Critical Thinking and Jiu Jitsu IV

The Hierarchy and Duality of Position In the context of Jiu Jitsu, position is everything. It’s an important statement, so I’ll state it again: In the context of Jiu Jitsu, POSITION is everything. Position is of course the basis of understanding Jiu Jitsu. You’ve heard it in any Jiu Jitsu class taught anywhere, and if you haven’t taken a Jiu Jitsu class before, I’ll repeat it a third time: In the context of Jiu Jitsu, position is EVERYTHING. Okay, so I think I’ve emphasized the importance of position in Jiu Jitsu quite a bit, but I won’t take credit for the statement. As fundamental of a concept as this is, heck I’ll go as far as to say this is a concept declare this to be a cornerstone to our beliefs about Jiu Jitsu, this statement is certainly warrants further investigation. First thing we can do is break down the word “Position”. In this case seeking a dictionary definition isn’t a whole lot of help in the matter. Webster’s online dicitionary ( offers five possible interpretations, only two of which seem to be of any possible value: 1 : an act of placing or arranging: as a : the laying down of a proposition or thesis b : an arranging in order and 3 a : the point or area occupied by a physical object : LOCATION b : a certain arrangement of bodily parts Hmm, for right now we will hold off on defining position more and ask another important question: In the context of Jiu Jitsu, whose position is important: your position, or your opponent’s position? The answer is, of course, that both the position of yourself and the position of your opponent is important, the tricky part is how those positions are interrelated. Here are two more questions to consider. Is it possible for both you and your opponent to have “good” position? Is it possible for both you and your opponent to have “bad” position? The Hierarchy of Position Time to revisit the definition of position as it relates to Jiu Jitsu. While there are a seemingly infinite number of techniques within Jiu Jitsu, there are really only four major positions within Jiu Jitsu (ground positions) to consider: The Guard Side Control The Mount The Back You could argue there is a fifth position in Jiu Jitsu (it’s not what you are initially thinking however); we’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s examine the four positions a little more in depth. There are of course, many different variations on each of these positions, but what we are looking for is the commonalities within each of these positions first: The Guard: Opponents face each other. Bottom fighter has use of both his or her arms and legs in manipulating/controlling their opponent. Within a pure grappling context the bottom fighter has many offenses and options. The top fighter has less options and offenses, but more options may present themselves as the situation and rules become less controlled from a pure grappling match to a MMA contest to an all out street fight. Has MANY different variations on this theme including, but not limited to closed guard, open guard, half guard, spider guard, butterfly guard, quarter guard, De La Riva Guard and many more. Side Control: Opponents face each other. Contact between opponents is largely between upper bodies. Legs are used for blocking or leverage, but not really in direct contact with their opponent (except in case of knee on stomach). Top fighter has a number of offenses and options, bottom fighter has very little in terms of offense and is largely obligated to escape. For purposes of this discussion, we will include in this category traditional side mount, north south positions, and knee on stomach. The Mount: Opponents face each other. Top fighter has use of both his or her arms and legs in manipulating/controlling their opponent, and is clear of the bottom fighter’s legs. Top position has a number of options and offenses, bottom fighter must escape this position. There are a few variations of this position, including, but not limited to standard mount, high mount, S-mount and others. The Back: One opponent has control and full view of the other and the other opponent less to no view and little control. First opponent has a myriad of options and offenses at their disposal, where as the second opponent has to be able to both escape and face his or her opponent. Variations are informally named, but vary based on which fighter is on “top” and which is on “bottom”. Each of these major positions will receive more in depth coverage in separate columns. For now, you will notice that each of these positions has something in common: they refer to someone utilizing the position and someone who it is being utilized on. In other words, you cannot have two fighters using the same position on each other. Both fighters will be aspects of the same position; for example one fighter will be utilizing the guard, the other fighter will be inside the guard. If you take that the order of positions given so far indicate a general rank of effectiveness Guard–>Side Control–>Mount–>Back then we have a clear hierarchy that emerges that begins to look like this in the context of two opponents (from worst to best or more accurate least o most offensive): Having your Back taken Being underneath Mount Being underneath Side Control Being Inside the Guard *Neutral Establishing the Guard Taking Side Control Taking the Mount Taking the Back *Remember when I talked about the fifth position? The neutral position is when both fighters are completely even (position wise) and both have the exact same offenses and options at their disposal. This usually occurs at the start of any match, but may emerge during the match at times as well. It is an important place to consider, and like the other traditional positions we will cover it more in depth in its own column down the road. The Duality of Position So within each of the defined positions of Jiu Jitsu there are two people involved: one person applying the position and one person the position is being applied to. This much is inevitable. So we are brought back to a pair of questions I asked earlier that I did not give an answer to yet: Is it possible for both you and your opponent to have “good” position? Is it possible for both you and your opponent to have “bad” position? Within the set of parameters given so far, the answer is no, except in the case of the neutral position one opponent will always have a “better” or superior position than the other. HOWEVER….. Within each position it is possible to be stronger or weaker. No matter what position you may find yourself in, there is always a “best possible scenario” or as I like to call it, a safe point. (If you’re recall from an earlier essay, safety is another cornerstone of Jiu Jitsu). For example, if you’re inside the Guard, there is a correct way to posture and keep yourself relatively safe from the offenses of your opponent. We might go as far to say that one can be extremely defensive from the guard and depending on the situation could be fairly offensive as well. If your opponent is fairly weak at establishing a guard, then this may be an example of although categorically it should be a “bad” position for you and a “good” position for your opponent, we could say that both opponents can have either “good” or “bad” position depending on your viewpoint. The guard is close to a neutral position, so it’s not a great leap to say that it is either position within the guard (top or bottom) can be considered a good position. By this same leap of logic, we can move up (or down, depending on your viewpoint) this hierarchy of position and say that any one of these positions can be classified as “good” or “bad”, right? Not really. It would be hard to define being underneath the mount as a “good” position in any context, it so far along the hierarchy that you would never want to find yourself there. However within each position in the hierarchy there is always a best case and worst case scenario. You may be underneath the a mount, but there is definitely a correct and relatively safe way to be underneath the mount, and a number of ways to be underneath the mount that will have you tapping out quickly. If you understand the concept of the duality of position, you will be on your way to becoming a more effective Jiu Jitsu Fighter. What do I mean? Well, we’ve taken the number of positions in Jiu Jitsu from four to eight (*nine) in the last few paragraphs and now it’s time to take it back to four. Example: by definition if someone is utilizing the mount, someone has to be underneath a mount. In order to have an effective mount, there are certain things you want to be able to do, and certain things you want to force your opponent to do. At the very least then, what you’re looking to do while on top and what you’re looking for your opponent to do, you should be looking for the reverse while you’re on the bottom. If you’re looking to come up underneath someone’s armpits from the top and expose their arms to attack, when you’re on the bottom you should be looking to keep your opponent from coming underneath your armpits and protecting your arms from attack. A lot of my personal development in Jiu Jitsu began merely by analyzing things I was trying to force my opponent to do when I had a superior position, and figuring out how to not get caught in that when I had the inferior position. It’s a simple enough concept, but one that didn’t come naturally to me right away. For example, instead of just thinking about what to do while on the bottom in the guard, I had to think about what to do while on top in the guard, and my overall understanding and effectiveness when dealing with the guard as a whole has greatly improved. Let’s Not Overstate The Importance of Position I say this after telling you at least three (now four) times that within the context of Jiu Jitsu, position is everything. When we are describing or explaining Jiu Jitsu, it is literally impossible to do so without utilizing position. However, it also important to realize that position within Jiu Jitsu is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. The ultimate goal in Jiu Jitsu is not just to control your opponent, it’s to finish your opponent off (or in more gentle terms: end the confrontation with yourself as the victor). Everything within Jiu Jitsu should be working towards the submission. After all, as long as your opponent is still in the match, they have a chance of coming back and submitting you (this is the duality of the statement that as long as you keep yourself safe, you have a chance of winning the match by submission). As you move along the position hierarchy, the odds that you will be able to pull off the submission (as opposed to having the submission applied to you) increase dramatically. The ability to keep yourself safe, and ultimately get the submission, is the true value to your position. Homework Assignment: Select your favorite position to be in. Make two columns underneath it. In one column list out everything you like for yourself to do in order to make that position effective. Then list out everything you like to force your opponent to do in order to make that position effective. Go back to the second column, and for each item you made in the first column, write a counter or maneuver that would nullify that move. For example, if you wrote extend opponents arms in the first column, write something to the effect of “keep arms tight in the second column”. The next time you go train, put yourself in the opposite of the position you like (example, if you like establishing the mount, start underneath the mount) and concentrate on what you wrote in the second column. As always you can report on your homework, get more advice or leave comments at the OTM forum: Next column: The Guard

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Gumby is the co-founder of back in 1997 with Scotty Nelson.