Grappling Positions


There are several common positions that are recognized in the grappling arts. While these are not universally recognized, they are nonetheless quite prevalent in discussions and tutorials about grappling skills. Here is a brief introduction to some of the more common positions used by the grappling arts community. We will use these positions in many of the drills and exercises in this belt curriculum and in future materials you will study.

A common consideration in nearly all positions is where you place your legs. In some positions you may rest on your knees. In others you may rest on the balls or bottom of your feet. Your leg position helps you provide balance, pressure, and leverage. In many positions you will want to place at least one leg back or to the side to prevent your training partner from rolling to that side. This is often referred to as posting a leg (or employing a post leg).

We will cover positions that are established both while standing and while on the ground. You will want to practice each of these positions so that you can recognize them instantly. You will later discover that many movements can be employed against or in defense of the following positions. It will help you in the future if you have already committed each these positions to memory.


This refers to a condition in which neither person is in direct contact with the other. It is possible to have some slight contact, but neither person is in a position to have a controlling influence over the other person. This condition often exists when two people are standing, but can also occur when both persons are on the ground and not in contact with one another. This can occur in some forms of Nage where the person performing Nage has lost contact with the opponent during or immediately after the throwing process. It can also occur if one person has escaped the hold and grasp of the other and subsequently gained separation.

Guard Position

Guard position is established when a person rests on their back and uses his or her feet to keep an opponent either at bay or entrapped.

An Open Guard is when a person places his feet on the opponent to keep them away or to control them in some manner. This is a flexible position, but obviously there is little long term control of an opponent. Therefore this position is used as a temporary measure or as a way to prepare for a subsequent maneuver. Commonly the feet are placed on the hips of the opponent, but the feet might be placed on the knees, thighs, chest, or other parts of the anatomy to accomplish a variety of objectives.

A Closed Guard occurs when the person is able to wrap his or her legs around the opponent. The feet are typically locked around the waist, but could be around the legs or other parts of the anatomy as well. The feet are usually interlocked to make it more difficult for the opponent to pull the legs apart and escape from this lock position.

Despite what you may think, the Guard position is usually considered to be a dominant position. The person on the bottom, in this situation, has more flexibility of movement and more options for striking and manipulating the opponent.

Mount Position

The mount position involves a person essentially sitting on the chest of another person when that person is on his or her back. The two people are positioned such that they face one another. The Mount position affords the person on top great flexibility in striking, locking, and manipulating the person below.

Often the person on top rests on his or her knees which are both placed on the floor. The rear rests on the opponent’s chest or upper abdomen. The knees are on the floor to provide protection from rolling attempts and to provide increased stability.

A High Mount refers to a position in which the person on top sits near the upper chest area of the opponent. A Low Mount refers to a position where the person on top sits much further down and over the abdomen of the opponent. In some cases the person on top may be sitting on the hips or thighs of the bottom combatant.

A Reverse Mount occurs when the person on top is turned to face away from the opponent’s face. The person on top is facing the legs of the person on the bottom. This is most commonly used during transitions and is seldom a steady state position (but you never know).

There are other variations of the Mount position, including the S-Mount, which you will encounter in your next belt.

Half Mount

Half Mount is a position where you and the opponent are both on the floor, your opponent is on the bottom and you have one leg over the opponent’s nearest leg so it rests between your opponent’s legs. Often the opponent will wrap both of his or her legs around your leg (see Half Guard below). Your opposite leg is often posted back and to the side, but its exact position can vary depending on your current efforts.

Half Guard

A Half Guard occurs when you have both of your legs wrapped around one of your opponent’s legs. Your Uke may be standing or on the floor when in this position. You should note that if Uke is on the floor then he or she might be thought of as being in a Half Mount position.

North South Mount

In this position your Uke is on his or her back on the floor. You are positioned above Uke’s head with your torso resting on the head and or chest of Uke. The two of you are aligned in a straight line configuration (your Mother Lines are generally in alignment). You may be resting on your knees or have your legs posted out behind you.

Rear Mount

The Rear Mount position places you behind your Uke. You might be seated above an Uke or more likely laying prone just behind the prone Uke. Normally you will have one more both legs wrapped around Uke’s lower torso or legs in some manner (it will vary depending on what you want to accomplish). From this position the person in back can strike the person in front quite readily and also has the ability to attempt choke holds and other submissive attacks from a position of dominance.

Side Mount

In Side Mount Uke is resting on his or her back and you lay at 90° to Uke. Your chest will generally rest against Uke’s chest and you will undoubtedly use your arms to ensnare Uke’s head and/or arms and to resist attempts by Uke to roll. There are several different ways in which you might be oriented while in side mount.

From this position it is possible to put weight on the opponent’s chest which may limit or restrict his or her ability to breath. There are also numerous holds that can be employed from this position which may lead to submission by the opponent. The side mount is also often thought of as an intermediate step on the way the mount position.

Knee on Stomach

Knee on Stomach is pretty much what it sounds like. Usually you are seated beside Uke with one knee resting on Uke’s abdomen. You will usually have the other leg posted back to prevent a roll in that direction. You might use one hand to prevent a roll in the opposite direction. This can be a difficult position to maintain, but if maintained can restrict Uke’s breathing and provide opportunities for various strikes or submission holds. This position can also be used to facilitate some switches from one side of Uke’s body to the other.

The Turtle

This is a generally defensive position in which you are generally resting on your knees and elbows, though this can vary some depending on circumstance.  Generally speaking the goal is to keep a very low profile, keep the head and neck tucked down and in toward the shoulders, pull the knees in tightly under the abdomen, and keep the elbows in tightly against or under the body or alternately over the neck and head to afford protection from strikes. This positioning is intended to reduce the chances an opponent can apply a choke hold, use an arm or a leg for leverage, or simply roll you over by pressing from the side.

This is generally not considered to be a beneficial position. Your opponent will certainly be resting on your back or against your side and applying every method they can think of to strike you or turn you over to gain a strategic advantage. If you find yourself in this position (and you will) your immediate goal should be to find a way to reverse your fortunes so that you either escape or achieve a more dominant position against your opponent.


Two people are said to be clinched when they are standing and have grabbed one another in an attempt to establish control of the other person. A clinch can involve any of several common grabbing techniques. We describe the most common methods in the following sections.

Keep in mind that a clinch is seldom a one-way affair. Both persons will naturally grab one another in an attempt to establish supremacy. There can be quite a number of thwarted clinch attempts before one person is able to establish an initial clinch position. At that time the other person will establish either the same or an alternate clinch position to counter or prevent the first person from gaining a more dominant position.

Bear Hug

A bear hug is utilized by wrapping both arms around the trunk or legs of the opponent. The arms might wrap around the chest, waist, hips, or legs and may optionally entrap the opponent’s arms.

The bear hug can be applied from the front or the back and once applied can be used to control, lift, or throw an opponent. At the conclusion of a throw the person applying the bear hug often enjoys a dominant position.

Collar Tie

A collar tie is established when you are in front of your opponent then reach up and wrap one hand (or possibly both) around the back of the opponent’s shoulder, neck, or anywhere between these two points.

Collar and Elbow Tie

This position utilizes a collar tie and then the opposite hand is used to grab and control the opponent’s mirror side elbow. It is quite common for both opponent’s to employ this position concurrently. This is also a very common initial engagement position for two opposing grapplers.


An underhook can be created when you stand in front of your opponent and then extend an arm so it grabs under the opponent’s arm using a mirror side movement. Your hand then wraps behind the opponent’s back and pulls inward tightly.

If this movement is done with a single arm it is referred to as a single underhook. If it is done with both arms simultaneously it is called a double underhook. This latter method appears similar to a bear hug but is different in that your hands do not fully encircle the opponent’s torso.


An overhook can be established by placing your hand around and behind an opponent’s arm using a mirror side arm extension and then pulling the opponent’s torso inward.

If only a single arm is employed then this would be referred to as a single overhook. If both arms are used then the action would be referred to as a double overhook.

An overhook often occurs in response to an opponent employing an underhook. In such a situation the person using the underhook will usually have the tactical advantage.

Pinch Grip Tie

The Pinch Grip Tie is a combination of both an overhook and an underhook. To establish this hold you place one hand over the mirror side shoulder of the opponent (an overhook). Your opposite hand then extends under its mirror side arm (an underhook). Both hands now extend further behind the opponent until the two hands can grasp one another in a locked hand grip – usually the tips of the fingers lock together but you may be able to establish a more solid grip if you have relatively long arms.

While this might sound as though it would create a dominant position it is in fact neutral because you will find that the opponent now has you in exactly the same hold. The only advantages you will have are strength and the surprise element when the hold is first established. You initial application of this position should allow you to quickly move on to some subsequent action. But if you stall before continuing through to a subsequent movement you will find yourself both in a neutral position and in a strength contest.

This is sometimes called an over-under body lock. But this terminology can be confused with the overhook-underhook combination in which one person employs an underhook while the other then establishes and overhook. For this reason we will use the term Pinch Tie Grip for this position to reduce any confusion.

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