How the Math is Against White Belts and Submissions.
Is it better to play it safe, or attack relentlessly? What do the numbers say about the cost of a failed submission attempt?
When it comes to control verses submissions, there are basically two schools of thought:
The traditional approach is "position before submission". It emphasizes the positional aspect of BJJ: score points, secure a strong hold, settle in and maintain your position at all costs. Submissions are often seen as an unnecessary risk, especially when you’re ahead on points.
The second approach is "attacking constantly". Competitors are always hunting for submission opportunities. They use movement to create opportunities, often at the cost of settling into a really tight position.
We already know that, on the whole, white belts who attack more tend to win matches. In fact, attempting submissions and failing was still an indicator of success in the matches I recorded. But does that hold up when you take a closer look?
What I did:
I re-watched every single submission attempt in 100 white belt matches and recorded what happened immediately after the submission failed. I broke everything into three categories:
Lost position: the competitor lost the position he attempted the submission from.
Advanced position: the competitor moved to an equal or better position than he started his submission from. And example is moving from mount to the back.
Maintained position: the competitor kept or immediately returned to his starting position.
Results and Takeaways
Overall, about half (54%) of all submission attempts for white belts resulted in a lost position. About one third (32%) of submissions ended in the same position, and a small amount (13%) resulted in a competitor advancing to an equal of better position.
Submission Attempt Results
Bottom line is that attempting and failing a submission has a more than good chance to land you in a losing position. But let's look a little bit deeper:
The Dark Side of Armbars
We've already established that armbars from the top are high volume, and fairly high percentage (as high percentage as a white belt submission can get actually).
The mounted armbar is the king of submissions for white belts, with the most attempts, finishes, and a 41% success rate. But a big disclaimer is that when they didn’t succeed, the attacker lost the position 100% of the time. This makes sense when you think about the mechanics of it. It’s not easy to hop back into mount when your armbar fails.
When you take this into account, its clear that mounted armbars may be the most successful white belt submission, they still fail almost 60% of the time, which will almost always result in a loss of position.
Armbars from the bottom are a different story. On the one hand, 60% of failed armbars from guard lead to a recovery or even advancement for the attacker. But armbars from the bottom only succeed a mere 16% of the time anyway. The math doesn’t make a compelling case for throwing up armbars left and right.
Triangles are death traps
Triangle attempts from white belts only succeed 25% of the time. When they don’t, the person attempting them lost their position 78% of the time. This virtually always took the form of a guard pass, which we established is a major indicator of losing a match. They are a very risky submission to attempt from the bottom.
Where you’re safe
It may come as no surprise that the safest submissions are also the least likely to succeed. Our old friend the collar choke from the bottom, which I savaged as essentially the lowest percentage submission in a previous article, has a silver lining: it’s very safe to attempt. 88% of the time, a competitor who attempted the collar choke from the guard maintained their position.
Ezekiel chokes from the top were also reliably safe. Attackers recovered positions 67% of the time.
At the white belt level, submissions fail 69% of the time and attackers lose position about half of the time.
Armbars from the top are high percentage, but high risk. You should attempt these when you can afford to be on the bottom.
If you need to be more conservative, try collar, lapel, and Ezekiel chokes from the top, or nothing at all.
Submissions from the bottom are low percentage across the board, but if you have to throw one up, the armbar from the bottom is a decent balance of risk verses reward.
Triangles are high risk, low percentage.