Even The Greatest Wrestlers In BJJ Have To Develop A Good Bottom Game, Here’s Why

To have a well rounded jiu-jitsu game, we need to be dangerous from both top and bottom positions. Most smaller students of BJJ tend to develop a solid bottom game primarily because they don’t have much choice in the matter when the majority of their rolling partners are bigger and heavier than they are. They seem to always end up on the bottom, so they are forced to get good off of their backs.

For many other students this doesn’t happen. Perhaps they come from a wrestling or judo background and can usually dominate the top position. Maybe they are among the bigger and physically stronger members of the academy and usually get to the top. Then there are BJJ students who just prefer to play top game and refuse to accept the bottom position in scrambles.

One of the principles of jiu-jitsu is to take what our opponents give us and follow the path of least resistance. For example, why force an armlock when the opponent is exposing their neck and begging to be choked.

As students of jiu-jitsu, this otherwise correct thinking can create a weak spot without us realizing it. Today I’m talking specifically about the guard position. I see it in several of the blue belt students in my BJJ school.

Here is how it happens. During the first few months (and years) of training, a student finds much more early success with sweeps from their guard. When they attempt triangles or arm locks, they create an opening and the opponent passes their guard. So they develop a decided preference for sweeping, scrambling, and wrestling when they find themselves in guard or half guard. Over a longer period of time, their sweeps get stronger and their submissions get neglected.

“Well,” you say “Not everyone has a style of game where they prefer to attack from the guard.” That is understandable. We see top BJJ guys who seldom accept the bottom position in competition and do just fine, thank you very much. And certainly, if you have any interest in MMA or real fighting, spending time on the bottom is a less attractive strategy.

That all has validity, but if you train with a variety of partners, before long you are going to face an opponent who is a better wrestler than you are. Your sweeps are not going to work. You will not find success in attempting to scramble for a top position. You are going to have to find a way to win from the bottom, and your submission skill from the bottom is either going to be there…or nowhere to be found.

I discovered this early in my jiu-jitsu. There were a few very experienced wrestlers in our school who were simply not going to get dominated from the top position. Sweeps were unsuccessful, but they were unable to pass my guard. I was forced to attack with submissions from my back.

I recall an old UFC fight where a high level BJJ fighter, who traditionally won his matches by smash passing, found himself in a fight where the Japanese opponent was an effective counter wrestler. When the Brazilian fatigued and found himself on the bottom, he looked helpless, just clutching on to survive.

In a conversation over dinner with one of his training partners, the Brazilian fighter returned to the academy as a sadder but wiser man following the decision loss. “Man, you need to help me learn da guard!” He had learned a tough lesson about the need to have a bottom game under the bright lights of competition.

For you the reader, ask yourself if you have become complacent in your guard game and rely almost exclusively on sweeps? If the answer is yes, then maybe it is time to get to work on developing some credible submission threats.

Look to some of the lighter guys in your academy. I’ll wager two things:

1) They will laugh and remind you that is what they deal with every day!
2) They will also have some technical solutions and tips on how to improve your own submission game from the bottom.


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