Win On Top. Stay On Top.

Position / Submission

The above term is one of the most quoted in all of Jiu-Jitsu. It is a term almost synonymous with BJJ, and something I came across very early into my fighting career. Unfortunately, it took me years to actually understand what it truly meant. Along with “Relax”, these are terms carted out by instructors everywhere, to students who mostly ignore the importance of the advice. But it is the core of pretty much all grappling arts.

To quote Chris Haueter, “Judo is the art of fighting the upper body in cloth, Greco Roman is the art of fighting the upper body without cloth. Wrestling is the art of staying on top, no matter what, and Jiu-Jitsu is everything else.” Out of everything, Jiu-Jitsu is the most free form of grappling, but this doesn’t mean that the other ones should be disregarded. They all have something in common, don’t end up on your back. What Jiu-Jitsu does is bring in the idea that being on your back isn’t a death sentence, and incorporates the incredibly handy “Guard”.

Now Guard is fascinating. It takes someone who is in a bad situation (on their back), increases their number of weapons, and evens out the fight against the mechanical advantage of the person on top. Due to how fascinating and complex Guard is, it is easy to get sucked in to learning all the different versions, sweeps, submissions, and everything in between. And it should be this way. It should be played with relentlessly. But every now and then, it should be turned into what it is truly meant to be used for, winning, and the most effective way to win is to be on top.

Every other grappling art has figured it out, don’t end up on your back, with Jiu-Jitsu being no different, and this includes if you get a “sure fire submission”. In an interview with Ryan Hall he talked about how he no longer uses flashy stuff to win fights, but instead tries to emulate the strategy of Roger Gracie, a man who just passes, gets mount, and chokes. Seems like a really simple strategy to use.

It is really tempting to sometimes give up a position for a “sure fire” submission. You have their arm locked up in mount, and you move to go for an arm bar that ends up with you lying on your back, but now you’ve lost the mechanical advantage, and should that submission fail, they’re now back on top and you’re fighting from the bottom again.

It is safer to go for the submission that doesn’t require you to give up position. Which comes back to the quote at the top. It is easier to abandon a submission to retain a position, but if you bail on a position, you have nothing. Which is what Roger Gracie is pretty much doing every fight where he wins from mount. He is ensuring that he has the greatest mechanical advantage, then sets to work on a submission, and should it fail, well he still has the positional advantage and he can get back to work.

Can you win off your back? Absolutely. Triangles are fantastic. So are guillotines and all the other fun shit. BUT SHOULD IT FAIL, the advantage is in the other persons favour and not in yours.

Everything we do in Jiu-Jitsu boils down to implementing this strategy should we need it. Sweeping, passing, getting mount, and destroying. Watching any of the old Gracie Challenge videos you can see this strategy in action.

This strategy also includes the temptation of taking the back of someone. Again, if you’re back is on the floor, the other person has the mechanical advantage, even if you’re on their back. Because should they turn, you’re back in guard, and on the bottom again. It is a lot safer to get a Rear Mount instead of straight forward back control, because the mechanical advantage is still in your favour. They are still carrying your weight.

Does this mean you should give up training all the flashy stuff and stick to Jiu-Jitsu 101? Not at all, what makes this sport so fun is the many many ways of moving a human body and subsequently breaking it. It’s why there is the argument that Sport BJJ couldn’t be used in a street fight. It can, if the switch is flipped. Takedown, pass guard, get mount, kill.

Catch wrestling is the closest to core strategy Jiu-Jitsu. Takedown and don’t end up on your back, get a hold of the other person however you can, stay on top, and break ’em. All grappling is the same when you come down to it.



Or you could just leg lock them.


Published by Chris Paines

Grappling Coach

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