Tips To Help Improve Your Top Game

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber


Playing on top is one of the best ways to immobilize and submit your opponent. Keep these tips in mind when you are developing your game:

Stay on Top
There is always a moment where you have a decision between staying up or falling over. Keeping this at the forefront of your mind will give you uber-important nanoseconds of action to stay ahead of your training partner. When in doubt, your default is to stay on top.

Second only to “stay on top”, “forward!” is my next default mantra. Your whole job on top is to progress. Approaching open guard, it’s to pass. On top side control, it’s to mount (or take the back, or knee on belly, or whatever). On mount, it’s to submit. There is always a direction you want to go in. Even guard passes where you are best served to step back are in the pursuit of going forward, and your bull pass can’t get so focused on the legs that you forget to immediately move past them at the first opportunity or make motion to create opportunity.

Change an Angle
I think of guard passing as whatever it takes to get my chest to their chest, my chest to their back, or my hips to their head. If something is blocking you, change an angle. Thrust your hips forward, pull them back, rotate something, move somewhere. There is always a direction you can go in, so try and see what happens, especially with the above two goals in mind. If a person wants to go one way, try and go the other. If they insist, come back and overshoot their goal to get ahead of their movement.

Over, Under, Through
With that being said, my movement mentors Dewey Nielsen and Bryan Marugg, who head Impact Jiu-Jitsu out in the Pacific Northwest, broke guard passing down into this simple three options. Shoot them at someone like a Gatling gun and eventually one of them is going to work.

Watch the Loop choke
I have a training partner named Frank that I have to be very careful with. If he gets a high grip on my collar under my chin, I sure as hell better watch out for the loop choke. But not every high collar grip needs to be debilitating and panic-inducing as all that. Even when someone has a high grip on your collar, it’s only a part of the story of controlling your posture. If the rest of your body is free to move, do it. You can rotate like a top around the pivot point of your head in whatever spot they’re holding it. I first learned this from watching one of my teachers when I lived in San Diego. He used to keep his head directly over me or whomever he was training with and just move the rest of himself around us. It was a horrible claustrophobic feeling and I want to make others feel that way. Know your choke grips, respect them, but don’t let it stop you from trying things.