Glossary of Terms for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Glossary of Terms for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Communication in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Communication is an important aspect of Jiu Jitsu. Some would argue that BJJ is communication in and of itself, but that’s a conversation for another day. At the very least, we can all agree on the most important form of communication—the tap-out! In addition to the “tap” there is a whole vocabulary that helps us to understand the concepts of Jiu Jitsu. No, we’re not asking you to learn Portuguese! Instead, we want to go over some words that will help us to communicate ideas in a quick and meaningful way. This is especially handy during competition when our coaches are trying to guide us to a better position (Listen to Coach Tim and Coach Robbie in this recent tournament footage). Below we define some important words that we use when teaching new techniques or coaching at tournaments. After all, if Jiu Jitsu is an art form it makes sense that we understand the language before we begin to write our poetry!

Check out this glossary of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu terms (listed alphabetically):

B- Back Control, Back Take, Base.

C- Cross Face.

G- Grips, Guard, (Guard) Pass, Guard Pull.

H- Hooks

I- Invert/Inversion

K- Knee-on-Belly

M- Mount

O- Oss

P- Posture

S- Seatbelt (Harness), Shrimp/Hip Escape, Side-Control, Submission, Sweep.

T- Take down, Tap-out, Throw

U- Under/Over Hook

W- Windshield Wiper


Back Control– The player takes control of the opponent’s back, placing the heels between the opponent’s thighs without crossing the legs. Must have one arm trapped (see “seat-belt”) or the ability to trap one arm in order to be given the points. This position is awarded four points if held for three seconds in competition.

Back Take– The transition from a position such as side control or mount to obtain back control.

Base– Refers to a player’s balance or center of gravity. A strong base is one where the center of gravity is low and a player has their back straight, head up, and knees wide resulting in good balance.

Cross Face– Pressure exerted on an opponent’s face, usually from shoulder pressure. The intention is to make an opponent incredibly uncomfortable so that they relinquish a grip or position to alleviate the pressure. Additionally, pressuring the head in one direction limits the bottom player’s mobility and explosive ability, making it impossible for the player to move in certain directions and escape.

Grips– Attaching our hands to our opponent, most of the time by grabbing their Gi Jacket or Pants. Our grips can refer to how we use our hands (thumb-up grip, thumb-down grip, Monkey grip (a.k.a. lip-grip), Pistol grip (a.k.a. squirt gun grip)) and/or where we are grabbing (Collar grip, Sleeve grip, Knee grip, Ankle grip, etc.). We even have a term for a grip that has no explicit purpose: Junk grip.

Guard– A position in Jiu Jitsu where you can either attack or defend. Playing guard refers to any position in which you’re attempting to control your opponent with your ankles, knees, or hips in an attempt to stop them from advancing their position, usually in conjunction with some sort of grip to hold them in place. Common Guards are open guard, closed guard, spiderguard, half guard, De la Riva/DLR (pronounced “De La HEE-va”), and Reverse De La Riva/RDLR. (See this article for a look at different guard variations.)

(Guard) Pass– The player on top (i.e. “passer”) successfully goes around/through the guard player’s legs and advances their position to either side control or north/south position. In competition, if the new position is held for three seconds, then three points are awarded to the passer. (See this article for an example of the Bullfighter Pass.)

Guard Pull– An alternative method of bringing the match to the ground. A guard-pull results in one player bringing the match to the ground with their feet in a position to control their opponent. A guard pull can result in any guard, or if the guard pull fails the position resolves with the guard being passed. No points are awarded for a guard pull in competition.

Hooks– Hooks refer to the top player’s legs when in back control. To place the hooks, one puts the tops of their feet on the inside of the controlled player’s thighs and presses out. This is used to control the rotation of the bottom player’s hips as they attempt to escape.

Invert/Inversion– The act of turning upside down (with feet above head and shoulders) while under your opponent. Doing so allows the player on bottom to keep their guard intact when the top player is trying to pass. Inverting is a relatively new concept in Jiu Jitsu and has resulted in many new positions, attacks, and escapes.

Knee-on-Belly– The player on top places their knee on the belly, chest, or ribs of the player on the bottom. In order for points (2) to be awarded in competition, the player on top must have their outside (non-knee on belly) leg extended and their shoulders must be facing the head of the player on bottom. The position must be held for three seconds.

Mount (or Back Mount)- The player on top (no longer entangled in any guard) is sitting on their opponent’s torso with two knees (or one foot and one knee) on the ground, facing their opponent’s head. Four points will be awarded if this position is maintained for three seconds.  (See this article on how to maintain a strong mount.)

Oss– An affirmative response literally meaning, “As you wish”. Derived from Japanese, there are many stories as to how the word “Oss” came to be used in martial arts; however, it is now accepted as the response a student gives to their instructor. “Oss” should be the first thing uttered by a student after being given an instruction by their teacher. The idea being that once the student responds “Oss” they should abide by the command. Also, used colloquially as a word for “Okay” or sometimes even “Cool”.

Posture– A position in which a player can maintain strong spinal alignment. Usually referred to when in an opponent’s guard. “Good” posture refers to a player’s spine being in alignment, which allows for optimal force production and defense from attacks. This position results from a player’s hips being positioned below their shoulders.  Optimal posture occurs when the shoulders are stacked with the hips, allowing the center of gravity to be directly under the player.  (See these articles on the introduction to posture and the application of posture)

Seatbelt (Harness)– A position of control where a player’s arms are wrapped around the opponent from the back. One arm is over the same side shoulder of the opponent’s (attacking arm) and the other is under-hooking (from the back) the opponent’s arm on the under-hook side. These arms meet at an opponent’s chest where the hand on the under-hooking side covers the fist of the attacking arm and pulling the opponent close to the chest. The shoulder of the attacking arm should find a place behind the opponent’s head for maximal control.

Shrimp/Hip Escape– The act of moving the hip away from an opponent. The shrimp allows a player to brace on their opponent and not allow them to advance, while the shrimping player scoots their hip away. Shrimping allows for a player to create space, usually resulting in replacing their guard. (See this article for how to escape from side control.)

Side-control– A dominant position where the top player is lying with their chest exerting pressure on their opponent while lying perpendicular to the player on bottom. From side control it is possible for the top player to exert considerable pressure on their opponent (usually via cross face). Side control is not awarded any points in any competition, but is one of the default spots to land when passing guard.

Submission– A technique that either chokes or has the capability to compress/hyperextend a joint to render an opponent unable to continue to fight. Usually, these techniques result in the defending player to “tap-out” and concede the match before serious injury.

Sweep– A sweep is initiated when a guard player forces a change in the position such that they (the guard player/person on bottom) end up in a top position. In competition this exchange results in two points being awarded to the player initiating the sweep and landing in the top position.

Take down– The act of bringing an opponent to the ground. Take downs usually refer to those used in wrestling where a player grabs the opponent’s legs and knocks them over. Common take downs are the Single Leg, Double Leg, and Fireman’s Carry. Taking down an opponent results in two points during a competition.

Tap-out– The act of one player gently slapping the mat or their opponent as an indication of giving up. Tap-outs typically result from a submission (choke or joint lock) being applied. It is also possible to tap verbally by saying “Tap” or being in audible pain. Sometimes, if a referee feels as if one player is in danger, the official will take the liberty to tap-out for the stubborn player. No matter the mechanism of tapping out, doing so results in the end of the match. When training, be sure to tap early and get another roll.

Throw– An alternative method of brining an opponent to the ground. Throws refer to techniques commonly used in Judo. These techniques are initiated by first breaking an opponent’s posture and redistributing their center of gravity.

Under/Over Hook– The positioning of the arms in relation to your opponent. For an under hook, your arm is threaded between your opponent’s torso and their arm allowing for control. Under hooks are preferable to control your opponent and maintain their position. Over hooks refer to controlling your opponents arm by reaching over their arm, usually in between their shoulder and elbow. Over hooks are not often the optimal position, but result from your opponent attacking with under hooks.

Windshield Wiper– Pivoting at the knee to free one’s ankle from an open guard. This move allows a player to free themselves from the guard while not relinquishing superior positioning of the legs.

Now that we have a common language, it will be much easier to learn techniques and figure out what our coaches are telling us during class and competition! Explaining these concepts without the proper language can be hard in real time. By the time your coaches can get all of the words out, chances are that the position has changed! Imagine trying to take the back and instead of hearing your coach say “Hooks! Hooks!” you hear “You need to wrap your legs around their torso and push out on their thighs with the top part of your foot!” Seems like a mouthful, right? Now that we’ve got some vocabulary down, check out the video of our August Move of the Month and count how many times we use one of these words!