Hierarchy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Positions

While teaching I have noticed a level of frustration that occurs among many beginner BJJ students.  Let me explain; if you begin training at a quality BJJ school you will typically begin with several introductory classes.  In the intro classes you will learn the arm bar from the guard, maybe the triangle from the guard, a rear naked choke and several other basic techniques.  Once you understand the basic techniques you are moved into the white belt class and confusion sets in when you are asked to roll live.  Countless times I have heard, “what do I do now” or “I don’t know what to do”.  If you feel this way it is because an important part of BJJ has never been explained to you.  You need to learn the hierarchy of positions for BJJ.

By understanding the hierarchy of positions, you will begin to see how techniques flow or chain together. Your awareness of the hierarchy of position will lead you to a better understanding of submissions.  There is an old phrase in BJJ that states, “Position before Submission”.  Here is a basic breakdown of the hierarchy of positions ranging from what is considered the most dominate to the worst position you can be in.

Best to Worst Positions in BJJ

Full Back Mount – you are on your opponents back he’s belly down and you have your hooks in
Full Mount – you are on sitting on top of your opponent facing him, chest to chest
Knee on Belly – you are in a side control position, but with one knee on your opponents stomach and the other posted on the floor for balance
Top Side Control – you are on the side of your opponent, chest to chest (90 degrees)
North South – you are on top of your opponent face down with your hips over your opponents head
Top Half Guard – you are on top of your opponent but unlike full guard, one of your legs is trapped or controlled by your opponent’s legs.
Guard – guard is considered a neutral position in BJJ with no real advantage for either player
Bottom Half Guard – you are on your back trapping one of your opponent’s legs with yours
Bottom North South – you are on your back with your opponents hips over your head
Bottom Side Control – you are on your back with your opponent on your side
Bottom Knee on Belly – you are on your back with your opponent knee on your stomach
Bottom Full Mount – you are on your back with your opponent on top chest to chest
Bottom Back Mount – you laying face down with your opponent on your back

Obviously the positions go from good to bad in the reverse order when you change from top to bottom position.

So how do you use this knowledge of hierarchy of position?  Simple, find the position that is next in the domination scale and try to move to it.  I can hear the moans.  OK, let me give you an example.

You are in your opponents guard (on top). To move up the scale you will want to pass the guard to side control.  When you achieve side control try to move to knee on belly, and then to full mount.  At any point in the chain you can try a submission of course, but remember the more dominate the position the more likely you are to get the submission.

If you are in a bad position like Bottom Full Mount, try to get your opponent to half guard or knee on belly, then move into bottom side control.  From bottom side control try to reclaim full guard.  Once you are in guard now try to sweep your opponent and get top guard……… see the logic?

When you first start to roll, just think about improving your position and submission opportunities will present themselves.  Better yet, don’t even try submissions until you are comfortable in the hierarchy of positions and know where you are supposed to be going.  But most of all have fun!

I’ll see you on the mat!          


Wayne Spinola is an instructor at Open Guard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing.

Previous reading
Apex, NC Named #1 in Top 50 Places to Live on Money.com
Next reading
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 101