03/04/2013 – Dónal Private: Escaping the Back Details

Class #497 – Private #008
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Dónal Carmody, Bristol, UK – 06/04/2013

There were three key details I want to take away from this private. First off, I can relax a bit on my defence: I don’t need to clamp my arms by my neck the entire time, as that also locks me in place. Secondly, the importance of getting your head under theirs. You can literally dig your head into place if their head is still in the way when your drop to your side. Finally, hook their top leg as you start to escape. That means you can both shift into deep half if necessary and block their attempts to turn.

For blocking the neck, the Saulo method is worth using, with a thumb in the opposite collar, the other free to defend. If you miss that, then there is the option of grabbing the elbow or gi sleeve and yanking it down. Bring your knee up on the choking arm side, heel closer to your bum. That leg is there for base, so angle your knee in slightly to prevent them turning you.

Push head their head across like last time, then drop to the open side. Wriggle your shoulders and spine onto the ground. As you start to escape, hook your leg on their top leg, so they can’t turn to side control. If possible, you can even step your foot right onto the ground to lock their legs in place.

If they have a grip and are going for a single collar choke as you try to escape, your first option is to peel it off with a free hand. Don’t let them sit up, or they can tighten up the choke: block that with your leg entangled in theirs. I find that if I can get my near arm under their head, pinching it between my shoulder and arm, I can retain enough control to start moving on top.

When you’ve got their leg hooked, the route to deep half opens up. If you do that, remember to so they can’t underhook, which is the first thing the person on top will look to get against deep half. Grip under their knee cap, using that to turn their leg slightly outward, spin to top and pass.

If you can’t push the head, drop to the side and use your foot to push off their opposite hook. Immediately start to slide free, keeping their leg hooked as before. That again gives you the option of either going to deep half or simply trying to keep them locked in place so you can work to go on top.

While doing light sparring this week, we got into some weird positions. At one point I was lying next to him, stepped my leg right over and locked into behind his knees. That prevented turning, then I could spin through into side control. Somewhat random, but fun to play with stuff like that and see what happens.


20/03/2013 – Dónal Private: Escaping the Back

Class #495 – Private #007
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Dónal Carmody, Bristol, UK – 20/03/2013

For today’s lesson with Dónal, I decided to move on from guard passing. The reason I started off with passing is that it has long been one of my major weak areas, which thanks to Dónal now feels much stronger (or at least I have a clear route to take). My other current big weakness is the guard…but my injury won’t let me work on that. Therefore I plumped for yet another weak point for me, which is back escapes.

As ever, I was looking for simple and efficient, preferably building on what I already know. Dónal came up with the perfect option, which is essentially a modified combination of what I’ve taught in the past, namely Xande’s variation where he falls to the side and the basic back bridge escape. Those modifications are important, as they make the escape much more effective.

Start off by immediately bringing your knee up on the choking arm side. In one quick motion, move your head forwards and simultaneously shove their head sideways (this is presuming they know what they are doing and have their head tight to yours for control). Look towards them, keeping your head and neck firm in order to stop them moving their head back into place. Push off your leg and bridge back, aiming to get your shoulders and spine to the mat. Angle your choking arm side knee towards the other side, to stop them dragging you back over to the choking arm side once you start escaping.

Due to your body slipping off to the side, they are probably going to try and come on top. To do that, they need to be able to turn their legs down and then away from you. Keep your legs in tight to block them: with your leg back, that forms an effective barrier to their efforts to turn. There are a couple of ways you can do that. The first one Dónal showed was hooking their top leg (if they’re trying to turn on top, they’ll be on their side) with your near leg. Alternatively, step your near leg behind the knee of their bottom leg and pinch your own knees together.

With your near arm, grab their trousers by their top leg (either by the knee or a bit lower). When you have the opportunity, switch to grip with the other hand, which means you can bring your near elbow down past their body, on the inside. At this point, make sure you’ve got your outside knee angled towards them, for base like before. Shrimp away, get your near arm back, then turn straight into the leg squash pass position.

I ended up doing it a bit differently when we were drilling, as I like to get control of the shoulder and head. I diverged at the point after you switch your grip on their trousers. Instead of getting my elbow to the floor and turning, I preferred to either reach across their neck and grab the gi, or better, reach under their head, grip the far armpit then lock my shoulder into their head/shoulder.

Either way, I then shrimp away and turn to try and come on top. With your grip on the knee, stiff-arm so they can’t lock their half-guard (if they do lock their half guard, this puts you in the opposite side half guard pass position, so proceed from there). Free your leg and move into side control.

The other option is to go to deep half, then do the Homer Simpson sweep to come on top and pass. This starts off the same as before, but the difference is that when they try to come on top, they’ve been a bit more canny and locked their heel into your far hip. That is going to make it more difficult for you to reach the top position. Instead, shove that leg between yours (either bridge and push it in between, or kick your far leg and swivel it round to trap their leg).

Pinch your knees, also stepping your near leg behind their bottom knee. Alternatively, you can hookin your near leg around the back of their top knee. Shrimp away, then curl your near hand underneath their butt, leading with the back of your hand. Use that to bump them off balance, turning into deep half. Hold onto their knee and turn it outwards, run around with your legs (this is the ‘Homer Simpson’ part of the sweep), then spin to come on top (be careful they don’t underhook your arm, as that’s awkward) and pass. I’m not a fan of deep half as I put it in the category of “flashy stuff that is too complex for me”, but this is probably the most basic application, so something I’m willing to try.

When you come on top, you can go into a useful knee cut/single underhook pass position, which allows you to go for either pass depending on their reaction. I think that’s in the Gracie University stripe 1 lesson on passing, which I should take another look at (also reminds me I still haven’t reviewed the guard chapter I bought ages ago, so will have to get round to doing that at some point.

I headed straight over to Jamie’s lesson afterwards, which continued the side control escape theme from this week. There was a chance I’d get to practice the back escapes, but then last time Geeza taught a GB Fundamentals on side control escapes, you stopped specific sparring as soon as they were able to turn to their knees, so probably not.

20/08/2012 – Gracie Barra Bristol (Back Escapes)

Class #464
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai ‘Geeza’ Holt, Bristol, UK – 20/08/2012

Due to an increase in my writing workload, it’s been a few months since I last made it to a Monday or Friday class. Those have always been the busiest days: I’m not sure if that is because those are the longest established, or the ones advertised as ‘Gracie Barra Fundamentals’. Either way, Geeza is clearly doing an incredible job of getting the word out, as tonight there were almost fifty people on the month. The number of children training at the club has increased so much that Geeza is able to offer a separate kid’s class, which his son Oli is currently running (although I think he is off on a work placement or something soon, so Luke will be taking over. Which is cool, as Luke is a good teacher).

It was also good to see about five women on the mat too, although the upstairs changing room hasn’t been designated as the women’s changing room yet. Hopefully that will happen soon, as even two women is too many for the current small shower room allocated to Gracie Barra Bristol’s female members. Perhaps in future there might even be enough for a separate women’s class, which would be great, as that’s a good way to help build up the numbers in a less intimidating environment (e.g., like the classes Chrissy used to run at her club in Virginia).

Geeza was busy, so passed the warm-up over to me. I’ve never run a warm-up with a class of almost fifty people, so that was an interesting experience. For a start, I couldn’t just say “do breakfalls down the mat” as normal, because due to the numbers it wasn’t as obvious when everybody had been: my classes tend to get between six and twelve people, so this was around five times as many students as I’m used to. 😉

It has been a long while since I’ve made it down on a Monday, so I’d almost forgotten that the fundamentals class always kicks off with some self defence. As I’ve mentioned many times before, that’s by far my least favourite part of BJJ, because I find it neither interesting nor useful, given that self defence techniques are never tested against resistance in a sparring situation. Still, I should probably start to pay a bit more attention, as apparently some people do like learning it.

So, I’ll try to start noting that part of the class down more often. Today, the self defence situation was that they’ve grabbed your neck from behind with both their hands. Reach across to grip the fleshy part of their opposite hand, then turn and twist. You’re aiming to put them into a typical aikido style wristlock, pushing their palm towards their arm, bringing them to the ground: exactly the same thing as you would see in any TMA type class.

Once that was out of the way, we got onto the more useful material, continuing with the back position. Geeza covered a standard escape from the back, beginning with the simpler option, when they have only gripped your lapels rather than locked in the seatbelt (one arm over the shoulder, one arm under the armpit). Bridge, get your head over their shoulder, then wriggle your shoulders to the mat. Pop their hook off with your hand, step over with your leg, then grab their other leg with your nearest arm (pant leg or underhook behind their knee). From there, shrimp and move into side control.

If they do have the seatbelt grip, fall towards the open side, so their armpit arm. Again, try to wriggle your head to the mat followed by your shoulders: if your back is on the mat, it is impossible for them to occupy that space. Continue as before, grabbing their leg, shrimping, then turning towards them to establish side control.

There was also a simple escape from turtle, where you’ve gone for some kind of takedown but they’ve sprawled, so are now position in front of your turtle position. Grab for their opposite leg with your arm (otherwise they’ll just spin to your back), also putting up your leg on the same side as that grabbing arm for base. You can then slide your other leg through and move into guard.

To finish off we did some king of the hill sparring from turtle, switching position if you were able to either escape or take the back. I have carefully avoided turtle for the last six months or so, as last time I went to turtle I messed up my neck. It’s never been a strong position for me, but I can generally work my way back to guard. However, I’m terrible at attacking the turtle, as demonstrated by today’s sparring.

I barely got anywhere, except with one person who was trying to spin to guard. That gave me the chance to move to the back and get my second hook using the Marcelo Garcia back extension. Aside from that sole success, I most tried to keep my weight on the side, but soon lost control as they re-established guard, or even worse, managed to somehow get on top as I fell off and ended up on my back.

Hopefully I’ll now be able to get back into my old pattern of Monday, Tuesday then teach on Thursday. Once I’ve re-established that, I’ll see if I can add in Friday or Wednesday, with the odd Saturday.

07/02/2012 – Gracie Barra Bristol (Defending the Back)

Class #445
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Dónal Carmody, Bristol, UK – 07/02/2012

Lots of great drills from Dónal as usual, all related to guard passing. Start by standing up, holding their knees. They shrimp, you drive your weight through your hands and therefore also jam their knees to match, then hop over to the side behind their knees. They shrimp again and you repeat the motion to the other side.

Another nice guard passing drill, which we’ve done before, again starts with your standing up. This time, you’re square on to their open guard, although for the drill they aren’t getting any grips on you, they’re just lying on the mat, feet on the floor. Bring one your legs between theirs, then drive your knee across to the opposite side. As you do, with your opposite arm, underhook their same side armpit.

An interesting variation pops up if they manage to get an underhook. Immediately overhook/whizzer that arm, reaching your overhook hand right through to their hip. As you continue the pass, slide your hand back, keeping your arm straight. Eventually that should mean you’re hooking their near side leg, helping you to move into side control.

The text message for tonight indicated that the topic was be preventing your opponent taking your back, which sounded interesting (although Geeza does sometimes put his own spin on the text message either I or Dónal send him about our respective classes). That proved to be an extremely simple (which in BJJ tends to be a very positive adjective) concept from turtle. After they’ve got their first hook, all you do is turn towards their leg (so, towards the outside), recovering half guard. That’s it. 🙂

During sparring, Dónal had another cool tip (as he very often does: if you’ve got the chance to do a private with him, go do it) for passing half guard. This depends on how they’ve locked their feet to trap your leg. If the big toe of the foot is nearest to you, then you simply bring your trapped leg back and shove that foot off by hooking under their heel, breaking their grip. Is the big toe is pointing away, that means their heel is on the wrong side, so you can’t just bring your leg back and knock the foot away.

27/12/2011 – RGA Bucks (The Back)

Class #439
RGA Bucks, (BJJ), Yas Wilson, Aylesbury, UK – 27/12/2011

Hope you all had a great christmas! I stuffed myself with biscuits, beef wellington and cheese, so it was good to make a start on working that off at RGA Bucks. I made sure to walk rather than accepting the offer of a lift from my parents (who were themselves on the way to a gym), to get in some extra beef-burning. It is a roughly 30-40 minute walk from their house, so I normally go on foot: if I lived here, then I’d probably cycle it instead.

Kev wasn’t there, so I couldn’t congratulate him on his shiny new black belt, but there were plenty of top notch training partners, like Sahid, Tom and fellow BJJ reviewer Dan, not to mention Yas herself. The topic for tonight was the back, and in classic RGA Bucks fashion, Yas covered both the attack and the defence.

To start with offence, Yas ran through the basic RNC. Her finish was slightly different, as she likes to push on the shoulder by your choking hand. That helps to cinch your grip in tight. Rather than then slipping the arm behind and squeezing, Yas does something more akin to an ezequiel without the gi (which is interesting, as I was just chatting about that with a cool female BJJer from NZL via email). Once she has the first arm wrapped around the front of the neck, she grabs her second arm. The second hand then goes to her choking arm shoulder. From there, slide it down into their neck, just like an ezequiel.

Next up was the basic sliding choke, similar to how I taught it recently. That was followed by escaping the back, which handily will be the topic of my GB Bristol class on Thursday. Again, this was relatively simple: base on your legs to put them on their back, then walk your shoulders to the mat. Move to the side to clear their hook (using your hand if you need to and your neck is protected), then once your hip is over, grab their opposite pant leg to stop them mounting or recovering back mount. Keep on pushing your hips back, until you can settle into side control.

Sahid had a couple of additional thoughts on this one while we were drilling, such as the tip to get your head underneath theirs (and therefore if you have the back mount, make sure they don’t get their head underneath yours). I also continued to drill back mount escapes for a few minutes after class, during the open mat, mainly looking at two other options.

The first was an escape Sahid had mentioned earlier, which he calls ‘bobbing and weaving’. Pull the arm they have by your shoulder over your head, then fall in the direction of that arm. You’re looking to trap it between your head and your arm: Tom also suggested grabbing their tricep, to further prevent them from pulling their arm free. Still on that side, pop your hips over as before, but as you move around to side control, keep facing their head. That should set you up nicely for a d’arce choke, which I think Kev taught yesterday.

My second option was to play around with another escape Dónal had suggested, though I don’t think I remembered all the details. This is slightly different, as you start by scooting down. Hook an arm under their leg to establish half guard, after which you can look to spin to come on top. Be careful that your other arm is also safe (e.g., hide it under their hooked leg), as otherwise they might be able to go for an armbar or even a triangle.

I may throw those in during my lesson on Thursday, but we’ll see if I need to. At the moment, I intend to kick things off with a few basic body triangle escapes, then one other escape. The bobbing and weaving thing might be a useful addition, as I haven’t shown it before, plus it also provides a different approach to the orthodox back escape.

Sparring started with specific from the back, where I was looking to trap their feet with my legs, or push off a hook with one of my feet. I’m still a bit prone to latching onto the arm when I think I’ve almost escaped, which I did again with Sahid. I asked him if he thought there was anything I could do to improve that, and he suggested that perhaps I was simply holding on to the arm too tightly. Instead, when I’m in that position, the focus should be turning to side control, rather than really yanking that arm in underneath my armpit.

On the back, I was able to play with bow and arrow chokes with the white belts, as well as seeing how I could adjust when they moved to escape. Release a hook and pushing off the mat works, but that is less successful with the higher belts, who tend to be wise to it. I wasn’t getting anywhere with guys like Sahid: size is probably a factor, but still, my technique was sloppy.

In free sparring, I seemed to be getting d’arce choked by everyone who isn’t a white belt. Which was fun. Again, I’m smaller, but nevertheless, I must be leaving myself vulnerable to that attack, so I’ll have to be more careful of my arm, as well as paying more attention to grips they secure on me. As ever, Sahid is a good person to spar, because he’ll always be able to come up with suggestions afterwards (which is great for someone like me who is keen to pepper everybody with questions).

For escaping the d’arce, he said the basic option is to arch your back to make space. If they are already locking it in, trying to grab under your own leg with the arm they want to choke you with. That will buy you some time to hopefully wriggle your way free. I think I was curled up and trying to turn, which wasn’t getting me anywhere: staying curled up only helps them get the choke on faster.

Sahid was also good for testing out my beloved running escape posture. Against a lot of people, you’ll find they’re staring at the posture looking confused, so you can stall until you’re ready to try and spin free. However, Sahid had a solution: he drove his knee over my rear leg, trapping it in place, meaning he could then move into a dominant position. If he couldn’t get that rear leg, then he tried to step over both.

Awesome stuff, as by having people break down my running escape posture, that will help me make it better. Clearly I need to make sure that people can’t shove their knee over, either by adjusting my legs, or perhaps using one of my hands to block that knee. At the same time, my arms need to be defending against the knee sneaking past my hip or choke attempts. One of the great things about BJJ is that you constantly have to think several moves ahead, with multiple options in your head. 😉

20/12/2011 – Gracie Barra Bristol (Guard Retention)

Class #438
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Dónal Carmody, Bristol, UK – 20/12/2011

For those who somehow missed it (it’s been all over Facebook and the BJJ blogosphere), Aesopian’s gi survey results are now out, here. Aesopian did a ton of work on this, which has really paid off: the result is a wealth of data which is set to get increasingly interesting. The most important point to take away is that there is very little difference between the top thirty-three brands: so, if someone is listed at #20, given the margin for error it is entirely possible that they could just as easily have been listed at #1.

Having said that, I was very pleased to see women-only brand Fenom come in at #19. It’s a small company which has only been around a few years, and it’s also the cheapest brand in the top 40 at $80. In the whole list, only Woldorf is cheaper at $72, but in Woldorf’s case that is reflected in a low rating. Fenom, by contrast, is cheap but still high quality. If it wasn’t for the Gracie Barra gis only rule at GB, I would be very tempted to buy a Fenom, despite not being a woman, as it is the only brand on the market which has a message I can support 100%. I wouldn’t even mind the patches and embroidery. Might still buy one anyway, and just wear it when I train outside of GB. 😉


I was reminded of the advantages of living nearby the academy tonight, as when I got there, I realised I’d forgotten my gi trousers. However, despite there being only fifteen minutes until class, I could quickly jog back to my house, grab the trousers, then jog back and get changed, with a few minutes to spare before class started. 😀

Dónal was covering guard retention tonight, with his usual awesome array of warm-up drills to work jiu jitsu mechanics. There was the baseball slide, butterfly sweep and an old favourite of mine I learned from Kev, the Saulo Ribeiro running escape recovery. Dónal also added a useful method of practicing how to recover guard when they try to get under your legs. For that guard retention drill, you have one foot on their hip. They are reaching under and lifting the other leg.

First, push off their hip with your foot, raising your own hips to make a small shrimping movement. That should give you the space to bring the knee of your underhooked leg outwards (this is important: if you move your knee inwards, they can shove your leg across and crush you), then circle your leg inside their arm. Switch the leg you just circled to their hip, then as they reach under the other leg, repeat.

If they’ve managed to get a bit deeper and are working towards double underhooks, make your legs heavy, driving your heels downwards. If they try to lift up on one side to start a pass, immediately reach through under their armpit with your same side arm. Gable grip your other hand (palm to palm), then pull their trapped shoulder to your chest. From there, you could shift into a reverse kimura or an omoplata.

Alternatively, you can move into a triangle. As their arm is now trapped, kick your leg free, bring it inside their arm and over their back. Lock your ankles together. This means they now have one arm in and one arm out, so you’re ready to adjust to go for the triangle. If not, then you’re still in a good position: armbars, wristlocks and omoplatas are all available to you.

Another option is to reverse them as they try to pass. Before they complete their move to side control, clamp your hand around the back of their arm, just above the elbow, with your thumb pointing down (a little reminiscent of that Braulio side control escape I can never get). Straight-arm, to stop them turning towards you. You’re then going to quickly spin and reach your other arm under their body, grasping for their far knee. You can then drive through to side control. The other possibility is to spin to the back, though I found that a little more difficult.

Sparring was initially from the guard, where I was happy enough on the bottom, but still not getting too far on top. I attempted to control the knees and straight arm them into the floor as I moved round. That sort of worked on the first leg, but I wasn’t sufficiently controlling the remaining leg, meaning they still had enough mobility with their leg and hips to create a barrier. Still, it’s better than just staring at people’s open guard, which I’ve done in the past. 😉

The main interesting thing for me was when I was escaping the back a few times. As I’ve mentioned before, I will frequently half-escape, then try to secure their arm under my armpit. My aim is to crawl up their arm, until I can trap their arm and turn. That has never worked well for me (except when I can get close enough to reach around their head), so I got some tips from Dónal afterwards. I think I’ve asked him about this previously, but probably forgot.

Anyway, Dónal’s suggestion for escaping the back was to focus on their leg rather than their arm. Pop their hook off your leg with your opposite foot, then slide your hip over the side you’ve opened up. Next, presuming your neck is safe, grab under their leg on the non-open side, then shimmy down into deep half guard. I’m not used to doing that, but I’ll be looking to try it next time, to see if it stops me getting stuck. Most likely will lead to getting choked a few times, but that’s the only way to learn.

27/02/2011 – RGA Aylesbury (Beginner)

Class #378
RGA Aylesbury, (BJJ), Kev Capel, Aylesbury, UK – 27/02/2011

Due to my Malta trip, this is my first training session in three weeks, which is the longest I’ve been out for a while. Of course, not necessarily a bad thing, as I’m also still injured, so that time away gave it some time to heal. It isn’t 100% yet, but definitely improving. I’m hoping to try some light sparring next week, and see how that goes.

We started off with a double leg takedown drill. Drive forward with your leading leg, ending up with it inbetween theirs. Bring the other foot outside, both arms round their legs, then raise up, driving your head into their side. Fortunately for my leg, we only did the entry, otherwise I would have had trouble drilling this.

That moved into taking the back. As they shoot in for the double, thrust your hips forward, then sprawl back. They will probably still have an arm over your leg. Insert your arm on that side of their head, reaching through to grab their bicep. They should now find it tough to follow as you move round. Walk your feet in the direction of your cross-facing arm’s elbow, then get a harness grip. Insert hooks, then roll, lifting with your leg, to take their back.

To escape back mount when facing the ceiling, Kev had a useful phrase to keep in mind: “head, shoulders, hips.” If they don’t have a choke on, you can move to either side. If they do, look towards their choking elbow to relieve pressure on your neck, then move in the direction of their choking hand: that points the way out.

Start the escape itself by posting your head to the mat (remember, whichever side their choking hand is pointing towards), pushing off with your diagonally opposite foot. Next, wriggle your shoulders to the mat, which then means they can’t finish their choke attempt.

Now that you should be safe from chokes, move your hands to grab their knees (or wherever you can grip on their trouser leg). First step your leg free on your head side. Maintain your grip on the other leg, to make sure they can’t just roll on top of you.

Keeping your weight on them, shift your hips towards their head, still holding that leg (you could use your free arm to post). Thread your leg as you would in the shrimp to all fours drill, establishing side control.

Kev finished with a basic sliding choke. You have the back, one hand past their armpit. Use that hand to open up their nearest collar, feeding it tight to your other hand. Then grip the other collar with your armpit hand, pulling on both for the choke.

During king of the hill sparring, my training partner generously gave his time to do some more drilling with me. As ever, I decided to work some more on the overhook choke. My wrist is still ending up too bent, although he did say the choke was still on, pressing into the carotoid arteries rather than just i to the windpipe. Nevertheless, I want to get it right: I think perhaps I need to allow for more cloth, in order to make a proper fist and avoid twisting up my wrist and hand once I bring my arm past their head. Problem of course is that the initial grip also needs to be a tight for the choke to function properly.

While people were warming up with the usual star jumps, squats, breakfalls and shrimping, I tried warming up with exercises I could do with only one leg. However, I ran out of ideas after sit ups, press-ups and whatever that one is called where you lie on your front, then raise your upper body and legs (Kev suggested it: I think he called it dorsal raises or something?) So, if anyone has some further suggestions, let me know.