Jahred Dell [articulatebjj.com]
There is one core principle in grappling that holds an importance above that of the rest: The Pin. The ability to put an opponent on their back and keep them there is a desirable measure of success (almost) without exception.
The evolution of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has popularized the guard and fighting of one’s back, but does this necessarily disprove the validity of the pin? Let’s explore.
An important preface in this discussion is that grappling is not a specific rule set, but more the conceptual umbrella of all martial arts employing a grappling- based system.BJJ is simply one martial art that employs grappling, wrestling, judo or any other grappling martial art are the same. Each of these martial arts evolved out of differing necessities and understandings of principles of grappling. Judo emphasized Tachiwaza and Newaza; throws and trips on the feet to bring an opponent under you, then to control from the top. Wrestling emphasizes yet again difference principles, Sambo, the list goes on. Some might argue that BJJ is an outlier with its emphasis on the guard and fighting off of your back, however this is not the case. Even the Jiu-jitsu practitioner understands the importance of being on top, and will fight off their back out of necessity, not from preference. Sweeping an opponent and reversing the geography of the fight is still preferable the the jiujiteiro, especially in a self defense scenario. With this established, let’s discuss the value of the pin within grappling broadly.
Being pinned on your back with an opponent on top of you is not considered favorable in grappling. Why? Because the tactical advantage goes to the high ground. In a situation where you are underneath someone, the amount of available options for offense are severely limited whilst being many for your opponent. Without building structure, escaping or reversing the position you are likely to remain pinned until your opponent decides otherwise. That should be a scary realization for anyone thinking about self defense; without the knowledge to prevent being pinned you’re a victim to anyone with the ability to put you on your back.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen this principle applied effectively so many times. As a (semi-) competent Jiu-jitsu practitioner and grappler, I used to consider the guard a favorable position. It wasn’t until I competed against high level wrestlers that I found opponents who were more than happy for me to play guard, only to have them crush my structure, remove my options, effectively create pins and control the entire match from the security of the top position. I’ve seen this illustrated so many times at the highest levels of grappling; the practitioner with the greatest ability to pin their opponent dramatically increases their opportunities for success.
None of this is to say that being on your back is always bad. BJJ has continued to illustrate the effectiveness of the guard as a position to mount offense from in a geographically unfavorable position. However, maintaining a guard differs from being pinned as the guard offers far more than being purely pinned underneath an opponent’s control. Almost all offense from the guard is still being mounted from angles where your back is not in full contact with the ground; usually from a hip angle, the side of one’s body or the broken posture of an opponent. There is still a high level of control in the guard that is not granted to someone who is pinned, additionally the self defense aspect is far better addressed in a guard scenario than it is in a pin. That much is obvious, but it’s better said before I hurt a guard player’s feelings.
Where no rule sets are concerned, the pin is unparalleled in effectiveness. A strong opponent can still potentially lift and slam you from inside your guard. It’s simply the rule set of sporting BJJ that saves us from being slammed, but I can almost guarantee that even an inexperienced assailant will attempt to slam their way out in an altercation should you decide to put them into your guard. The prospect of being slammed into concrete or asphalt is hardly an attractive one. We see the effectiveness of grappling and pins in MMA competition too, with wrestlers dominating the rankings across weight divisions.
Thinking about and exploring the idea of the pin in training has lead me to some new thoughts in my practice. Accepting a pin is no longer an option I consider viable. It has informed and motivated my guard play to secure submissions and sweeps with urgency, it has also lead to me focusing heavily on my passing and pressure when on top. The idea of the pin really forces the practitioner out of complacency when you realize just how bad things are when you factor in heavy opponents and even strikes.
There is nothing worse in a fight than being pinned underneath someone who is able to strike you; if you remember that and always train with that reality in mind, you will never fail to improve your ability to avoid that situation.
Thanks for reading,