Levels were initiated from wrestling which arguably originated over 15,000 years ago during the Babylonian and Egyptian era (see footnote 1). Levels in wrestling play an important role in take downs (see footnote 2). Levels are also used in Judo and Jujutsu with certain hip throw techniques (see footnote 3); however these specific hip throw techniques are also highly dependent on pivot point as it relates to the throw. In Jiu-Jitsu, whether used in sport or self-defense; levels are important to offset leverage on your opponent. Leverage as it relates to sports: Leverage is the ability to influence your technique by way of position (see footnote 4).
What does it mean to play levels in Jiu-Jitsu? Let’s take the more common levels played in sport jiu-jitsu and by default in self-defense (for example - “you were knocked to the ground on your ass”): Seated Guard Position (open guard); Combat Stance (knee down or three point stance); Stand-up (i.e., judo or wrestling). In self-defense the more advantageous level would be stand-up of course. However, if you are knocked to the ground, your attack or defending position may be a seated open guard or a transitional state - combat stance position – as it leads to a technical standup. If we are looking at levels from a “sport jiu-jitsu” aspect then “playing levels” is very important.
When an opponent is standing, the leverage they have on an opponent that is playing seated open guard is unlimited; unless the standing opponent has no skill level in Jiu-Jitsu. A standing opponent has the fluidity of speed, direction and force. These components are an advantage since gravity is helping force come downward. This is why the smash pass is so effective, as the weight distribution of the passing opponent has open direction and gravity on their side. In order for a seated open guard player to even the playing ground; they must “PLAY LEVELS” either by getting into a combat stance for a below the hip take down or they must stand up as well to increase their leverage. The risk of being smash passed or passed when in seated open guard are greater due to the leverage the standing opponent has and fluidity of direction. If you are an excellent seated open guard player (i.e., world class competitors) then perhaps playing the level of seated open guard is more advantageous to you. Thus, I teach my students to play levels with higher level practitioners or against someone they know gets passed their seated open guard. Sometimes the best way to leverage a seated open guard opponent is to play seated open guard as well which normally turns into a leg lock battle. However, levels are interchangeable and you can start by faking a seated guard position into a quick technical standup or vice-versa. Either way, levels gives you the advantage, fluidity of movement and allows you to influence your technique by way of position (seated open guard, combat stance or stand-up). Note that in regards to a self-defense situation; seated guard is unfavorable and can lead to you suffering a severe head kick. Technical stand-up would be a better choice to a combat stance for a low take down or stand-up and utilize your hips and pivot points to throw your attacker. Thus, next time you find yourself in a seated open guard position and your opponent is in stand-up position, change your level to increase your technique and leverage – either to combat stance or stand-up as well - Or perhaps your opponent starts in combat stance thus you can change your open seated guard position to stand-up or match your opponent by also getting into combat stance. As you can see, levels are interchangeable and offer a better method of technique by way of position. Try this out the next time you roll with your training partners and let me know how it feels for you? email@example.com