then work toward escapes by working to bring your legs back in front of you or by trapping an arm of your opponent and rolling to one side.

5. Back Mount

Description: Back or rear mount or simply back control is when you are on the back of your opponent usually with a “seat belt” grip.

Additionally, your legs or “hooks” are usually inside your opponents legs. Back control is the most dominant position in jiu jitsu that leaves your opponent extremely vulnerable and unable to fully defend attacks that are coming from behind them.

Offensive Goals: From the back position, you can maintain the position by utilizing your legs in a “body triangle” or different variations to keep proper alignment of your chest to their back.

Additionally, you can use a seat belt or a “one on one” grip to control the upper body and hands of your opponent. Once control is maintained, you can work toward submissions from the back. The most common submission from the back is the rear naked choke.

Other common submissions achievable from the back are rear triangles, arm bars, or even switching to guillotines.

Defensive Goals: The main defensive goal for the defending person is to keep their hands on top of the attacking person’s hands to avoid them exposing their neck for a strangle.

You must constantly monitor their hands as the number one priority while then working toward an escape.

Escapes are usually done by dis-aligning your body with theirs and fighting the grips to bring both of their arms to the same side.

For further study on defending from the back, Gordon Ryan’s instructional, The Pillars of Defense: Back Escapes, has been very beneficial at both dealing with the attacking person’s leg configurations and choking attempts:

6. Turtle

Description: In turtle position the bottom person is usually on all fours and the top person has some kind of upper body grips on them. In the picture above the top person is using a body lock.

This is a very common position in wrestling and is also a very dynamic position in jiu jitsu. For the bottom person it can lead to takedowns, scrambles, or rolling back to your guard to defend. 

Offensive Goals: The top player has two great options from this dominant position.

They can either work toward front headlock attacks such as guillotines, or they can work toward circling their opponent in order to get to their back and being attacks from there 

Defensive Goals: The bottom person’s main goal should be to stay active and continue moving.

Whether this be to work towards a takedown or work towards other scrambles to re-guard. If the bottom person is stagnant then it gives the attacking practitioner the ability to work toward their back or their own front headlock chokes.

In addition to stay active, they defending person needs to constantly be defending their neck from chokes and their back to defend go behind attempts. With these to goals met they can then work towards takedowns in the form of double or single leg attacks.

What is the Best Position in BJJ?

The best position in bjj is back mount. This position leaves you able to implement one of the most effective submissions in all of jiu jitus – the rear naked strangle.

It also leaves your opponent at a large disadvantage since they are unable to effectively deal with attacks coming from behind when compared to dealing with attacks in front of them.

Additionally, if you look at all of the high level finishes among top bjj athletes you’ll see that a near majority of these finishes come from the rear naked choke submission.

For example here is a pie chart of the submission results from the 2nd ADCC North American and European Trials 2022 for example. You’ll see RNC holds a large majority of submission wins.

BJJ Basics – Positions Explained

Below is a breakdown of each position. Within each I define it with

  •  a short description
  • possible offensive goals
  • possible defensive goals

First here is a table of common bjj terms that will be mentioned along with these positions:

guardyour legs
passing guardwhen you are working to get around an opponent’s legs and into a dominant position such as side control or mount
break someone’s guardfrom the top position in full guard – opening someone’s legs to escape
hooksyour feet; in bjj often feet with be described as hook ie “get your hooks in” (get your legs wrapped around a person)
sweepwhen you are on bottom and you are able to knock your opponent over and get top position
framesyour forearms and hands. these are considered frames to “frame” your opponent and keep them away
shrimp(ing)a movement where you are using your feet to push your hips and body back and away from your opponent
bridgingwhen you are on your back and use your feet to push off the mat and extend your hips upward
under hookwhen your arm is wrapped underneath the arm of your opponent
over hook/whizzerwhen your arm is wrapped over your opponent’s arm
cross faceusing your arm to wrap around the head of your opponent

What Are the 3 Most Dominant Positions in jiu jitsu

The 3 most domininant positions in bjj are side control, mount, back mount.

A dominant position can be described as a position where there are many more submission options available for the attacking player vs the defending one.

Each of these positions do just that by opening up a variety of submission for the attacking person while severely limiting the submission options for their opponent.

Additionally, these positions enable you to have an enormous amount of control of your opponent.

This is usually done by some combination of control of both their upper and lower body and a strong connection of your body to theirs.

Hierarchy of BJJ Positions Explained Further

With trends constantly changing in jiu jitsu and certain positions becoming more prominent than others this chart should be taken from a point of view of how safe you are from submission attacks.

Quick note – one of the example of these changes can be found in Craig Jones recent “power bottom” bjj instructional. He has said that turtle is becoming more popular and effective as jiu jitsu further combines with wrestling. Since we are seeing more and more bjj practitioners “wrestling up” from bottom position, turtle has been more popular and more of an attacking position for the bottom person that can lead to take downs and openings for the bottom player.

Related: Want to find out how to learn to wrestle for bjj – check out our post here

Positions in BJJ – Why It’s Important to Learn these BJJ Basics

   Hopefully, this quick intro and guide of basic bjj positions and terms has helped your understanding of bjj, and gave you some info to before your first class.

These are the most common positions in BJJ, but there are other more complex positions that are usually built off of these six positions which again are: full guard, half guard, side control, mount, rear mount, and turtle.

Going into your first class with this understanding of the basic positions will be hugely advantageous. Depending on how your first class is ran, the instructor may or may not fully go over a position or term before guiding students through techniques.

Thanks for reading and see you on the mats! – zack