Monday, March 29, 2010

Position vs Submission vs Control

When I started jiu jitsu, “position position position” was drilled into my head. Back then they told us good position would allow you to control and dominate your opponent, whether it was jiu jitsu or fighting. And when you got a superior position, you did everything you could to hold it.

But as people were learning jiu jitsu, things were changing. It was no longer a done deal when someone got position on someone. Before that, when a jiu jitsu guy got the mount or the back the fight was over. But once people started learning how to defend and to escape, the idea of just holding position seemed to wane, even with punches.

As my training continued, I started seeing other types of games that were more submission oriented. The goal was to get the tap and if you spent all your time holding position, you were stalling. Now these were mainly in jiu jitsu situations so no punches were being thrown so one could argue position with punches leads to the submission.

Without the punches, and with the influence of leg locks things really started to change in jiu jitsu too. Your legs can do many things to defend the pass but when you’re worried about someone dropping back for an ankle lock or spinning to a knee bar it changes the game.

With no gi, the heelhook further complicates this situation.

So at some point, for me, it seemed like there were two possibilities: be a submission guy or be a control guy. And in my own training, I would go back and forth on that. Usually it depended on what I could do to the opponent: there were people I could tap and there were ones I could only get position on.

I would fall back on controlling people that were hard to tap. And the control always felt like a type of panic. I was exerting a lot of energy and muscle trying to keep them put. When I’d go in submission mode, I’d let them move more, which felt fine as long as they weren’t a threat.

But over the last few weeks I’m beginning to see something different. I’m thinking that the real object is control. And most times control is about not only having position, but putting the opponent out of position.

Position and control are deeply intertwined. But to control someone doesn’t mean just to keep him immobile. I think more than anything it’s about putting them out of position, giving them a series of bad options.

I was watching a wrestling instructional by Cael Sanderson where he talked about not worrying about what takedown he was going to do on his opponent. He simply wanted to put the guy out of position and from there the correct takedown would appear.

From a jiu jitsu point of view, I look at this as modifying the concept of any position.

Take the closed guard. For a long time I’ve worked on breaking posture. I figured as long as the head was down, I had opportunities to attack while the other guy had to work himself back into position.

Against someone with good base or someone big and strong, this quickly would turn into me trying to hold them down and hopefully catch an arm or a choke when they were on their way up. It often felt like a 50/50 moment where they would either posture out completely or I’d catch the submission.

And this always bothered me. I don’t like even odds in a situation like this and it’s certainly not something I’d want to teach to someone either. Jiu jitsu is about stacking the deck in your favor.

For a long time, I felt like maybe the answer was just going for more submissions or sweeps. Maybe going for the pendulum sweep or rolling for the knee bar would keep them on the defensive.

This would work, but only up to a certain point.

A higher-level player is waiting for these submissions and will use it as an opportunity to advance his position or to attack with a counter submission.

So was lost in what to do past a certain point. It felt like controlling was involving too much strength and that submissions had too low odds. Both ideas seemed limited by either physical or skill elements.

But both ideas are also not really jiu jitsu.

Throwing up submissions looks flashy but stops working on people when they get past a certain skill or size or combination of the two.

And simply trying to pin someone or keep them in your guard is not only boring it also does not motivate a calm person to do anything. So if you’re crushing someone who isn’t bothered by being crushed, it’s only a matter of time until you get tired.

I think it’s mainly that the mentality is wrong. The idea of holding someone implies that if they escape, you have failed. You want the person to try to escape. You just want to give him only bad escapes.

So rather than a crush, it becomes collar bone control, neck pressure, far hip control and more combinations of specific pressure. If your opponent has to realign their body first and then escape second, you can always be a step ahead of him.


  1. Do you think this is an advanced concept or one that can be applied at a novice level as well?
    I tend to think the former is true. Seems like you have to keep it simple for a beginner, and the old adage "position before submission" works well from a number of perspectives - controlling their own body, applying a submission correctly, etc.. I'm interested in this topic because my brother is a mid-stripe white belt. He has been patient with his subs and focused on positioning and it has allowed him to advance at a good pace (I think). I encouraged this strategy with him. At what point do you think it makes sense to open the cocoon and modify the concept to "position before submission...almost...".

  2. I agree with you Slade. I actually think that position and control are really the same thing. So my concept of what position is has changed somewhat and continues to