Basic Brazilian Jiu Jitsu positions: The Ultimate Guide

Here are the most basic Brazilian Jiu Jitsu positions that you need to perfect today 

Are you new to jiu jitsu? Do you sometimes feel there are so many techniques that you don’t know where to start?

In this article we’ll be breaking down the most basic jiu jitsu positions, movements and submissions that you need to know and perfect, in order to have a solid base that will allow you to add more techniques later in your jiu jitsu journey.

In general, there are six major positions in BJJ: guard, side control, knee on belly, mount, rear mount and turtle. Each position has its own advantages, and some positions are worth points in a competition, usually ranging between 2 – 4 points.

This article will also list and explain the six basic submissions and movements every beginner should also know.

Table of contents

Why you need to know the basics of jiu jitsu well

Before getting into the core of this article, know that jiu jitsu is a never ending learning process. The moment you start to perfect a certain game is the moment when you start seeing the endless possibilities that can happen in any given jiu jitsu match, either at competition or training. 

Jiu jitsu is all about opportunities. You have five minutes with your opponent and opportunities are going to present themselves. Either your opponent is going to make mistakes or you are going to force your techniques on him/her. Are you going to take the advantage? Or will you miss the opportunity and find yourself in an unfamiliar position that you tried to avoid in the first place? 

Let’s take another example. Let’s say you’re driving down a highway you’ve never been on before and you’re supposed to take the next right to reach your desired destination, but you miss the turn. Now you have to drive all the way to the next exit and take a much longer route to reach your destination. This is exactly what happens to a lot of people when they are doing jiu jitsu. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Did you miss a position because you don’t know it well enough? Drill and explore the different reactions that can occur from a given position. 
  • Do you know a position well but don’t feel strong enough to maintain it? Work on your strength.  
  • Did you know a position well and have the strength to pull it off but you hesitated, maybe because you were rolling with a more experienced opponent? Work on your confidence and mental game.

You need to know and perfect the basics so you can later assess and have clear feedback from yourself about what you need to work on to improve. “You can’t learn to run before you can learn to walk” as they say.

The 6 basic positions, movements and submissions you must know when starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

We will be covering six of the most powerful and basic positions, movements and submissions. Some of these basic positions earn points which we’ve listed below:

Positions

  • Guard
  • Side control
  • Knee on belly (2 points)
  • Mount (4 points)
  • Rear mount / back control (4 points)
  • Turtle

Movements

  • Bridging
  • Shrimping
  • Escapes
  • Sweeps (2 points)
  • Guard passes (3 points)
  • Transitions

Submissions

  • Triangle
  • Arm bar
  • Americana/Figure 4
  • Rear Naked Choke
  • Guillotine
  • Kimura

6 basic jiu jitsu positions

The guard

The closed guard.

What is the guard?

The guard is usually defined as any position where one person is on their back or buttocks (the bottom player) with their opponent in front of their legs (the top player). 

What you need to know about the guard

The guard is what separates jiu jitsu from all other grappling arts. In wrestling and judo you lose if you get pinned on your back. In jiu jitsu if an opponent takes you down, yes he gets the two points, but as long as you have your opponent in your guard, you have a huge chance of winning the fight by submission or by sweeping your opponent to neutralize the two points. You can then start to attack and collect more points while hunting for the submission along the way. 

Open guard.

Humans by nature think that the opponent that is on his back is losing. And let’s be honest, sometimes the guard player does look like he is losing and getting smashed at the bottom, until all of a sudden he gets a submission out of nowhere and finishes the fight. In the early 90’s the real hype about jiu jitsu started when the whole world saw Royce Gracie win in the first UFC events against much bigger opponents in a spectacular fashion while on his back.

Learning how to use the guard is one of the most basic skills you have to be good at in order to survive in Jiu Jitsu. Using which type of guard is a whole other topic, because it depends on so many factors. Most Jiu Jitsu academies start with the closed guard due to the fact that you don’t have to worry about your opponent passing your guard as long as you have him in between your legs and you’re attacking and he is defending.

2. Side control

Side control.

What is side control?

The side control position is a pinning position where one player is on top of the other player chest-to-chest, with their body laying across and out to the side.

What you need to know about side control

If you fall into someone’s guard, your main goal should always be to pass the guard and get to side control. 

Passing someone’s guard can sometimes be tricky, especially against an experienced opponent. Reaching side control means that you have passed your opponent’s guard and prevented all the attacks that can occur inside his guard. Now you can start your attacks or transition to other dominant positions like the mount or back mount, which will result in exhausting your opponent and the numbers on the scoreboard getting higher and higher 😉

There are several ways to secure the side control position using the least amount of energy possible. Keep in mind that passing the guard and securing side control are closely related, but at the same time they are a completely different set of skills. You can be a great passer but have a weak side control, or you can have a solid side control but can’t pass guard, so they both complete each other but they have to be improved separately through specific training and drilling.

3. Turtle

What is the turtle position?

The turtle position is when one player is on their hands and knees with their head tightly in, with the other player usually on top of him or behind him.

What you need to know about turtle

The turtle position is usually used as a defensive position when your opponent has passed your guard but wasn’t able to secure the side control position. 

Why would someone put themselves in this position? 

  1. First of all, and most importantly, your opponent won’t get the three points for the guard pass, which can often be the deciding factor in winning or losing the fight. 
  2. Secondly, going to the turtle position opens up new opportunities for you to re-guard and start in a tighter and more secure guard. It’s like getting a second chance to correct what you messed up previously. 
  3. Lastly, if your opponent is facing you front-on, you can grind and get a takedown out of it, which can change the whole direction of the fight. 

The turtle position is an extremely powerful position but it also opens up a huge risk of getting your back taken. It has to be used at the right time and with suitable speed. You need to be aware of the risks you are putting yourself into so you can react quickly if these risks present themselves.

4. Mount (4 points)

The mount position.

What is mount?

The mount position is when the top player straddles the bottom player and kneels over them.

What you need to know about mount

Mount is the most dominant position in Jiu Jitsu. If you reach this position your opponent will start to convince himself that he is losing the fight badly, although there are many escapes from mount that are effective and work like a charm. 

Still, you never want to be in this position. Think of it this way, it’s like being in closed guard but with gravity playing against you. Your opponent has your neck and arms right in front of him with many submission options available. 

All you can do from mount if an opponent pins you in this position is to protect your neck and arms, or start to escape the mount, which will eventually expose you for submissions. So if you want to gain 100% control over your opponent, this is the position to be in, yet know there are many effective techniques to escape this position.

5. Knee on belly (2 points)

What is knee on belly?

This is when the top player has their knee on the belly of their opponent.

What you should know about knee on belly

Knee on belly is usually used as a fast alternative if you are passing the guard and want to secure the pass as fast as possible. You just need to drop your knee on top of your opponent’s belly while keeping the other leg far away from your opponent. 

It can also be used as a great way to let your opponent move, to open him up a little bit while still having decent control over him so you can hunt for submissions. Sometimes an opponent is so worried about the submission from mount or side control that he curls up leaving no openings for submissions. This is when the knee on belly comes in handy. 

A knee on belly applied the right way can feel like hell. I am sure you have seen white belts tapping only from the knee on belly! If done right, it will leave your opponent breathless and desperate to escape. If you ever feel stuck in side-control or mount, you should consider transitioning to knee on belly and watch the magic unfold.

6. Rear mount / back control (4 points)

What is rear mount / back control?

The rear mount usually involves you sitting behind your opponent’s back with your legs wrapped around them to lock them in place.

What you should know about rear mount

Rear mount is also considered one of the most dominant positions in Jiu Jitsu. When you hear someone screaming at a tournament “choke him!” it usually takes place when the back is taken. 

There are few better ways to choke your opponent than rear mount, where your opponent can’t even see the attacks coming. You are basically like a backpack with several weapons to choose from. 

Taking the back can be done from a vast array of positions in jiu jitsu, whether you are both on your feet wrestling, playing guard, side control, mount, knee on belly, during a sweep, while going for a submission etc. There are so many entries that can be learned to get to the back mount.

Basic jiu jitsu movements

Now let’s move on to a different element in Jiu Jitsu: movements. Positions and submissions are the core of Jiu Jitsu, but without the right movement neither of these can be reached.

1. Bridging

What is bridging?

The bridge is when you forcefully lift your hips off the ground while leaving your weight on your shoulders and back to create space, usually in order to escape and move to a more advantageous position.

What you should know about bridging

The bridge is an essential part of any grappling art. The main purpose of the bridge is very simple: to avoid getting pinned on your back. Getting pinned on your back for three seconds in side control after getting your guard passed awards your opponent three points. And in other grappling arts it means that you lose the match. 

So why is it so essential to have a strong bridge? You never want to be flat on your back, whether it’s in closed guard, half guard, side control or mount. Why? Because you are so much stronger and more mobile on your side. 

A strong and well-timed bridge allows you to create space between you and your opponent, and placing a frame on your opponent’s shoulder prevents him from coming back on top of you for a couple of seconds. This is the best time to hip escape fast and place your knee between you and your opponent, which eventually should lead to gaining solid control on your opponent. 

Also, most of the techniques that are used to escape from mount start with a strong bridge. These are only a few examples of the many ways you can use a bridge in jiu jitsu.

2. Shrimping / hip escape

What is shrimping?

A hip movement which creates space between one player and another, usually to prevent a guard pass or other advantageous movement from the other player. Also known as a hip escape.

What you should know about shrimping

The shrimp is one of the first movements you learn on your first day of Jiu Jitsu. 

Shrimping is one of the main movements that has a direct effect on whether or not you will have good guard retention. Many would think flexibility is the only way to have a strong guard, and while it plays a huge role in guard retention it’s not the only ingredient. Knowing how to use your frames with shrimping can be more than enough to have one hell of a guard. 

I’ve rolled with many people in the past that aren’t very flexible but have an impassable guard, just because they use their frames and shrimping correctly. This method doesn’t even allow your opponent to get close to you. 

So if you want my advice, do your hip escapes, no matter how many times you think you already did them. Failure to do regular hip escapes, even as a solo drill, can definitely make your guard retention a bit lacking.

3. Escapes

What are escapes?

A technique or sequence of techniques to escape a disadvantageous position e.g being in someone’s mount.

What you should know about escapes

The age-old question around escapes is usually: “Why work on escapes when I can work on my attacks until they are so strong I won’t even need to learn how to escape?”

Let’s imagine a scenario. Say your attacks are so strong that you literally destroy every opponent you go against. You are in the final of your division and you are winning by 20 points with 20 seconds left on the clock. Both of you are standing on your feet. You are already celebrating in your mind, you’re checking the timer every second and out of nowhere your opponent jumps for a tight flying triangle. 

Are you willing to lose this fight just because you didn’t train your escapes? Or are you willing to grind it out in training and force yourself into bad positions and submissions, so that when something similar happens in real life or in a competition you won’t lose focus?

No matter how skilled you are, there is always the possibility that someone will be able to put you in a submission or a bad position. Make sure this only happens in the gym and not in a real situation or competition.

4. Sweeps (2 points)

What are sweeps?

A sweep is when one player reverses a position to get a better position, usually from being on their back to being on top of an opponent. In IBJJF competitions, sweeps must start from the guard or half guard position to earn points.

What you should know about sweeps

Sweeps are the guard player’s best friend. Sweeping somebody mainly involves off-balancing your opponent while playing guard. Off-balancing your opponent allows you to sweep and get on top with much less force than attempting a sweep while your opponent has a strong base. It also opens opportunities for submissions. 

Sweeps can be applied from all types of guards, including closed guard, half guard, spider guard, lasso guard and more. 

Learning how to sweep from your back can take some time to master. You need to fully understand how different types of opponents move and the best way to sweep opponents while adding to the equation your body type too. Each body type will find it easier to apply certain types of sweeps rather than others, and the only way to know is trial and error while also listening to your coach’s advice.

5. Guard passing (3 points)

What’s a guard pass?

A guard pass is basically when one player neutralizes and overcomes another player’s guard to move into a more advantageous position.

What you should know about guard passing

Guard passing is basically trying to solve the riddle that your opponent is presenting with the certain guard type they’re playing. You have to figure out the best pass to use while maintaining a strong base and looking out for submission attempts.

Guard passing can be done in many ways:

  • Speed passing. This involves surprising your opponent with a quick and sharp pass that lands you right in his side control.
  • Pressure passing. This mainly involves tying up your opponent and applying pressure while on top of him. This results in your opponent seeing the pass coming but being unable to stop it.
  • Hybrid passing. This is a mix of both speed and pressure passing which is believed to be the best way to set up your passing. This keeps you versatile, unexpected and is often more effective than using just one type of passing. 

Note that sooner or later if you don’t mix up your passing style your opponent will be able to predict what’s coming next.

6. Transitions

What’s a transition?

A transition is when a player moves from one position to another position or submission.

What you should know about transitions

Any jiu jitsu practitioner, regardless of the level, has heard the word “flow” a lot. Well this is when transitions come into play. Master Cyborg always used to tell me that he believes Jiu Jitsu is like a ball – once it gets going you can’t stop in the middle. 

What does he mean by this? Jiu jitsu is all about transitions. For all we mentioned about how important positions are, they are useless if you don’t know how to go from one guard to another. The same applies for submissions, if you don’t know how to transition from an arm bar to a triangle to an omoplata, how are you going to trick your opponent if you only play closed guard from beginning to end? And how long will you be able to hold your opponent in that closed guard? Probably not very long, especially with a skilled opponent. 

You have to be loose and open to transitioning between different types of guards. Even if you plan to finish your opponent from closed guard, put him in other guards just to make him wonder and get him confused. This will make it much easier to execute your actual game plan. 

When you watch high level black belts fighting, it sometimes looks so smooth and easy it’s like they’re surfing. This happens due to years and years of experiencing almost all the positions and figuring out the most efficient ways to transition between one position and another. 

Basic but important BJJ submissions

In this last section we will be talking about the whole purpose of any jiu jitsu match, the submission. In general, finishing a fight with a submission is considered the best way to finish. 

You never want to leave the fight in the hands of the judges, so finishing by a submission ensures that you get the win and move on to your next challenge with plenty of gas in your tank, especially at higher levels when fights are 10 minutes or longer. Sometimes you won’t finish a fight by a submission, which is not a bad thing, but you should still be hunting for submissions all the time whether you’re winning or losing.

1. Triangle

The triangle involves having your opponent’s neck and arm in between your legs in a triangle shape and it ends by flexing your quads and hamstrings in a certain way that chokes your opponent. 

The triangle and armbar are one of the highest percentage submissions in a tournament. This is because the triangle can be set up from almost any type of guard, in addition to being on top. Once you pass someone’s guard you can start setting it up from side control, mount and even back mount so there is always a possibility for a triangle finish if you are on the attacking end of a fight. 

Once you catch the triangle there is a very small chance your opponent will get out of it. You just need to know how to adjust it the right way to prevent your opponent from countering and doing any kind of escape.

2. Arm bar

The arm bar is a joint lock that over-extends the elbow joint, forcing your opponent to tap. 

Arm bars and triangles go together like peanut butter and jelly, with the arm bar also being a very high percentage submission that can be set up from any attacking position in jiu jitsu. 

Also, if you have an arm bar on your opponent and you are struggling to finish, there is always the possibility of switching to a triangle and vice versa.

3. Kimura

The kimura grips.

The kimura is a very powerful shoulder lock that can be applied from different types of guard and almost from any top position. 

The kimura was named after Masahiko Kimura, who was considered one of the best judokas of all time back in the day. This technique was officially named after him right after he finished Helio Gracie with a kimura that dislocated Helio’s shoulder several times before his corner threw in the towel. 

Nowadays there are many set ups and variations that makes the kimura a very powerful attack and also opens up possibilities for sweeps.

4. Guillotine

You can tell by the name that this submission is definitely lethal. The guillotine is a choke that is applied on the neck only. To simplify it, any time your opponent extends his neck, you can go for the guillotine, whether on top or bottom. 

Generally the guillotine is considered more of a nogi submission, but it can still work very effectively with the gi. Two masters of this submission are Marcelo Garcia and Josh Hinger, who are both true perfectionists when it comes to this move.

5. Americana

The americana is a very powerful shoulder lock that is considered to be one of the easiest submissions to do from side control and mount. 

The set up for the americana is fairly easy and it’s also fairly safe. It gives you the luxury of going for the attempt, and if it doesn’t work you’re right back to the same position you were just at. Many submissions don’t have the same luxury, and come with a possibility of putting you in a less dominant position if they fail. This risk is much lower with the Americana, especially when applied from top side control and mount.

6. Rear naked choke

Last but not least is the rear naked choke, also known as the “mata leon”, which in Portuguese means the lion killer. 

To apply the rear naked choke you have to be controlling your opponent’s back while gently sinking in one arm under his chin and connecting it with your other arm, while holding your biceps. With even the least amount of pressure applied your opponent will be taping in no time.

Positional hierarchy in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: Which positions are the best and which are the worst?

Lastly we will be summarizing all the previous positions, movements and submissions in one simple diagram that shows the different options from the positions we mentioned. It also highlights when a specific movement will be needed, along with different submission options from each position. This diagram is based from an attacking perspective and it’s just one scenario from many that can occur in a jiu jitsu match.

An example of the different movements, positions and submission possibilities in BJJ.

Below is also a hierarchy of the different positions in Brazilian jiu jitsu based on the book Mastering Jujitsu by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher. It shows the most advantageous positions for the person on top, moving to neutral positions, and then shows the most disadvantageous positions when on the bottom:

Diagram of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu positional hierarchy listed from best to worst
The jiu jitsu positional hierarchy according to Mastering Jujitsu, 2003.

What’s next?

To sum things up, we highly recommend that if you’ve just started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to invest time in perfecting the basics at least for a year. Berimbolos, flying attacks and all the fancy moves you see on the internet will eventually come with time. All these moves are just an evolution of old school jiu jitsu anyway. So stay safe, train hard and see you on the mats. Ossssss!


About the author

Mohamed Omar Abd El Aziz is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt Under Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu. He’s one of the first three black belts in Egypt and also the youngest.

He started training in martial arts almost 10 years ago. First it was MMA for a couple of years and then his love for Jiu Jitsu took over, so he started training with the gi full time. From the beginning at the white belt level he started traveling for training and competing all over the world. He’s trained at many world class gyms like Fight Sports Miami, AOJ Costa Mesa, Atos San Diego, Roger Gracie London,Marcelo Garcia NY, Brunswick BJJ and Team Nogueira Dubai.

Four years ago he started Anubis Martial Arts Academy based in Cairo, Egypt. It’s currently one of the top martial arts academies in Egypt, with two very successful locations.

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