Jim B: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usling/35135184393/in/photolist-e3pp2r-WLi5aP-VwM1eg-7PbgGV-W2rQia-8MrEbM-6TtwLH-W2rQmM-b8zUfk-8MuKxj-8MrExM-8MuKiw-8MuGFs-8MuHuy-8MuKgE-8MrETK-vdooA-vdooC-VwM2pn-VXUtD5-4vL4eR-W2rLce-8MrFyB-p9pv86-8MuGU7-8MuGtW-8MuJ2j-8MuHdQ-8MuJ9L-8MuJbQ-8MrCHM-8MrECH-8MuHDC-8MrDo6-8MuKkU-8MuKnE-8MrDEi-8MuK9h-8MuJLq-8MrDx2-8MuJJw-8MrEdP-8MuJSU-8MuM1d-8MrEmK-8MuKQs-8MrE4H-8MrF7D-8MuGRm-8MrDqR

Where am I? A Beginner’s Guide to BJJ Positions

If I restarted as a white belt who knew no jiu jitsu, this is information I would hope to be given before my first roll.  Lots of attention is given to techniques, but it can be difficult to see how to use them if you don’t know where you are.  There’s a lot of knowledge out there about each position and its variations.  This is my advice for smaller people and women as a blue belt; I know it will change as I learn more and I will update this to share my new knowledge with you as well.

The Back:

Benicio Murray: https://www.flickr.com/photos/beniciomurray/32832091552/in/photolist-8asbuR-8asbCx-8asbyg-8avr5C-8avr19-S2g3Y1-btkMD8-qrUdrz-QYjQ1Y-aQcfU4-QcmYM

  • Top: Stay close, don’t cross your ankles, and if you’re losing position – don’t hold on so long that you end up on the bottom.  It’s better to give up position earlier and end up on top of mount than to hold on and end up on the bottom of sidebody.
  • Bottom: Don’t panic.  Use technique to escape because you don’t learn from thrashing around and possibly headbutting your partner.  If you’re in a body triangle, tap if you need to – it’s an actual submission.  Try to get your shoulders to the mat to escape to the guard or at least bottom of the mount.

The Mount:

Craig Bush: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bigbadwolfmedia/5381574007/in/photolist-hpT6HF-hpT3V6-5mf8fV-7XrEY3-5mf85x-87UWXu-hpUD3m-hpSC2E-hpVvL4-9cB4G3-9cxYsK-9nbUfZ-9cxVFR

  • Top: Stabilization is the top priority.  I like to get a super high mount and tuck my feet into their ribs or go to s-mount.  Stay low so they can’t toss you off.
  • Bottom: This can be a really scary place for some people.  Particularly if you feel like you’re being suffocated by your partner’s gi.  Just relax, take a deep breath (hopefully their gi is clean….), and remember the worst thing that can happen is you tap and start over.  Keep your elbows in and learn the upa escape (it works for competition jiu jitsu and self-defense).


Benico Murray: https://www.flickr.com/photos/beniciomurray/32832109872/in/photolist-2fbfEm-S2g9pS

  • Top: This is a position I know I need to work on.  The best advice I have for now is: stay closer to your partner’s head than their belt (you’re heavier that way), keep your hips low, and stay close to your partner.
  • Bottom: This is my least favorite position to be in because this is where I tend to get hurt.  The key is to make room and keep the pressure off of you as best as you can.   My teammate, Hannah, is fantastic at turtling rather than allowing someone larger than her to get to top of sidebody.  I tend to focus on connecting my knee and elbow that are closer to my partner’s legs, then recomposing guard.

The Guard:

Andy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aewang/9433013620/in/photolist-fnyEiS-fnZKh4-fof1TL-fnjCri-fnyECo-fnyPC7-fnyRML-fnjJRT-fnZL9v-fnyGim-fnjtwV-foeXWd-fnjKcH-fnyWcC-fnyJx7-fof1tA-fnyLY1-fnjvYH-fnjGft-fnyJYu-fof2m5-fnyHwf-fnjH3D-fnjtqF-fnjrNH-fnjwnp-fnyDj1-foeY6w-fnZHD8-fnZHrc-foeYB5-fnyKko-fnZGUB-fnjvuB-fnyFBC-fnyK3y-fnyJ3u-fnyHnQ-fnyDHS-fnjwix-fof2Dd-fnjtEH-fnjrAV-fnjzWa-fnjtPe-fnjsV4-fnySLf-fnjsKV-fnyKW3-fnjsvn

  • Top: Having a good base and posture are important to avoid sweeps and submissions.  Passing the guard can be frustrating but think of it as an opportunity to learn how other people use the guard and learn what’s effective.  And, unless you really know what you’re doing, never try to submit someone from inside their guard.
  • Bottom:  I absolutely love the closed guard.  I know it looks awkward and can feel uncomfortable at first.  That’s ok – all of jiu jitsu is pretty awkward looking and uncomfortable at first if you think about it.  I want to convince you that its a powerful position and that you should give it a chance.  When I first started, my coach took me aside and explained that the bottom of the guard was the position from which I would most likely have to defend myself as a woman.  So now the guard is my go-to position with larger people who I’m not entirely comfortable letting on top.  You can attack even though you’re on the bottom, they can’t put an uncomfortable amount of weight on you, and there are triangles!  Don’t let people convince you that short people can’t finish triangles – I learned most of what I know about triangles from a shorter person and he was able to finish plenty of triangles while rolling with a variety of people.


  • If you’re ever in pain or panicking – tap.  It’s ok.  Know you always have the power to make the roll end if you need to.
  • Remember the person you are rolling or drilling with is your partner – not your opponent.  Respect them and their body.  If you hurt them, even accidentally, that’s one fewer person that you have the opportunity to train with.  And you can learn something from everyone.
  • Relax.  You can’t feel what your partner is doing if you are too tense.
  • Breathe.
  • Tap early and often.  Tapping is not losing, and tapping someone out isn’t winning.  Showing up, learning, and having fun is winning.  Don’t keep score.

What is your advice to new people?  Do you have any specific tips for women or smaller grapplers?

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