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Glossary of Jiu Jitsu Terms

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

How to describe the jiu jitsu terms commonly used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)


girl doing bjj balloon sweep on boy
Overhead Balloon Sweep

Jiu-Jitsu practitioners often take for granted that a person with whom they discuss their sport understands the terms that they use in conversation. I always find it awkward trying to describe my sport to people who have little reference to it. For example, when a new beginner student does a trial class at my academy, I ensure they have a reference to certain terms that are often used so that they understand the coaching and what they are observing during a roll. Usually, I begin by calling it a game between two people. That way the audience knows exactly that there are goals to all this hugging nonsense (see this article for details on the game theory of BJJ).


These are good ways to describes some of the most common BJJ or jiu jitsu terms. Some are probably beyond what the newcomer needs, but are practical explanations to help the novice practictioner better understand the sport. Some terms seem obvious but in fact need concise explanation for them to make sense to a newbie.


  • Back Control. This position can be entered by either top or bottom player. The person whose chest is secured on his opponent’s back is considered to have back control. The person whose back is being controlled would be considered dominated.

  • Bottom Position. The player who is seated or on his back or on his arms and knees with his back being controlled. The player with the bottom position is in one of two states: (1) having guard or (2) not having guard.

  • Closed Guard. When the guard player has his legs wrapped around the top player’s hips with the feet crossed behind the opponent’s back. This is considered a dominant position for guard players because the top player’s leg cannot impede submission hold. However, many rule sets do not define the closed guard as a dominant position that merits points because of the degree of movement that a top player has from within the closed guard.

  • Dominant Position. A position that allows a player to easily advance to a submission hold. A top player having a dominant position denies the bottom player from having guard. A bottom player having a dominant position has back control or closed guard control of the top player. In most rule sets, the four dominant positions that a player can achieve for scoring purposes are (1) side control, (2) north south, (3) mount, and (4) back control.

  • Double Guard Pull. When both players simultaneously attempt to assume the bottom position. This occurs only when the top and bottom positions become vacant. The referee gives the players about 30 seconds to determine the top and bottom positions before he resets the players to their feet (usually with a penalty given to both players).

  • Gi. The traditional uniform worn by each BJJ player. It comprises a heavy cotton jacket, reinforced drawstring pants, and a belt which communicates rank. The phrase “Gi” also indicates the grappling format of a BJJ match, where the gi uniform must be worn by both players.

  • Guard. This is the ability to use the legs to prevent the opponent from advancing to a dominant position (see definition of “dominant position”). The main reason to have this ability is to prevent the top player from establishing a submission hold. In this state, the bottom player is known as the “guard player,” which is usually the desired for the bottom player. When a bottom player does not have the ability to use his legs to impede the top player from establishing a dominant position, he is known to “not have guard”.

  • Heel Hook. A submission technique that rotates the heel in one direction while pushing the knee on the same leg in the opposite direction. Knee reaping is illegal in most BJJ matches because of the severity of the knee injuries that it can cause.

  • Knee Reaping. When a player’s leg entanglement can imminently turn the opponent’s knee towards the center line, while trapping the opponent’s foot on the same leg. Knee reaping is illegal in most BJJ matches because of the severity of the knee injuries that it can cause.

  • Leg Entanglement. The condition where a player’s leg or legs are entwined with his opponent’s leg or legs. There are multiple configurations of the entwinement. Both players can be seated, or one player can be standing while the other one be seated.

  • Mount. This position can be entered only by the top player. The top player is sitting on the torso of the bottom player, with his hips below both armpits of the bottom player without having the bottom player’s feet or knees impeding. The person in the bottom position would be considered dominated.

  • No-Gi. Grappling format without the traditional gi uniform where no grips are allowed using any clothing. Matches in the No-Gi format normally means each player  wears a rash guard and shorts. The allowed garment for a match is dictated by the rule set.

  • North South. This position can be entered only by the top player. The top player has chest to chest control from the bottom player’s head position without having the bottom player’s feet or knees impeding. The person in the bottom position would be considered dominated.

  • Passing Guard. The act of positioning your body entirely above the opponent’s hips and below the head. This is achieved by the top player. Passing guard score points only if the top player establishes a dominant position for a qualifying period of time (normally 3 seconds)

  • Pulling Guard. The act of assuming the bottom position with guard. This can be done only at the start of restart of a BJJ match when the top and bottom positions have not yet been determined. For a player to pull guard, he needs to be connected to his opponent by a grip, held by either player, prior to sitting or lying down on the mat. The requirement of a grip prior to assuming the bottom position is to provide an opportunity for the opponent to perform a take down.

  • Rolling. Training match in BJJ where there is no referee and no scoring. This is normally done in a BJJ class setting but can occur anytime and anywhere when two BJJ practitioners want to train. The training match is normally referred to as a “roll.” The match is run for a fixed period (usually 5 minutes), regardless of how many submissions are achieved. The match normally starts with both players on their knees, but the players can pre-determine the starting positions. Usually, the match commences when each player slaps the other player’s hand and they bump their fists together. The positions resets after a submission, and the match restarts after each reset until the end of the match time. There is no declared winner in a roll because it is intended to be practice of techniques and strategies in a competitive setting instead of in a drilling session. Scoring is normally not tracked by anyone, but players who are preparing for competition matches may want to self-track or ask someone watching the roll to keep score.

  • Side Control. This position can be entered only by the top player. The top player has chest to chest control on one side of bottom player without having the bottom player’s feet or knees impeding. The person in the bottom position would be considered dominated.

  • Sparring. See “Rolling.”

  • Submission. The forcing of an opponent to yield defeat before the end of the scheduled match duration. The player yielding defeat is known to have been “submitted”. The player forcing the early defeat is known to have “applied the submission” or “submitted his opponent.”

  • Submission Hold. When a player frames his arms and legs around his opponent in a way that is likely to prevent the opponent from impeding his ability to win the match by a submission.

  • Sweep. When a guard player intentionally puts the top player into a seated or lying down position and then the guard player immediately gets onto his knees or feet. A sweep reverses the assignment of the top and bottom positions of the players. The player who performs the sweep must have guard at the time he reverses the assignment. There is normally a qualifying period of holding the reversal (about 3 seconds) before the reversal is established and the bottom player becomes the top player. A bottom player who does the same thing but without first having guard does not perform a sweep.

  • Take-Down. The act of forcing a player into the bottom position, so that the player who performs a take down can assume the top position. A take-down can be done any time the top and bottom positions have become vacant. 

  • Tap out. To lightly tap somewhere multiple times in a manner that allows the opponent to become aware of a declaration of defeat. A player can produce the taps on his body, on the opponent’s body, or on the mat. Other ways of tapping out include the spoken word “tap” or any verbal indication of pain. 

  • Top Position. The player with the top position is in one of two states: (1) Within his opponent’s guard. This position means the bottom player can prevent the top player from achieving a dominant position. (2) Past his opponent’s guard. This position means the bottom player does not have the ability to prevent the top player from achieving a dominant position.


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