T Nation

BJJ - Starting Rolls From Knees

One stripe white belt here looking for perspectives on rolling with purpose.

Q1. Is there any point in beginning a roll from the knees? I understand not wanting to work takedowns on every roll, but a few guys at my gym always want to start from the knees. Sometimes we grapple for a good chunk of the round before someone gets on top. I don’t see how this is helpful in either a defensive context or a sport context. I guess you’re kinda training a scramble situation there, but how often do two people fight on their knees?

Q2. As a one-stripe white belt, would you recommend I try to change this, or accept it as part of the deal when I roll with the people who want to start from knees?

Thanks in advance!

My credentials are no better than yours, but IMHO starting from the knees is pretty much a waste of time and I generally don’t do it.

If space, injuries etc. don’t allow you to go from standing, I prefer starting from some kind of reasonable position, 1 up 1 down, guard, side control etc.

1 up 1 down is our club default. I find it splits the difference not too badly. Some of the sporty guys start down and go straight into berimbolo/inverted stuff, which I think is a bit silly, but what do I know?

All the same, whenever the opportunity comes up I’m all about starting standing. I love fighting for that first takedown. Also, for me at work (LE) that’s generally what it’s all about.

Did you ask your instructors what the purpose of starting from the knees is?

It’s been years since I did any BJJ, but I don’t recall ever starting from the knees (we did in MCMAP…). We always either started standing or in the guard when we rolled.

@anon50325502 He’s been in the hospital for the last few weeks, so the opportunity to ask him hasn’t been there. He and I pretty much always start standing. I asked one of our guest instructors and he preferred standing or starting in a particular position, which made sense to me.

@batman730 Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m of a similar mindset, but I can understand why not everyone wants to work takedowns with me, the class goon.

What I’m really curious is if there’s value in starting from the knees that I’m just not seeing. Assuming that answer is no, I’d also like to hear perspectives on how I could change that behavior in the gym, or if I even should. I’m still one of the new guys, after all.

I hear you buddy. Within our club there’s a core group of people who are more old school, self-defence/vale tudo/mma minded and they’re up for whatever. There’s another group that isn’t. I’m a bit goonish myself (it’s a FIGHT sport after all) so I try to be considerate and work with people on their own level.

I also appreciate that as the new guy you don’t want to rock the boat etc. That’s a healthy, respectful attitude. Coming from a combatives/RMA background there’s loads I’d like to suggest too, but it’s not my house.

Does anybody in your club play 1 up 1 down starts? Honestly the best compromise I’ve found. It simulates a takedown that was less than decisive and now the stand up person is in a dominant, but not too dominant position. It’s semi plausible (moreso than both kneeling at least) but no one’s going down too hard.

The seated person can attack, working sweeps, ankle picks, low singles etc or try to pull a different guard. The stand up person can try to pass high or low etc. As the seated person don’t try to base to standing or shoot a hard takedown.

I don’t know how to suggest you broach the idea though.

The purpose of starting from the knees is that, generally, it will go to “the ground” sooner and there is less impact/chance of injury (especially with newer/less skilled students). You have a narrower, less stable, and less mobile base from your knees meaning it is easier to be offbalanced. As Batman stated, it also generally means less space is needed so you can have more people working in a given space.

A kneeling “neutral” position does happen occasionally during a ground fighting/grappling exchange and so knowing what to do from there can be a useful skill.

That said, many people overindulge on starting from the knees and neglect working for takedown from the feet and/or starting from various positions. Personally, and this ties into another thread, I’m a big advocate of positional sparring rather than free rolling most of the time, so while I would look at both partners being on the knees as a specific position from which to work from, it would only be to Drill learning how to takedown/defend a takedown from, and I would start from other positions (including from the feet) as well.


For me it was more out of laziness, not wanting to take down. That, or to avoid having a newer overly aggressive past wrestler shoot hard to immediately be put in a guillotine.

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3 stripes white belt here.

I think the idea of starting on knees is to avoid injuries from the takedown. In my class there a few crazy erratic grapplers and it would be only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. Even some of the more experienced grapplers can be a bit too rough at some times. in fact last night we had a purple belt take down a newish white belt that ended up in a broken collarbone, although it was a freakish accident.


There is value to knee wrestling. It does require technique and practice to establish a dominant (be it aggressive or defensive) position from the knees.

A basic scenario could be where a takedown goes poorly and so everyone is more or less on their knees.

But I would think it really depends on the scenario and the exact grappling art you’re practicing. It would be more beneficial in tournament judo, where grappling on the ground is generally discouraged, than tournament bjj, where grappling on the ground is the point.

I don’t know why a bjj school would ever have beginners start from the knees. Just have people do positional sparring as Sentoguy suggests, or have the session start out with someone in the guard or w.e.

Whenever I dealt with folks like this, I just immediately pulled guard/went to my back and worked from there. Spending a whole session of rolling jockeying for position from knees is stupid, but some people see rolls as something they have to “win” rather than an opportunity to actually practice jiujitsu. Let them have what they’re going to fight so hard for, and eventually figure out how to beat them from the bottom.

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Thank you everyone for the thoughtful replies.

@batman730 My school has a mix too. My instructor is old-school and most anything goes in the gym, but I’ve had more than one look of shock when I’ve done smothers or just started choking someone with my hands. Like it’s totally cool to choke them with their gi or drive my shoulder into their face, but how dare you cover their mouth with your hand!

@Sentoguy Thank you for the insight. The other thread is what got me thinking about this specific topic. I think “overindulgence” might be an accurate description of some of my fellow students’ penchant for beginning from knees. I understand the value better now, but it seems like more value can be had from positional sparring more often.

@brady888 I hear you man. I’m beginning to understand that not everyone has the same enthusiasm for takedowns that I do.

@theBird Yes injury prevention is something on my mind in class, and I’ve even had a few days where I preferred to skip the takedowns and just get to rolling, especially with new guys.

@magick Thanks for the insight. It’s not like my instructor is hovering over us suggesting we start from knees, that’s just how some of the students prefer it.

@T3hPwnisher I think you are right about the social dynamics of rolling. Knees is an equal start position if you’re turning the roll into a “contest” and you don’t want to begin on your feet. This doesn’t seem strange in a BJJ gym until you start asking “What is this training me for?”. Kind of like agreeing to start your pickup basketball game with a jump ball, but let’s just do it without jumping so we save our jumps for when it really counts.

My gym is pretty chill, so I’m just going to start giving the top position to people who want to start from the knees. I did exactly that last night and no complaints were directed my way.

My side control escapes are total garbage anyway.

Thank again to everyone who’s taken the time to reply!

This is the way I approach it as well. You could also just ask them to start in side mount or some other dominant position (just tell them you’re trying to work on your escapes or something like that). Most people are pretty open to that IME.

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I did exactly that last night, and nobody seemed to object.

“Ohh you’re giving me mount”?

My position at this point in my Jiu-Jitsu journey is that more value is gained from positional sparring period (and as I said in the other thread, that includes things like starting separated from the feet or in a specific Clinch situation; it’s not relegated to ground positions or an excuse to avoid developing takedown skills/defense). Other than allowing students to test their transitional skills (demonstrate their ability to progress from a neutral position to a dominant one to a Submission) or just have fun (which to be honest does have some importance), I honestly don’t currently see any reason to place a substantial amount of time or energy into free rolling.

Drilling takedowns from the knees can still be used to teach people about things like Connection/Disconnection, Kazushi/off balancing, base, and even some takedowns that are directly applicable from a standing position (such as a Snap Down, Knee Tap, Arm Drag, and Sag Headlock to name a few). So, while it’s not as specific to actual Grappling or Combat situations as starting from the feet I would not really advise “always” pulling Guard (though that is a viable option as well). And, if someone had to “fight really hard” for a takedown (which I take to mean using a lot of effort/athleticism), then they aren’t very good at that takedown/from that position which actually means that they should spend more time in that position (and of course refine their knowledge and understanding of their techniques) so they don’t have to expend so much energy. Now, again, whether that is worthwhile (based on how often they actually wind up there) is the question.

Another thing to understand, IME, is that people don’t really question or examine their training practices like they should. There is a lot of “this is how I was taught/how my instructors did it, so this must be the way I should do it” type of thinking in the Martial Arts (and athletics, and life for that matter, in general). In many cases though, how someone did things in the past not only might lack the context for “why” they did it that way, but also may have very little validity as an argument for why someone should continue to do things that way going forwards. There are no shortage of practices from years past which the practioners of would have likely sworn on their effectiveness, yet have long since been discarded in favor of more objectively valid methodologies.

So there is a good possibility that this guest instructor is just repeating what they were taught without any real investigation or reflection on whether having people start from their knees/free roll regularly is really the most effective way to teach their students how to effectively grapple.

Just some more food for thought.

Thanks for the great detail, @Sentoguy.

To be clear, the guest instructor’s opinion was more-or-less aligned with what you are advocating here. He saw limited value in both people beginning from the knees. I also picked my instructor’s brain on it last night, and he is of a similar opinion.

I don’t want to try to dramatically change the gym culture, and its not my place to tell a senior blue belt who is 10 years older than me how to start his rolls. I’m just going to start offering people side control or mount under the very true pretense that my escapes need dramatic improvement.

I figure I could do that for the next year or two and get plenty of development out of it. I don’t think becoming too good at side control escapes will be a problem for me.

Ive been following along- and as always am impressed with the depth that goes into these dialogs.

@Sentoguy thank you as always for sharing.

Im mostly a judo/greco bro.
and played bjj- more for fun.
My Favorite Judo Gym- was very good at Newazza
and we often worked from knees- a a drill .
we also sat back to back allot- and mostly it was for
situational drills.

I did a Bjj tournament- as a 'white belt’
not quite fair advertising on my part
and was very surprised to see starting from knees.
But thats more about my background then a judgement.

There have been some good arguments -
for mat space.
equalizing skills disparity
limiting the damage or space
that throws or take downs can use

I will take as much a space as needed.
or limit it by smothering
If I need more space to roll I will take it
If Im cramped and space is tight I will absolutely respect that

Because I come from such a strong wrestling/greco/judo history- most people wanted to always work takedowns with me- not bragging - Im a decent long time judoka-
Im a juicy target- but working at a disadvantage and honing skills is a better use for my time.

but not great for sharing or teaching

however- its also a way for me to ‘roll pure’ to be 'neutrilized’
where I preferred to drill and start at a disadvantage or to just free roll or truth be told be taken to school and tapped tapped tapped

As I got older- ( mid thirties Im 45 now) Id be more open to start from different positions and had a mindset to just relax and
try to roll 'as be’
but I have crazy posture and still push hard

that all being said.

There are 9 billion different things to work on from knees-
when I ‘taught’ or 'hosted’
I try to break it down into many different elements
hand fighting
changing levels

it goes on.
working form knees should be one of many many many

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Did you really go to a bjj tournament that started from the knees? What org of tournaments does that?

@bagofbro Thanks for the fantastic insight. This thread has helped me understand the value in starting from knees much better, as well as the value in rolling with a purpose, which can sometimes include starts from knees. I didn’t think too much about drilling from the knees either until you and Sento pointed that out.

For anyone interested, my last two classes I’ve started all rolls on my back and offering side control to my partner. This has gone well for the most part. I might have bruised a senior student’s ego, but he should be able to cope with getting submitted after losing his favorable position.

I plan to continue this for a while, unless my partner requests something similar from me.


regular tournament- but this was as a white belt.
facing other white belts.

Ive had been doing this for a while
and saw some strange practices
who am I to judge?
I went to a place that really shunned Gi’s that where not white.

you are very welcome

and we are all interested in what you are doing.
this is what this place is about.

I used to post here allot- trying to get back in the swing of things so to say.