The Best Position in BJJ

Buckle Your Seatbelts

Micah Caputo

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is commonly thought of as being all about the submissions. Neophytes to the sport often talk about how one fighter could beat another because he has better submissions. They may say that a Jiu-Jitsu fighter would win a fight versus a wrestler because of submissions. The uninitiated may also say that if a wrestler has good submission defense he will win the fight because the Jiu-Jitsu fighter will be on bottom in bad positions over the course of the fight. This is a short sighted and overly simplified way to look at Jiu-Jitsu. Aside from submissions, two key concepts that BJJ teaches is transitions, moving from one position to another, and control, not allowing your opponent to escape or mount an attack. There is one position that does both of these things very well, while also providing a viable platform to attack a much larger opponent with submissions. This position is, in my opinion, the best position in all of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The back position, specifically, the back with the over-under grip or the seatbelt grip. The benefits of this position can be scientifically determined.

One of the many great aspects about BJJ is that it is a science. Many people may classify it as a sport. However, its many applications go much deeper than merely another sport. For example, boxing is a sport, but without hand wraps and gloves a boxer has a very high chance of breaking his hands in a street fight. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is effective without the accoutrements and equipment of the sport. This may lead people to assume that it is a martial art.  Jiu-Jitsu is not art. The definition of fine art is, “An art form developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than utility.” Clearly BJJ has utility and is practical as demonstrated by Royce Gracie in the early UFCs. This contrasts with some traditional martial arts, which are clearly non-practical and developed primarily for aesthetics or concepts.

However, there are other types of art. For example in medicine there are well-researched fields that are extremely well known and have been thoroughly studied. These fields fall under the realm of science. There are also other areas of medicine that have not been so well researched and studied. These areas fall under the realm of art and are practiced under the guidance of tradition and personal experience. For example, a doctor can say that a disease can be easily cured by following specific guidelines laid out by the governing bodies of medicine. Another disease, like certain types of cancers, may be less well studied and doctors must rely on personal experience to come up with the best available treatment. The best doctors combine art and science effectively.

In this way, BJJ is like medicine. Parts of Jiu-Jitsu are clearly science. For example, if the carotid arteries are constricted by a chokehold then the person will lose consciousness. Another example is if a person’s joint is bent past a certain degree against a fulcrum, the strength applied through that leverage would cause the limb to break. Other areas of BJJ fall under the realm of art. Things like finding the correct timing during a transition come from a mix of practice and experience.

This combination of art and science makes Jiu-Jitsu more similar to medicine than to traditional martial arts. A more appropriate classification for BJJ might be martial science.

With this classification of Jiu-Jitsu as martial science it is fair to evaluate the best position in BJJ scientifically. An example of using the scientific method to solve a problem in BJJ is with a problem I began having as a blue belt. I had been submitting everybody with an armbar from guard. However, my training partners had learned how to defend against it and some were simply too large to effectively armbar. After struggling with this problem I realized that the best position to defeat these larger opponents, who were experienced at defending my armbar, was to attack them where they were weak and where their strength would not be a factor. I initially decided I needed to abandon the guard and find ways to get on top. It was difficult to get on top though, and often my training partners were able to defend my submission attempts even when I was able to get on top. Then I decided to try and take the back. This was a much more successful method and I began submitting my training partners consistently once again.

The reason for this is that with their backs turned my opponents are unable to effectively use their upper body strength against me. The anatomy of the arms prevents an opponent from using the strength of their arms to escape the position as effectively as they can be used in other positions, for example passing the guard or escaping side control. The anatomy of the spine allows it to bend forward, but only a very little backwards. This gives me superior control as I attempt to stretch my opponent out and remove his ability to escape and defend attacks. With my legs wrapped as hooks around my opponent’s hips, my control over their hips negates their lower body strength and allows me to use the full strength of my entire body against their exposed back. The power of the guard position comes from the ability to use the large leg muscles to control the opponent. In the back position these leg muscles are nearly useless to the opponent as I have my body positioned well above his hips. Choke defenses that rely on tucking the chin and blocking with the hands are also ineffective for large opponents as my small hands and forearms could slip and wiggle into position easily. Lastly, the position enables submission attacks from behind not only my opponent’s forward strength, but also my opponent’s vision.

Upon further analysis of the position, I realized that the two main keys to really make the back position effective were the grip and the angles. The best grip for controlling the back is the over-under, seatbelt grip.

With one arm over the shoulder and one arm under the armpit of my opponent I am able to effectively control the position and prevent their escape while at the same time enabling transitions to other positions, for example the mount.

There are a large variety of submissions available from the back attack position that work in tandem with the seatbelt grip. With one arm over the shoulder it is easy to quickly move from one submission attempt to the next using small movements before the opponent has time to react. To list just some of the submissions available: collar chokes, Ezekiel chokes, armbars, head and arm chokes or arm triangles, and rear naked chokes. Without the gi, collar chokes and Ezekiel chokes are gone, but head and arm chokes, arm triangles, and rear naked chokes become much easier to finish. By chaining these different submissions together they become much more effective as the opponent struggles to defend several attacks at once. This provides the ability to attack an area where the opponent may not be mindful. An important detail with the seatbelt grip is the squeeze. By maintaining tight steady pressure with the arms I am able to control the opponents’ body even further and hinder escape attempts. This squeeze in tandem with the grip is a powerful control tool even from the turtle position without the hooks in. The upper body is effectively controlled from turtle even without the hooks.

The second key to the position is the angle of attack. By shifting my hips to the side I found that my ability to attack collar chokes like the bow and arrow choke was greatly improved. Also by moving my hips at an angle, my legs and feet are moved higher on the opponent’s body. This allows me to cross my ankles without fear of being ankle locked and potentially trap an opponent’s arm beneath my leg. I can even move a leg over the opponent’s shoulder and trap it, further tightening my chokes. The angle also moves my body closer to the armbar position. In the meantime, my grip under the armpit on the same side as my hips allows me to control the arm as I quickly make a small transition to the armbar. This transition is made smaller by the angle than it would be from the regular “squared up” back position without the angle.

The angle also allows a smaller transition for the head and arm chokes if the opponent attempts to escape by putting his shoulders on the mat. This also works for the transition to side control or mount. By changing the angle it is quicker and easier to move from the back position to these positions when the opponent attempts to escape.

The combination of body positioning, grip, and angle make the seatbelt control the most powerful position in BJJ. The back position allows a variety of submissions as well as the ability to control an opponent and transition to other dominant positions. This position is the perfect storm when the art of experience and the science of anatomy are combined to perfection. When I am on my opponent’s back I always buckle my seatbelt.

5 Responses to “The Best Position in BJJ”

  1. Dan Swift says:

    Awesome Article! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Dan Swift says:

    Awesome article! Thank you for sharing!!

  3. Apollodorus says:

    You think that is more dominant than the cruxifix or mounted triangle? Dumbass.


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