Survive, Defend, Attack

This post is going to be about a new paradigm idea I’ve been thinking about related to bottom position. I’ve been toying with the idea that all bottom positions are guards. That the distinction between guard and other bottom positions isn’t really necessary. Maybe mount bottom is just a really bad guard position? Anyway, I always look for universal principles in jiu jitsu. I’m constantly searching for ways to organize, simplify, and make the game more efficient. This new paradigm was born of that effort. It’s not a perfect paradigm but I think it’s a good way to explain how Jiu Jitsu works as you age. Bear with me as I explore it here and let me know if it’s an idea that you think may have legs.


I’ll use a car metaphor. An old guy is like an old VW bug- bad gas mileage, small gas tank, not very fast. A young guy on the other hand is more like a modern sports car- good gas mileage, large tank, fast.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 3.19.05 PM

The way a young guy plays the game is different than the old guy because of this. It has to be. The paradigm I think of is SURVIVE>DEFEND>ATTACK

SURVIVE– Survive is posture only. It’s structural so it requires less fuel and no speed.

DEFEND– Defend is posture and pressure. Posture does much of the work so you don’t need as much fuel or speed.

ATTACK– This is your particular routes or techniques. This could be sweeps, submissions, reversals etc. These can use speed, strength, athleticism and any attributes you may have. This uses a lot of fuel and speed.

Young Vs Old

What’s interesting is that the old guy applies these in the exact opposite order of the young guy. This is by necessity. The young guy has a big tank and good mileage. They can afford to burn a lot right away. An initial burst of ATTACK can overwhelm an opponent and give them an easy and quick victory. Even if they don’t get the quick victory they still have some reserve in the tank.

The old guy has to start with SURVIVE. This way they can allow their opponents to burn through some energy to equalize the gas tanks.


Survive is posture and frames. It’s the base of everything else. It sets up your body so that you can build a credible defense of your position. Every position in jiu jitsu has inherent structurally sound postures and getting to them is your initial objective. We’ll talk a bit about that in this section. Survive mode is a huge part of jiu jitsu. If you are an older player, a smaller player, or working with someone more advanced than you this is where you’ll spend most of the roll. Being able to comfortably survive is crucial. Hello Gracie built his game on this. I’m going to get this quote wrong but he said something like ” I may not win but you will never beat me.” It was that survive first mindset that was the cornerstone of his jiu jitsu. As a physically small person he had to develop a style that transcended physique. By necessity that had to be built on survive first.

This is perfect for older grapplers. I’m finding that as I age this works best for me. If you take points out of the equation then your age doesn’t matter to me. If you take away the time limit then your size is not important. A survival based game takes time. It’s very energy efficient though. It’s based on postures, structures and frames. These things require little energy to maintain. If I’m working with a young athletic guy with much more energy and athleticism I have to use postures and frames to match his strength, speed, and athleticism.

This may take some level of shift in thinking. You have to not pay too much attention to who is on top or who is “winning.” I used to think if I was not in a superior position I was losing. This is really not the case. When I am in an inferior position I am surviving and defending. This is a big difference! The mental shift there has made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the game and how I approach training.


Once you have built your survival posture it’s time to add some pressure. This often takes the form of an upa, a shrimp, or some other form of whole body movement from the posture. Defense is used to maximize space relationships, body alignments, and attachments. This sets you up to escape, sweep, submit etc. when you feel the time is right. Because your posture is doing the bulk of the work this requires minimal energy. This is important for the older grappler as this stage is highly efficient if done right. Apply your pressures with surgical precision and only when they will produce maximum effect.


I’m using the word attack in a broader sense here. I don’t necessarily mean submission or sweep but any aggressive energy and movement meant to immediately change the dynamics of the situation. This could be a submission. It could be an escape, or a sweep, or a dramatic positional change. This is a particular pathway. It also means using strength, size, aggression, speed and any other attributes available. This uses a lot of energy and requires good timing and speed. Younger athletes can spend way more time here than older athletes. This is why a younger athlete can start the game here while the older athlete may have to start with SURVIVE. Attack when you are sure of victory or when you have a high degree of certainty you will succeed. You don’t have a lot of these attempts available so you don’t want to waste them needlessly.

If you watch this in a match between a good older athlete and a younger athlete not as skilled what you are likely to see is this>

5 Minutes- Younger athlete starts out aggressively. Older athlete works from his back using his guard to survive. Knees in, Elbows on hips, flat back. (SURVIVE) 3 Minutes- With minimal effort the older athlete uses a small shrimp, a frame, a hip adjustment to fend off the barrage of attacks from the younger guy. (DEFEND) When the need arises the older athlete will change grips, launch an upa, switch from spider to butterfly etc. to nullify attacks that are getting close. (ATTACK) 5 Seconds-  Finally the young guy makes a mistake and extends the elbow too far from the body while leaning over just a bit too much from the waist. The older athlete sees this immediately and launches a perfectly times sweep to take top.

What it looks like from the vantage point of someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on is that the old guy was on his back getting smashed and killed for quite a long time and then suddenly got lucky. “Luck” for an old guy is really patience.

I was told that this is a lyric in a country song-

I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.

This is certainly true for older grapplers. I have one roll in me where I can match the young guys aggressiveness and speed. After that I’m done. I can do it if I have to. That’s good news because for self defense reasons I may need it. For gym training though it isn’t even necessary. I can grapple old man style. The wonderful thing is that using the old man style is the surest way to improve your game anyway. If you aren’t old yet you will be! No time like the present to start working on your old man game.

Now you kids get off my lawn and over to the gym. Let me know how it goes.


  1. Awesome article Cane. Despite being 25, I have viewed this method of survival and using as little energy as possible as the most effective way of BJJ for the past few years. Although I’m young and strong for my size at 125 pounds, I’m not fast, athletic, and I have a shoulder injury where I have to limit my use of that arm and will need surgery for in the future. I also have to work on my cardio when I’m not at the gym just so I can breath when I move slowly during my rolls. I feel training this way will make a huge difference as I earn my last two stripes and continue to climb the ranks throughout my journey.

Comments are closed.