Understanding Inferior Positions In BJJ

The emphasis on the guard differentiates BJJ from other grappling martial arts. The guard allows a grappler to create offense opportunities out of a defensive scenario or to escape inferior positions and prevail. Recognizing when you are trapped in these positions is crucial, as mastering escapes is one of the most important skills in BJJ. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common inferior positions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


Inferior Positions In BJJ

In Jiu-Jitsu, inferior positions mean the opponent has the upper hand as you are trapped or pinned under the opponent, typically using hooks or other forms of configuration to secure the hold. Being controlled by the opponent in these positions can leave you vulnerable, which they can use to transition to other dominant positions or apply submission holds.


Most Common Inferior Positions In BJJ

As John Danaher suggests, for beginners, it is best first to focus on learning to survive, escape from pins, and defend against submissions, as the majority of time spent on the mats will be spent defending. Below are some of the common inferior positions encountered in BJJ.


1) Bottom Side Control

Getting trapped in bottom-side control can be draining, especially under heavier grapplers. This position is likely the first inferior position a practitioner will experience. Being trapped in one can expose you to different submissions like the arm triangle, armbar, and the figure-four armlock, or the opponent may use it to transition to other dominant positions such as the full mount or back mount, north-south, or far side control.

To escape bottom-side control, one critical thing to remember is to use frames. Frames allow you to create space, which can be done by using your forearms on the opponent’s neck or pushing on their near hip. Using an underhook on the far side may also work and even allow you to set up chokes like the D’Arce and Anaconda, provided you’re quick with the attempt as the opponent may transition to north-south.


2) Back Mount

Having your back taken by a taller or stronger opponent can be frustrating. The back mount is a dominant position in grappling, and being trapped in one exposes you to various submissions. When used efficiently, robust control from the back allows the opponent to heavily control your torso and lower body, making it difficult to escape.

While some may use the half-back, the standard way to maintain the back mount is by hooks or body triangles. If the opponent sets up the back mount with a hook, a normal reaction for you is to hand fight to defend against the threat of a choke. Hand fighting is critical as letting the opponent control both arms can lead to a body triangle; from here, it can be used to trap one or both arms, making the choke more accessible.


3) Bottom Half Guard

Generally, being on the bottom half guard is an inferior position. The risk you may be exposed to depends on many factors, such as whether the opponent manages to drop their body weight on you, successfully neutralize your knee shield, or manage to get an underhook or a head-and-arm control. These factors can determine the techniques required to prevent the half-guard from being passed.

The key is to keep the opponent from having the underhook as they can use it to pressure down and drop their weight, leading to the typical half-guard passing sequence. Being in the bottom half guard exposes you to submissions such as the Kimura, arm triangle, and D’Arce. The opponent may use it to pass directly to the mount. While practicing the half-guard can be challenging as you’ll often get smashed, it’s a worthy skill to have and is something to be proud of.


4) Front Headlock

Being trapped in the front headlock (head and arm) both in the standup and on the ground can be risky. In the standup, the opponent can use it to roll you over (sumi gaeshi/ tomoe nage sweep) or drag you down the mat. On the mat, the opponent may use the front headlock to apply different arm triangles and necktie chokes, as well as take your back. Practice positional drilling to get comfortable escaping the front headlock.


5) Bottom Mount

Arguably, the full mount is the most dominant position in MMA due to the inclusion of ground and pound. It is also a position you’ll see in BJJ across all levels. The mount is an effective pin, enabling the top player to drain your energy by making you carry their weight or control you with the grapevine. Being trapped in the bottom mount means you will be exposed to submissions like the armbar, arm triangle, figure-four armlocks (though at a low percentage), and the mounted triangle.

Turning to your side exposes your back. Remember to keep your elbows close to your body and not let the opponent climb to the high mount, as turning them over by bridging will be less effective.



Learning to escape from inferior positions will give you the confidence to move from a defensive to an offensive cycle with little risk. A failed submission attempt may sometimes compromise your position, putting you in compromising positions. Therefore,  understanding the intricacies of the most common inferior positions is a must to ensure that you can safely navigate the holds and eventually escape.

Knowing how to stay safe in these positions will eliminate hesitation, empowering you to relentlessly search for submission openings in a match. We encourage you to find time and develop your defensive acumen. Nowadays, knowing how to attack is simply not enough, especially as you go up the ranks. Putting a premium into developing a rock-solid defense is a crucial ingredient to a strong and dependable game.

Essentially, mastering the art of escaping inferior positions does not just elevate your game technically; it transforms your mindset, turning perceived vulnerabilities into opportunities for victory. This mental and technical growth will significantly impact your overall performance, making you a more formidable and composed grappler on the mats.


You may also like: 

Improve Your Front Headlocks With The Cow Catcher