There is one position that people universally hate being caught in while training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: knee on belly. It follows logically then, that this is a position you need to learn how to control when you’re playing a top game.
While seemingly unstable at first glance, the knee on belly position actually provides lots of attacking opportunities via submission hold or transitions.
Now let’s learn how to legally torture people using just your knee.
What is Ginastica Natural?
Ginastica Natural is a calisthenics training methodology that was developed by a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt named Alvaro Romano.
The geometry of the position ensures that you can increase the pressure on your opponent via projecting weight through your entire shin, or just the tip of your knee. The leg that is outstretched should not be completely outstretched, but rather just straight enough to keep the ankle out of the reach of the bottom person’s nearest arm.
Your arms can go in a variety of positions, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. People usually like to keep them on their opponent’s shoulders or grabbing and pulling their collars. Both have their applications, but I prefer to just keep them off, as it gives me more options and doesn’t commit me to any single course of action.
The Levels of Torture: From “Gentle” to “Please Kill Me”
There are several different variations of the knee on belly position that you can use, and each opens up a different avenue of attacking opportunities. The pain and discomfort you are inflicting on the bottom person is only a very fortunate side effect.
The “Gentle” Variation
This version of knee on belly allows you to keep somebody under your control for a long time. Position your leg on the opponent across their belt. In fact, you should look to place the shin of your leg under the belt, running parallel to it.
Your knee should point to your opponent’s far hip. The foot of the leg that goes across their waist should be off the ground, and “attached” to the near side hip. This means the bottom person can’t just push or pull the leg over.
Moreover, when you position your other leg in the outstretched position, you’ll not only place the bottom person under pressure but also prevent them from turning to either side successfully.
While the knee on belly position is dynamic in nature, this version is designed for control, and requires the least amount of adjustment to remain there. Holding the position for 3 seconds will score you 2 points in most competitions.
The “Please Kill Me” Variation
Now we’re moving towards the evil stuff. Welcome to my world, where your goal is to pressure the bottom person into submission.
Let’s say that you have the Gentle version of the position set up, but you want to make the bottom person miserable. You should aim to move the knee towards their sternum, pointing it to the middle, but not going past the line of the sternum.
Then you’ll lift your entire body up so that your hip comes over the knee. This puts the bottom person under immense, pinning pressure since the sharp point of your knee is pressing on their diaphragm.
But wait, there’s more! You can make it even worse by lifting the heel of the leg that you have on top of the opponent’s belly towards your own butt. Now this will make people groan in agony, and potentially even s#%t themselves. The outcome, of course, depends.
To make bad go to worse, you can pull your opponent into your knee simultaneously.
Reverse Knee on Belly
The reverse knee on belly is a very slick position to play, as it opens up very interesting transitions and attacks. The position is more or less the same as the regular knee on the belly, you’re just facing the opponent’s legs instead of their head.
While the position does offer attractive spinning attacks and a direct route to leg locks, note that holding an opponent in the reverse knee on belly will not earn you any points. Only the forward-facing version of the position is rewarded.
Knee on Belly Attacks
You can do a lot from the knee on belly position in terms of attacking. While people often say that they can’t stay in the position too long, due to the dynamic nature of the control, they fail to note that all those movements which the bottom person desperately does to buck you off actually open up very easy attacks.
Whenever the defender decides to turn towards you trying to relieve the pressure, you can easily set up a triangle choke.
Just use your arms to get an underhook on their top arm, slide the outstretched leg towards their neck, and step the leg which was atop the belly to the mats on the far side. Take your time and secure your triangle choke – finishing from either the mount or roll to the guard.
The armbar happens from the same situation as the triangle, just requires a bit more work to get it. When an opponent turns into you, make sure you thread your near side arm to underhook their top arm.
This grip will allow you to pivot, spinning as you place the knee on belly leg across your opponent’s face and the other one behind their back. Fall back to the mats to finish a tight straight armlock from there.
Gi chokes are a great option for a finish from this brutally painful position. The baseball choke is the easiest option. It requires you to grab the gi collar, four fingers on the inside on the far side, with your far side arm. Your other arm will then grab thumb-in on the near-side collar. It is exactly like gripping a baseball bat with your arms, which is how the choke got its name.
Finishing the choke will require that you move to a North-South position, while maintaining your grips. As you turn, your arms will cross, which is our goal. Once in North-South, place your head on your opponent’s chest, or on the mats beside their hip, and create a tripod by lifting your but in the air. Finish with a rowing motion if they haven’t already tapped!
The reverse knee on belly is the best option to transition into Ashi Garami. All you need to do is slide the knee on the belly leg in between your opponent’s legs, and you have the Rear Ashi. From there, you can maneuver through other Ashi Garami positions or get a kneebar immediately.
If you’re chasing points, or are not certain your submission attempts will work, you can always use the knee on belly position to get to other top positions which offer more control, points, and of course, submission options.
The simplest transition from knee on belly is going to mount. All you need to do is shift your weight so that you can slide the leg that’s pressuring their belly/chest to the other side. In order to achieve it, you can either put both arms on the opponent’s shoulders or even pull them up by their collars.
Taking the back is just as straightforward as going to mount. It is the easiest when opponents try to roll away from you, looking to turtle up. The knee on belly leg already provides you with a great position to establish your first hook from.
As your opponent turns, they’ll create space for you to place your far arm as the top arm of your seatbelt grip, going over their shoulder. You can use the diagonal control you get from the knee on belly leg and this grip to stop their roll, open their elbow up and get the other arm in. From there, roll over the far side, or sit back to sneak the second hook in.
This is a fail-safe position, when you can’t really get to mount or the back, and the opponent is bucking you off or disrupting your knee on belly control.
Instead of settling for side control, aim for North-South instead. You won’t get any points, but you will retain top control from a very strong position. The goal of the bottom person is to get to guard whenever they can, and when you’re in North-South, your legs and hips are as far from their guard as they can get in BJJ.
A simple sprawling motion will get you from knee on belly to North-South regardless of which direction the bottom person moves in.
The knee on belly position is an awesome one to help you display your sadistic side. It just so happens to not only be legal, but also worth points in competition, so I see no reason why you would not want to have it in your toolbox!
The position serves as a checkpoint connecting passes with top control positions and happens to also provide submission entries. To you: you’re welcome. To your partners: we apologize!
Do not miss out to check the4 Knee on Belly Escapes that we have reviewed! These will surely help you developed your game further.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.