top vs. bottom

This is post that has been in my head since Georgette blogged her time at the Pan back in April over at her blog georgette's world. I don't quite remember the name of the post(just search her April posts) but in it she stated that sweep+submissions is better than takedown+pass therefore she implied unintentionally or not that playing the bottom is better than playing the top. Her reasoning being there are more options on the bottom which is completely true but thats only because you can transition to a different guard should the one you're using currently not be working not because the top player doesn't have submissions. Therefore, I must disagree with her statement. Firstly, if you pull guard and I knee-cut/step over into your half and flatten I get an advantage meaning all I have to do is stay there until time is up and I win. All leglocks can come from the top and in fact do especially the ankle lock. The toe hold and Heel Hook are the most common leg attacks from the bottom kneebars and ankle locks tend to come from the top during a pass or when time is low(Guys at my gym love to kneebar from everywhere especially the top of half-guard)but I digress, on the top there's so many advantages you have over your opponent. Let's list them:

1) Weight- On the bottom in order to sweep or submit you must create angles to do that they must move themselves AND you, weight matters that's why winning absolute is so coveted in our sport.
2) Pressure- This is an extension of weight; the ability to place all your weight in one spot we all know how much it sucks when you're in side control and your sparring partner is smashing your face their shoulder
3) Limb Isolation- A good top player will isolate a limb and keep it until you tap. Hence a submission chain
4) Gravity- Gravity keeps things on the ground therefore it is a pulling force(that's why you fall when you jump) so when the top player pushes a limb down chances are it will stay under his/her control then you'll be dealing with advantage #3
5) Angles-On top you only need to worry about two angles(for the most part) as your position will nullify the rest with the help of the floor. 90 degrees and 180 degrees the two directions you want to force whatever limb you have.
6) Position- This goes hand and hand with the angles principle your underhook beats his overhook and your overhook beats his underhook. (once passed that is). And your underhook keeps him flat. And as I mentioned before opponent flat on their back=win.

Please be aware all 6 of these principles can be applied from the bottom they are just easier to apply from the top thanks to the laws of nature and the fact that your opponent is pinned against the floor doesn't hurt. I am by no means saying pulling guard is bad I pull turtle all the time being the smallest in the gym. All I'm saying is you MUST learn the principles you use on the bottom as they apply to the top.

Georgette I welcome a response/comment.


  1. Yeah, I think you misunderstood what I meant.

    First, I was writing about the trends I observed, or what statistically was happening, in the 300 or so matches I was able to watch at the 2010 Pan from start to finish.

    Here's the link to my post:

    I did not say sweep + submissions is better than takedown + pass. However, I would say submission is better than anything. Duh.

    One thing I did say was "Guard works best if you can get points on the board early."

    I also said this:
    "Now I see what REALLY matters is getting the takedown so they're already working from a point deficit. Then, if you somehow screw up and lose top position,[note: this makes it obvious that top position is still superior, that's why you get points for having it, whereas you get no points for getting to guard] you just have to get guard, and fight to keep it. (It's damn hard to get a pass, because not only do you have to pass, you have to hold a dominant position for a LOOOOONG while, not just 3 seconds. Depends on the ref, but realistically we're talking 5-6 seconds, minimum.) If you get your guard, they don't get points, you keep your point lead, you pursue subs/sweeps, and you win even if you can't land either. But if you just start by pulling guard, either you better have a solid sweep/sub game, or you will depend on having an unpassable guard and winning on advantages."

    I also said:
    "And the guy on the bottom is the only one who can get a submission unless you're good at ankle locks (the only legal leglock up until brown); otherwise you might get the advantage but give up the pass AND top position."

    I think this is where you may have misunderstood me. I said:
    "As far as offensive strategy goes, guard plus sweeps is more high percentage than pass plus top game... You cannot count on passing. You cannot be offensive while passing (I'm just now realizing that passing is a defensive posture) while the guard player obviously can instigate all kinds of offense from the bottom."

    Your post nicely sets out reasons it's better to play the top game. I think it's obvious I wasn't saying it is better to forego playing top; I was saying at that level of competition, you can't count on passing to be able to get on top. You will have a hard time submitting someone while you're passing and as I mentioned earlier, only ankle locks are legal up to brown, and if you screw it up, you've lost your pretense to top position and now you're on the bottom-- unless you tried a standing ankle lock I suppose, and all that is premised on you having a good ankle lock game to begin with.

    I think top is better, duh! that's why the next lesson I posted was:
    "Takedowns are key to gaining points and a strategic advantage early. I can't emphasize this enough. I saw it over and over in matches from whitebelt to blackbelt. Get a solid takedown (ideally ending in top position, but hell, even a hard fought seoi nage ending in a scramble mess with you on top) and get your points."

  2. I should have reread my comment before hitting submit... When I say the guy on the bottom is the only one who can get submissions, I obviously (I think) mean in a guard pull situation-- NOT saying that the guy on the bottom of mount, or side, etc can get a sub! And not saying it's better to be on the bottom in any position other than having someone in your guard.

    You have to realize, as I said in my original post, I have historically hated playing guard. I have always struggled to get out from underneath and get back on top. Pan was monumental for me -- it made me reassess the value of having a good guard game, since it was obviously very profitable for the people playing at that level of competition. I don't think that means their top games suck, or that they think guard is better than top, by a long shot-- just that it's damn hard to GET on top at that level.

  3. Georgette, I misunderstood what you meant thanks for clearing that up. My philosophy on the bottom is sweeps set up submissions.(think hip bump sweep to triangle). In short, sweep to the top and only take a submission should it present itself. I agree it's hard to get on top trust me I end up on bottom a lot b/c my balance is utter crap. I also think people pull guard incorrectly meaning they pull to whatever they choose set up grips then sweep rather than setting up their grips from thus, allowing themselves to use the momentum of the butt drop to complete the sweep or at least land ready to sweep. Perhaps, you could give your thoughts on that.

    PS. Being purple belt now I'm working on those kneebars, toe holds, and heel hooks as they will be viable soon and as you can probably guess they arent going be too friendly to me.

  4. I'm not really sure I have many thoughts yet on the guard pull to sweep issue, since I don't pull guard. I do see lots of ladies pulling guard/jumping to guard with the intention of submitting opponents from the guard instead of going for a sweep right away. I don't think that's pulling guard incorrectly-- it's just a different goal or objective.

    Once again congrats on purple :)


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