What are the main positions in BJJ?


When you go to your first BJJ session, you  might watch as others grapple and find it quite difficult to understand what’s going on. A bunch of guys and girls rolling round on the ground, struggling, short burst of action,  tapping and starting all over again.


Lets be honest; once you’re live training and sparring (“rolling”) things don’t become that much clearer. It’s only once you’ve been training for a few weeks that things start to click and you can answer the basic questions like “what position am I actually in” or “what’s a better position than this?”


To speed up that process for new students we put together this article to help you understand the basic positions that underpin BJJ.


There is a hierarchy of positions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Just like in chess, where some pieces are more powerful than others, the same applies to BJJ, some positions are better than others.


The main basic positions in BJJ are:


Back Control

When your opponent is facing away from you (either facing up toward the ceiling or down toward the ground) and you are on their back, then you have “back control” (aka rear mount or back mount).


This is the best possible position for you, and the worst for your opponent. Your opponent can’t see you, can’t choke you, can’t really joint lock you but you can do all of those things to them. All they can really do is try to escape.


Tip: Make sure you wrap your legs around your opponent and press them into your opponents thighs when on their back. These are called “hooks” and actually prevent your partner from escaping!



In mount you are basically sat on top of your opponent with your legs straddling them.


This is a really strong position as you can put your opponent under a lot of pressure. You can also sit up and attack with chokes and joint locks. Your opponent can’t really do anything to choke or joint lock you. Be careful you don’t get rolled off (or “swept”) though!


Tip: Don’t let your opponent trap your arms or legs or you’ll be swept in no time.


Side Control

Another strong position. When you have side control you have got passed your training partners legs and are perpendicular / 90° / sideways -on to your opponent.


There are lots of great options for chokes and joint locks from here.


Tip: Don’t let your opponent make space. If they can make space then they can “shrimp” out and escape.




This is a really nasty form of side control. You can pin your opponent with a knee across their belly. If it’s a competition or street fight though you could even pin them with a knee to the ribs / chest. Not nice!


Again, there are several submissions from here, like the baseball Bat choke but this is mainly a position of dominance and control.


Tip: pull your opponent up at the same time as you drive your knee down to apply full force.


Half Guard

Like the name suggests, half guard means you are half way to passing your opponents guard. To put it simply you have one leg trapped between your opponents legs.


There are some submissions you can apply from half guard whether you’re on top or below and some people even specialise in this position. Generally speaking, if you’re on top in half guard then you want to get to a better position like side control or mount. If you’re on the bottom in half guard you want to get back to full guard.


Tip: Try not to stay in half guard. If you find yourself in half guard focus concentrate on getting to a better position.


Quarter Guard

The big brother to half guard, in quarter guard you have almost got past your opponents leg, only problem is, your foot or ankle is still trapped between their legs.


Just like half guard there are a few submissions from here but the main focus is on getting to side control or mount.


Open Guard

If an opponent is on their back and has you trapped between their legs, they have what’s called “guard”.

If their feet are crossed behind you this is “closed guard”. If their feet are not crossed this is “open guard”.

Your opponent may be directly below you or they may not even reach you, if their legs aren’t crossed it’s still open guard

Tip: Your opponent will be trying to grab your arms, legs or go (uniform) – don’t let them!


Closed Guard

In closed guard your opponent has their legs wrapped around your body with their ankles crossed behind you.

From here it is actually your opponent who has the advantage. They can sweep you, submit you and control you. In a mixed martial arts (mma) fight you may be able to strike them, but even this opens you to various submissions.


Tip: a lot of new students make the mistake of trying to submit their opponent when inside their guard. Doing this just opens you to your opponents submission attempts. Instead focus on escaping their legs by sitting up and peeling their legs off.


This is just the “main” positions in BJJ. Theres a ton of other weird and wonderful positions we’ll look in the future. These include:


  • S-mount
  • Technical Mount
  • North South
  • Scarf Hold/ Kesa Gatami
  • Deep half guard
  • X guard
  • Reverse X guard
  • Z Guard
  • Del la Riva
  • Reverse del a Riva
  • Butterfly
  • Spider guard
  • Worm guard
  • Squid guard
  • Octopus guard
  • Donkey guard
  • Turtle Guard
  • 50/50 guard
  • Rubber guard
  • Shawn Williams guard
  • Inverted Guard