Josh Barnett Voices Opinion Over Starting on the Knees while Grappling

Photo/Instagram: @joshlbarnett

Josh Barnett, Former UFC heavyweight and Metamoris heavyweight champion, took to Facebook today to voice his concern regarding the trend of many grappling schools starting their sparring from the knees. His post reads as follows:

Live wrestling/rolling with both wrestlers/grapplers starting on their knees. Practically anyone who trains in the current grappling climate has seen it. For some gyms it’s the only way they start and I’ll tell you why no matter the case, you’re wasting your time (or your student’s time in the case of coaches) doing it.

“First and foremost fights and grappling matches don’t start on your knees. In fact I can’t think of any sports that do besides Inuit Kneel Jumping (Google that ****. It’s a real sport) and last I checked that’s not the sport we were training for. I can remember one of the first things my high school wrestling coach said to me “Nice to meet you.” and the second thing being “GET OFF YOUR ******* KNEES!”.

Being on your toes and is essential to gathering power, evasion, your base, and overall athletic potential. In a real world scenario (or even in a BJJ tournament) you and your opponent are standing upright on your feet. In the case of a real world altercation and you want to engage an opponent on the ground if you’re on your knees there’s a very slim chance of that ever happening. Now try avoiding strikes, a knife, whatever or even being able to run/jump/escape. Not happening. If you’re on your knees for real world combat you should immediately be getting to your feet to an athletically viable stance or attacking to a takedown on a standing opponent. If it’s competitive grappling you’re training for then you should doing the same or pulling guard if that’s your preference but either way being proactive to getting to a position with more potentiality. Sitting on your knees is a weak position athletically and strategically it’s a place that you should only be in, in transition.

You say, “But my academy/gym has so many people that it’s not possible to start on the feet and fight for takedowns!” That’s no excuse NOT to train takedowns. Rotate people in groups then that would allow enough space for people to do them. You say, “People get hurt doing takedowns”. I say, “Stop coddling your students, stunting their potential growth and allowing them to have a huge hole in their game”. Teach them proper technique and just like with rolling, it doesn’t mean always having to go 1000%. You could be the greatest ground grappler in the world but in a fight if you have no way to take the fight to the ground, then your skills are useless.

“Hey there super grappling champion type guy. Bet you wish you had trained some takedowns now…SOCCER KICK!”
I’ll even suppose that there is even a crowd out there who would say, “I/We don’t care at all about takedowns. All I/We want to do is roll on the ground.” As a martial artist I personally think that’s an absolutely terrible idea to have. But even still, wrestling on your knees in my opinion is not going to help your rolling very much and it’s not going to help you be better prepared for competition. Instead, start with one person in what I call a negative position with a negative position being: on your back or someone in a dominant top position like side, mount, or on your back. These are actual combat viable positions you will see yourself in all the time while grappling whether you’re the person on top or bottom.

What I do is I have people pair off and then play rock, paper, scissors (Or jan-ken if you’re in Japan). The winner gets to choose where they start. Any ground position they want to. They could choose mounted on their partner or have their partner mounted on them. The only thing I suggest is to take into account what you need to work on. If you are having trouble escaping under side control then put yourself there as much as possible. Getting stuck in half guard? Start there every time until you are able to solve your issue. In addition to the starting set up I also add that if anyone escapes to their feet or submits the other then the other person chooses where they start next. This keeps things active and flowing in my opinion and leaves an overarching goal set in mind for the martial artists.

You will get so much more out of working your back escapes and defense or attacks from the guard position than you ever will wrestling around with someone in a poor athletic position like on your knees. Stop wasting yours or your student’s time working on something that isn’t relevant to sport or real world combat. This solves any of the previously mentioned complaints too in regards to why places start athletes on the knees, except in this case you’re now spending time working on the skills that are directly applicable to your grappling sport or combat arts.”

What say you, readers? Does Barnett make a valid point?


  1. I mostly agree, except for a small caveat.

    In the case of old styles of Japanese Jujitsu, it's fairly common to see techniques which begin in a kneeling position – either both people, or just one. This had historic/cultural roots, since it was common in old Japan for everyone to be sitting on the ground (this is still fairly true, to a lesser extent, in Japan today as well) This was true not only in homes, but in public settings also (such as drinking establishments)

    Even so… these old-school techniques often work to transition the defender to a standing position ASAP, while simultaneously executing some form of take-down! (thus still in agreement with Barnett's sentiments)

    However, training from the knees can be a useful training tool, especially for newer practitioners. While kneeling, leg movement is considerably prohibited, making deliberate usage of the hips necessary for effective movement. Once sufficiently mastered while kneeling, immediately train the same idea standing. You'll tend to see better hip/core structure and alignment, than if the same technique was drilled from standing only.

  2. The man that stays still is kicked in the face! one cannot avoid takedowns by auto-taking down… unless we are a ninja turtle spinning we could not avoid a kick in the head by 2 opponents at different sites.

  3. The man that stays still is kicked in the face! one cannot avoid takedowns by auto-taking down… unless we are a ninja turtle spinning we could not avoid a kick in the head by 2 opponents at different sites.

  4. I find it funny that these guys cannot fathom the arts as anything other than competition preparation or surviving super deadly street attacks. Starting from the knees is fun as hell and safe. Some people grapple for no other reason than its fun. Can it be used to win a street fight? Sure. Can it be effective in competitions? You bet. Does it have to be all about those two things? Hell no. Let face it. If I did all this training because I was preparing for the off chance I'm attacked, I'm paranoid as hell. If I do it for competition, then I do not compete enough to make it time effective and at 38 I'm a little delusional. I do it because it is fun as hell and it keeps me from having to run or lift weights, which I hate.

    • I believe he made the statement that this was directed towards academies that only start from the knees. He didn’t say that it has no functional purpose.

      “For some gyms it’s the only way they start and I’ll tell you why no matter the case, you’re wasting your time (or your student’s time in the case of coaches) doing it.”

  5. MACP numbers students one and two. All ones start from being mounted. Every rotation they alternate partners and starting position. The position generally reflects the class of that day.

  6. Most folks never apply themselves to learn or know what they NEED to know until they NEED to KNOW it. Sadly, by then it’s often far too late. It seems to me that if one is learning an art, one needs to try to learn as much of that art as is humanly possible. UNLESS of course some of its concepts and teachings don’t fit into your particular ‘box of tools’. Up to you entirely. 🙂

  7. It had to be said because a lot of BJJ gyms do this starting on your knees bullshit and to be honest it sucks.


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