Theory of Alignment

Jiu-Jitsu is a game of preserving your posture, structure, and base, while attempting to break your opponent’s.

The theory of alignment in Jiu-Jitsu was innovated by Rob Biernacki of Island Top Team.  Alignment is a framework intended to describe all mechanical aspects of Jiu-Jitsu.

Alignment has three components:

  1. Posture: Effective positioning of your neck, core, and spine
  2. Structure: Efficient use of your limbs
  3. Base: Ability to generate and absorb force relative to your goals.

Every technique should be evaluated based on how well it preserves your alignment, and how well it breaks your opponent’s alignment.

The alignment scorecard

A quick way to evaluate a Jiu-Jitsu scenario is to “score” each participant’s alignment on an “alignment scorecard.”  Identify whether a participant has effective posture, structure, and base, and assign him/her a point for each.  Then do the same for the other participant.  Each participant will have a score between 0-3.  Whoever has the higher score has better alignment, and is in superior position.

The more dominant your position, the easier it is to break your opponent’s alignment.  When your opponent’s alignment score reaches 1 or 0, it’s time to go for a submission.  Attempting a submission earlier than that will often result in an escape or reversal.

Alignment example: bottom closed guard

As an example, let’s consider the following scenario: you are holding bottom closed guard, your opponent is postured up, and no one has dominant hand grips.  The score would be:

  • You: 3.
    • Your neck and spine are uncompromised, and your hips are free to engage (posture).
    • Your hands and legs are free to grip or create frames (structure).
    • You can generate or absorb force using your shoulders and foot placement (base).
  • Opponent: 3.
    • Opponent’s neck and spine are straight and vertical (posture).
    • Opponent’s hands are not actively controlled (structure).
    • Opponent is able to attempt a seated guard break or stand up (base).

In this example, the alignment score is equal.  Neither you nor your opponent has a considerable advantage.  This is because when you have full alignment, you have the resources to defend attacks. The fact that you are on the bottom is not necessarily a disadvantage.

Further Study: