Everyone should be a top player

#TrueTalkTuesdays 5

Everyone should be a top player.

As sport BJJ has blown up, we have seen many athletes who have specialized in being “bottom players.” They specialize in closed guard, half guard, turtle guard, 50/50, etc. They will sit to guard and butt scoot their way around the mats. I have seen competitors race to the bottom by sitting immediately, where it is uncertain who is top and who is bottom.

Submission only tournaments, like EBI, have allowed these types of players to thrive, as they do not fear losing by points and embrace the bottom positions more. As someone who started martial arts for self defense purposes, this trend seems like BJJ jumped the shark.

Being on top is superior for several reasons:

Much easier to disengage if necessary

In a street fight, you never know what weapons, or friends your opponent may have. Say he pulls out a knife from his back pocket and you are in top side control. It is much easier to stand up and get away. If you are the bottom guy in that situation, you have no way of quickly disengaging. Likewise, if he has a few buddies coming for a cheap shot, top guy has a much better chance of escaping than bottom would.


As the top person, you have much better striking options. Gravity provides an assist, and the fact that your opponent can’t move with your strikes makes the impact much more devastating. And if you are fighting on a hard surface (like concrete), if your head bounces off of it, that will hurt too.


If you are on top, you have usually much more control over the pace of the fight. If you want to go on bottom, you literally can flop over and become the bottom player. Same is not true for the bottom player, who has to sweep you to gain top position, which takes considerable effort and technique. If you want to stall someone out, it is quite simple to get a good position to squeeze and “lay and pray”.


From a sport BJJ perspective, ALL THE POINTS ARE SCORED FROM TOP.

There are no points that are scored to the bottom player. A sweep, while initiated from bottom, is scored because you are on top. Guard passing, knee on belly, mount, back mount – all forms of dominant position that are gained from top position (with back mount being an exception in some cases).

This is not a knock on the guard and all of it’s variations. Obviously they are effective positions that you can win fights from, and at the very least defend yourself much better than without a guard. But to go into a fight and immediately concede top position, you are giving up a lot of ground right away.

There are good reasons to pull guard:

  • You got rocked from your feet and can’t intelligently defend yourself standing
  • Your opponent’s wrestling is vastly superior, and you want to control how you bring the fight to the ground (and not get slammed)
  • You aren’t able to score from top and need to make a change in strategy to win (competition)

Myself, I have pulled guard in competition a couple of times for the third reason. One example off my head was in a grappling match against UFC Veteran Jorge Santiago. I was trying to take him down and his take down defense was on point. He was sprawling me out and trying to setup guillotines on me.

After about a minute of being thwarted, I decided to shift strategy and pull guard. It was the first time I ever pulled guard in competition, and everyone (including my coach) was surprised. I think they had the idea I would be defenseless off my back. However, I ended up winning by flower arm bar just a minute later off my closed guard.

So I understand the value of a change in strategy in the face of your primary strategy failing. But if I only trained being on bottom and conceding top position all the time, my skill set would deteriorate, especially for MMA.

If you are a bottom player, ask yourself, why do you concede top position to play bottom?

Is it because you cannot wrestle? If so, you need to work on your wrestling.

Is it because you get submitted from top? Then you need to work on submission defense.

Is it because you cannot pass guard? Guess what – you need to perfect your guard passing.

I think you can see where I am going with this.

Forcible going on bottom all the time usually means there is a hole in your game that you are “jumping over” rather than filling. Eventually, you will miss that jump and pay a hefty price.

So if you are exclusively a bottom player, ask yourself why, and then do the work to round out your game. Conversely, if you only play top and never let your back touch the mat ever, then you will want to do the same. The martial arts is all about being prepared for every situation possible, so while I made the case to work on being on top, you have to be prepared to be on bottom too.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

Comment with your take on this. And if you like this article, please do me a solid and share it with your friends. Thanks!

  • Excellent points being made by you wrt being at the top or bottom in a fight. Gravity is indeed a powerful force to have on your side. Martial arts as a game is all well and good, but behind it all it was never meant to be be a game. All fights basically start in a standup position, so scooting around on your butt is a highly impractical strategy in combat. By all means such strategy can be used to develop and focus on various aspects of your skill set, but not as a go to in combat. Competition fighters using permissible techniques only in their training, are at a distinct disadvantage in real world situations. We react the way we have trained.
    I salute you for your excellent, informative posts my brother.

  • William Weber says:

    Yes Especially in a street fight.Guard was designed so you would have a fighting chance and not be completey overwhelmed from the top.Thats why we have to work all positions to be ready for anything like you said Master David keep it coming Sir !!!!

  • I agree this this post ! I always wanted to be a guard player!! but I’m a big guy who trains at a gym where there is a lot of guard player’s, guy’s who sit to guard as soon as you start to roll, so I end up passing a lot of the time. Unless I “pull side control” so I can work on escaping to guard and working to sweep/submit. But this post makes a lot of sense, you wouldn’t pull/jump to guard in a self defence situation would you ?? Excellent points are been made here!!! I wouldn’t want to be playing guard in a self defence situation and have the guys mates(friends) come along and stamp all over me!!!!#TOPGAME!!ALLDAY

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