Three Stages & Desired Outcomes of Defense

Published on
Updated on
3 minute read

Defensive skills matter a lot in BJJ, but I suppose that not many people voluntarily practice this aspect of grappling with delight.​

Perhaps it’s because practicing submissions is more fun. Perhaps it’s because you have to suffer more when you practice defense. If you had to choose either triangling your training partner or practicing triangle choke defenses, which would you choose? I bet most of you would choose the former.​

Even if practicing defense feels boring and uncomfortable, you should work on your defenses and escapes. One of the biggest motivations for improving your defensive skills is that the better your defensive skills are, the fewer things will threaten you. In other words, you will become harder to beat. And when you are harder to beat, you will be able to take more risks in your offense.​

What I want to achieve through this post is simply to invite you to think more about your defensive skills.​

For a start, we could identify three stages of defense and three desired outcomes of your defensive attempts.​

Thee Stages of Defense

​Early stage

Early stage defense is about preemptively shutting down your opponent’s potential attacks. This doesn’t mean just running away from your opponent, but you make it difficult for your opponent to execute what they intend to do.​

Let’s use the standard closed guard armbar as an example. In early stage defense against this armbar, you don’t allow your opponent to grab and hold onto your elbow. By doing this, they will not be able to go for armbar, and you have preemptively defended yourself from a potential armbar threat.​

Mid stage

Mid stage defense is probably broader than the other two stages because it covers everything that happens between these two stages. And this is where your opponent has decent control but hasn’t fully started going for their attack. Most escapes probably fall into this category.​

With the closed guard armbar, your opponent has managed to control your arm and is in motion to apply armbar but isn’t in the best position to do so yet.​

Late stage

In this stage, your opponent is in a position to complete their move, and if you don’t do anything, they will complete it. And the thing is, once you are in this stage, it becomes extremely difficult to get out of your opponent’s attack. In other words, this is the “I’m about to tap” stage.​

Late stage defense is harder to learn and pull off, but if you manage to do it, you will become harder to beat. Do you know how to escape from a fully locked, belly down rear naked choke… and can you do it against someone decent? It’s probably one of the worst situations in BJJ, but there is a way to escape from such a situation as Henry Akins demonstrates in this video.

​The funny thing is, beginners often ask how to escape from this late stage, and their coach/senior training partners tell them not to get caught in the first place. So, in a way, if you interpret it in a favorable way, this piece of advice is actually about focusing on early stage defense.​

Three Desired Outcomes of Defense

​Roughly speaking, we can think that there are three desired outcomes of defense: survival, recovery, and dominance.


As a result of your defense & escape, you survive your opponent’s attacks. You might still be in a bad position, but you have avoided immediate threats, and you could say you are in a less worse position. You could gradually improve your position and achieve the next desired outcome.​


You have successfully defended yourself and put yourself back in a neutral position. You no longer need to focus on surviving, but you can start working on your offense.​


This is the best outcome of all three and requires advanced defensive skills. Your opponent attacks you, but you turn this situation into your gain — you set up a counterattack or take a dominant position as a result of your defensive efforts.​

As an example, see this sparring video featuring Craig Jones. Craig puts himself into a bad position but turns it around and takes a better, dominant position all the time.

​Overall, I think these three categories and desired outcomes can give you good pointers about what to work on when you practice your defense.​

If you are at a beginner-intermediate level, focus on early & mid stage defenses as well as survival and recovery. This Chris Paines video called “How to Defend Everything” will give you a head start — it’s literally one of the best BJJ videos to watch as a beginner. It’s simple and easy to implement. And it’s effective — you could probably avoid getting into really bad positions and survive against even purple, brown, and black belts.

​If you are more advanced and know how to avoid getting into bad positions, consider working on later defenses and getting into better positions as a result of your defense & escape.​

Learn how to escape from terrible positions. Become harder to beat.