Re-examining Old Truths: The Debate of Position Over Submission

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Tradition states that in the beginning, Jiu Jitsu students should focus on position before submission. But I have found that hard fast truths which once served as fundamental axioms, when viewed through increased education and experience, often become less concrete.

Should white belts focus on “position over submission”? I’m not sure…

The Philosophy Behind This Debate

I just finished writing “5 rules for White Belts,” a beginners guide through the initiation phase of Jiu Jitsu. Within that text I regurgitate tradition by saying that I believe white belts should focus on position over submission, especially while playing on bottom. We have all heard this in the past, but I want to clarify why we keep hearing this.

Jiu Jitsu is a game of controlling your training partner. The most basic, least-athleticism-requiring way to do so is to be chest-to-chest, or hip-to-hip, so that your center of mass controls your partner’s. But there are many ways to control a human being on the ground, and one of which is to control an individual limb (neck included) to control the entire body.

Far more proprioception and symbiosis of movements/holds are required to do this, explaining why this mode of control is traditionally reserved for more advanced students who have already learned to control someone’s center of mass with their own, and are now ready for further development.

My Philosophy is Changing… I think.

We have recently introduced no gi classes at MBJJ, and with a small student base, attendance is primarily by white belts. And, out of respect for the systems-based approach of John Danaher and the success that my good friends Garry Tonon and Gordon Ryan have found therein, I have opened my thinking and adjusted accordingly.

Our initial curriculum is centered around the 3 main control holds: head and arm, two-on-one on the arm (Kimura grip), and leg entanglements. My goal is that our students have comfort and efficacy controlling their training partner no matter their orientation to that partner.

And so in the first few weeks of our curriculum, we have 1-stripe white belts flowing smoothly between the many different types of head-and-arm chokes with effectiveness. I’ve been training for a decade and teaching for most of that, and until recently, I believed this type of progress was impossible for the beginning student.

Faith in Our Innate Ability

The white belt is a symbol of courage and the beginner’s mind, and a testament to man’s capacity for venturing into the unknown to procure things of value. But the white belt is also a symbol of the uninitiated, error-laden novice. We sometime use the term “white belt” in a derogatory way, and from the perspective of skill, this is understandable.

But white belts are also humans, men and women with an innate capacity for growth and acquiring education that is perpetually underrated. The progress of our beginning students has been a joy to watch, and my surprise is due to the shortcomings of my thinking, not our student’s abilities.


And so I find myself reevaluating old truths. Our white belts are doing a tremendous job controlling their partners through controlling their limbs with fine motor skills.

Since we opened our doors in September, I have been consistently reminded of the great capacity for growth we each possess when we receive proper guidance within an encouraging environment.

I will do my best to ensure that all of our students receive this proper guidance. And thanks to the fellowship of our members, who have embraced our academy’s tagline, Where we pursue individual goals as a collective, the environment is taking care of itself.

Should white belts learn position before submission?

Yes, but now I’m realizing that those positions are not just limited to one’s center of mass. We have far more options to work with and this freedom of what to teach excites me. I await what the future holds for the technical development of our students with anticipation.

If you want to read Chris’s latest book on personal development, check it out here.

If you would like to be coached by Chris personally, click here.

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