There’s hardly any grappling martial art that is more versatile than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This is true both in terms of techniques, positions, options and the potential for evolution. Still, we can divide the whole sport of Jiu-Jitsu into three main areas: top positions, bottom position and submissions. Submissions are a category by himself, because sometimes when you catch one, you’re neither on top nor bottom. Top and bottom position, on the other hand, are more closely related. As such, they offer the same dilemma other related yet different things do – which is better? Very often, a grappler’s Jiu-Jitsu game is defined by their inclination to roll from either the top or the bottom. Which one do you prefer?
If there’s one constant about BJJ, it is the fact it is continuously in flux. The moves in BJJ never set because experimentation is such a huge part of the art. As the art spreads across the world, it’s evolution becomes faster and more complex. Everyone has something to add in this soup of grappling moves, some additions more eye-catching than others. Whatever the case may be, everything goes into one of the categories we mentioned. A pressure-based Jiu-Jitsu game form the top is usually the mark of guard passers. Flexible and fast work from the back is, on the other hand, what guard players are best at. So, with two such diametrically opposing currents, which one should you focus on? Is one really better than the other?
Before we go deeper into what you should focus on first, let’s settle an important matter. You absolutely have to know how to be good in both if you ever aspire to become a well-rounded grappler. That said, having a favorite of the two is what’s going to define the direction fo your Jiu-Jitsu game. Since we already know how important diversity is for the sport, consider applying the same principle to your individual game. Choose your preference carefully and make sure you at least understand how the other aspect works. As for submissions, we all love them in every shape or form, so all bets are off in that department!
Discovering Your Jiu-Jitsu game
Usually, when you start BJJ, you’re learning whatever instructors show. At this point, you have no idea what you want, or what is going to suit you. the right approach is to actually try and absorb as much knowledge as you can during this time. Further down the road, when you understand how things work, you can look in a more specific direction to develop your Jiu-Jitsu game.
The first thing that’s going to define your game are your physical attributes. This is key with beginners, as every lack of technique gets replaced with whatever athleticism one has. It may be a huge size advantage or enormous strength. On the other end of the spectrum are speed, flexibility, and endurance. Or, perhaps, it is pure heart and aggression that carries you through to a more advanced level. Your strongest physical quality will determine if you opt for a top or bottom game very early on.
Next up are any previous habits you might have. If you’re coming n from a wrestling background, or Judo for that matter, you’ll probably lean towards passing the guard. If you have more ground fighting experience (Sambo or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu) or perhaps, no experience, you’ll probably like to work off your back more. People that come from striking martial arts also seem to prefer staying on top.
Whatever the case, these are all factors that decide your Jiu-Jitsu game very early on. After you gain some experience, like getting a blue belt, you may continue on your path, or decide to try something new. AAt this time, though other factors come into play.
Starting From The Bottom
The general tendency in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, apart from wrestlers and Judokas, is to start off from the back. People with no grappling experience, in particular, find the closed guard position to be a real safe haven. With women and lighter guys, this seems to be the norm, actually. And it makes perfect sense.
First and foremost, getting to the closed guard is fairly easy. Once a grappler does that, it truly restricts what the top person can do, even if they’re a seasoned wrestler. The full guard offers security, which is what everyone looks for when thrown into a chaotic situation. It also opens the door to control without the need of too much technique. Plus, the guard is easy to maintain, despite often ending up in somewhat “boring” rolls. After all, everyone’s initial Jiu-JItsu game is all about discovering comfort.
As people progress, they discover that the guard is also a very attacking position. While it has the downside of offering no points in sports BJJ, it does offer attacks. What is more important it offers direct attacks. From the closed guard, people have options to submit that cover all the submission categories beginners have at their disposal. they can choke and armlock with a whole bunch of moves.
As you progress further and start to open the guard, you’ll also discover something else. Apart from direct submission attacks, the bottom position offers a “shortcut” to strong top positions. Namely, with a good sweep, you can bypass the opponent’s guard and end up directly in side control or mount. WHich now brings you to top position.
Evolving Into A Passer
Blue belt is the period where most people actually decide their Jiu-Jitsu game. This does not mean they won’t dabble in other things, but before black belt, they’ll probably stick to the main theme. This is also the time where guard passing enters the frame.
The one reason why wrestlers have such a difficult time dealing with the guard is that they don’t understand it. For people with a certain level of experience in Jiu-Jitsu, passing comes easier. Most beginners play guard, so when they end up on top they can relate to what the bottom person is trying to do. This will allow them to try and counter and, eventually, break and pass the guard. The only condition here is to spend some time learning how to balance on top. This is also the time when people decide if they’ll switch to passing or remain a dedicated guard player.
Entering competition is another huge point that influences where your Jiu-Jitsu game is going to head. Competition starts from the feet everytime. If your takedown game is non-existent, you’ll probably tend to go for guard. If you can take someone down, though, you’ll most likely want to stay on top. That means you’ll need to pass the guard in order to progress.
The top-based Jiu-Jitsu game offers a higher percentage of success in competition. This is mostly to the fact that, bar sweeps, only top positions bring you points. However, there’s nothing available unless you find a way to pass the legs. As we all know, against a solid guard play, that can be a real problem. Unless, like before, you have some experience in the guard, and know what to look for.
So, what’s your preference? Top or bottom? And, what led you to make that particular choice?
A perfect example of a well-rounded grappler that can do everything is Leandro Lo. He has both unstoppable sweeps and a guard passing game to put everyone to shame. Luckily, his secrets are not hidden anymore. Get the “Lo Guard And Passing Matrix” DVD and learn both top and bottom position essentials from the man himself!