On Keeping the Top Position

This is an excerpt on one of the most important sections from my book ” A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu” – you can download the rest of the book (and even get a free email-based course on BJJ) by going to

Keeping the top position is a contentious issue. To illustrate the debate, let’s consider the one of the classic BJJ techniques: a straight armbar from Mount. If you manage to pull it off and apply the armbar then that’s great, the match is over. If your opponent manages to defend against the armbar, however, then you will typically end up on the bottom, in Guard. Going for that armbar means that you are accepting the risk of trading a superior position (Mount) for a neutral position (Guard). Some instructors and coaches will encourage you to go for that armbar, while others find the risk of losing top position unacceptable.

As with all attempts to balance risk and reward balancing acts, however, everyone has their own comfort zone. Some BJJ practitioners are perfectly happy to abandon top position to pursue a submission, whereas other, more conservative, practitioners prefer submissions that don’t yield the top position if the submission attempt fails.

If you are competing in mixed martial arts (MMA) or are in a self defense situation then I would think long and hard before abandoning the precious top position. Any time you end up on the bottom in a context that includes striking there is always the chance that your opponent, with gravity on his side, could slip some heavy punches, elbows or headbutts through your defenses. If, on the other hand, your emphasis is more oriented towards sport BJJ or submission grappling then you have a more latitude about ending up on the bottom. Being on the bottom in a sport BJJ context isn’t so bad if you have a good Guard game.

One of the decisions you’ll have to make at some point in your BJJ career is where YOU stand on the issue of keeping the top position. Even if you become a die-hard top position player, there are still several reasons why you should still learn and occasionally practice submissions with an inherent risk of you ending up on the bottom.

First, it may help your athletic development, and make you feel more comfortable in scrambles where positions aren’t so clear cut and the role of the combatants (i.e. top vs. bottom) changes very rapidly.

Second, an opponent may reverse you and send you to the bottom against your will – feeling comfortable with these techniques may allow you to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat en route to the bottom.

Finally it will allow you to better counter these techniques should an opponent try them on you; because the best way to learn to counter a technique is to know how to apply it yourself.

What you just read was a brief exempt from my highly reviewed book “A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”  You can get it at

Now most things in life that are free are crap, but I’d like to think that this is NOT the case with my book.  I’m giving it away both to spread awareness of the art, and as a way to get my name out there.  So go download it right now!

Stephan Kesting

The post On Keeping the Top Position appeared first on Grapplearts.

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