16/04/2013 – Teaching (Bridging Back Escape)

Teaching #104
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 16/04/2013

Tonight I’m going to look at what I call the bridging back escape. Saulo isn’t a fan, listing the bridge escape under ‘common misconceptions’ in the back survival section of Jiu Jitsu University, but it is nevertheless standard at most schools I’ve visited. The motion is roughly similar to the bridge and shrimp under side control or mount to recover guard, but the body arrangement is quite different. Rather than trying to bridge and shrimp to crawl away from a weight on top that has pinned you to the mat, you’re bridging to pin them and then crawl over the top of a weight behind you.

The basic method I’m familiar with was taught to me by Kev Capel (which incidentally is the same way Feitosa teaches it on Gracie Barra Fundamentals). Cross your hands under your jaw, pressing the back of each hand against your face, elbows in tight. This should both block attempts to press a forearm into your neck, while still enabling you to use your hands to intercept theirs. Interestingly, Brandon Mullins grabs their choking arm with both of his, reaching back to grab behind their elbow with one hand and their wrist with the other. He then pulls it across to create some space. Personally, I’d be worried about my neck with that method, but it’s an option to try.

Bridge up, trying to get your head to the mat, with the intention of getting your shoulders to the mat. Keep moving to the side until you’ve created a bit of pressure on their hook. Brandon Mullins talks about a continuous motion of incremental shifts to the side and twists of the hips, until you can pop their hook off. Feitosa pushes it off with his same side hand, whereas Mullins prefers to use hip pressure, just like Xande and Saulo in the escape I’ve taught before.

Whichever method you use, do a big step over their leg (Mullins does a ‘high step, bringing his knee up high towards his head, then putting the foot over) as soon as you pop it off, then move your hips over onto the floor. Grab their leg (the difficult part here is knowing when to move your hand to the leg, as you don’t want to give them access to your neck), then push off your outside leg to bring your weight onto their chest.

You need to make sure that you keep your weight on their chest the whole time, gluing their upper body to the ground. Aim to get your shoulder onto their chest if possible, but be careful of not going too far over, or they might be able to roll you. Like Xande, Mullins notes that they will mostly likely try to come on top as you escape. You still have their leg, so you can always just recover guard (though if you can get on top yourself, that’s preferable).

To get to side control, gradually walk around with your feet, maintaining that pressure on their chest. With your other hand (this will be the same hand that released their hooking foot earlier), reach over and grab their opposite leg. This is to stop them turning into you. It should now be a simple matter to twist into side control. You can also try hooking around their head: the picture above is from a slightly different scenario, as Xande is escaping the turtle, but similar principles apply.

That’s the basic version. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog regularly, I’ve been taking regular private lessons from Dónal for the last couple of months. The purpose of that was firstly to enable me to train while still injured, secondly to continue training under Dónal (as he sadly doesn’t teach a regular evening class at GB Bristol since the birth of his son) and finally the usual reason of trying to improve (though in my case, that’s both as a student and an instructor). We covered back escapes fairly recently, building off this escape along with a couple of others I’ve taught in the past.

For Dónal’s back escape (which has more similarities to Xande’s version than Feitosa, but is slightly different to both), 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 drilling with Dónal, 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 and 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. Note also that deep half is another common finish to this escape, if you like that position.
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Teaching Notes: I could probably tweak my understanding of blocking their legs on the second one, though the main thing is hooking the top leg. During drilling, there were odd numbers, so I went with Mike. What I usually do when that happens is let me partner drill for two minutes, then walk around to see if anyone has questions for the next two. When everybody switches, I let me partner have another two minutes, then walk around again.

The disadvantage of that is it doesn’t always give me enough time to see everyone do the technique at least once within the four minutes I allocate for each person to drill. Today that meant the drilling ran over a little, because I wanted to make sure I saw everyone. As a result, there were a few minutes less for sparring. I think that may be unavoidable though, unless I have people drill in a three (which works, but I prefer that everybody gets the full four minutes for drilling and three for progressive resistance each).

This is the first lesson that I’ve really been able to do the “here’s the basic version, here’s the more advanced one” thing, which I like, particularly as the student mix in my classes is officially ‘all levels’ (though I gear everything towards beginners, as I prefer to keep techniques as simple as possible). I’ll be trying to do that more in future if I can.


28/02/2013 – Teaching (RNC) & Congratulations to Meerkatsu on his Fundraising!

Teaching #095
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 28/02/2013

Just wanted to put up a quick note to congratulate Seymour on his excellent fundraising efforts, detailed in this post: thousands of pounds for RAINN and Rape Crisis! It’s awesome to have him on board for the GrappleThon again this year, which will also be supporting Rape Crisis. If you’re interested in taking part, the full details are on the event page, here. In case you somehow missed me posting it up before, my fundraising page is here. ;D
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I wanted to try and simplify my teaching of the RNC from previous lessons. I’ve tended to throw in a lot of detail, which I feel is too much. I’m therefore instead going to attempt to hone in a bit more: I’ll see how it goes, hopefully getting some feedback from students. I’m also going to switch things around from previous lessons. Normally I start with the finish and end with various set-ups, but will do it the other way round tonight.

The RNC is a fundamental technique to BJJ. Everybody with more than a few lessons under their belt knows that you’re going to be looking for it, so they will immediately be trying to create barriers with their arms and hands. In order to clear a route to the neck, there are numerous options.

First, you can adjust your hand positioning to maximise your efficiency. If you have one arm under their armpit and the other over the shoulder, then it can be helpful to grip palm to palm or grab your own wrist, with your shoulder arm on top. That means that as soon as there is any gap between the neck and chest, you can immediately slide your arm into their neck. Others prefer to grip with the armpit hand on top: that way, if your opponent pulls your armpit hand down, they are giving you access to their neck with the choking hand, which is what you wanted anyway.

Another problem is that people will also tend to tuck their chin. Some people advocate unpleasant methods to force your way through to the neck in that situation. For example, Stephan Kesting has a list here: the results of that kind of approach (though Kesting does make a point of saying he is not fond of pain-based options either) can be seen in this video. That is not how I want my jiu jitsu to look.

My goal is smooth, technical, leverage-based jiu jitsu, causing as little pain to the other person as possible. As Saulo says in my favourite BJJ quote:

“You have to think that your partner, the guy that you’re training [with], has to be your best friend. So, you don’t want to hurt him, you don’t want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain. You have to find the right spot to save your energy”

I strongly feel it is best to avoid hurting your training partners, for four additional reasons:

  • You’re in class to learn, not to ‘win’ at all costs. Save the ‘win’ mentality for competition.
  • If you’re always hurting the people you spar, eventually nobody will want to train with you, making it rather hard to improve.
  • Presuming you’re in BJJ for the long-term, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your training partners. Therefore it would make sense to build a good relationship.
  • Even if you don’t care about your classmates, everybody has a different pain threshold. So, the efficacy of pain-reliant techniques will vary from person to person. The efficacy of leverage does not: that’s based on physics, not how tough somebody is.

There is a less nasty option you could try for opening up their chin, from Andre Galvao. If they really shove their chin down, this may not work, but it is worth a go. Twist your hand so that your thumb is pointing down, then as you slide the arm to their neck, twist the thumb back up to lift their chin.

If I find I have no option except something brutish (e.g., crushing their chin until they tap from pain or lift their head), my preference is to instead transition to a different attack, like an ezequiel, a bow and arrow choke or an armbar (which I’ll be covering in later lessons). In my opinion, if I get to the point where force and pain are the main routes to finishing a submission, then my set up was poorly executed.

You can also try tricking them into giving you access to the hold you want, a handy tip I saw on a John Will DVD. For example, when you try to get an arm around their neck, a common reaction on their part is to grab your arm and pull it down. If you respond by pulling up, they will normally pull down even harder. This means that if you time it right, you can suddenly switch direction and swing the arm they are pulling down across your body. This should sweep their arms out of the way for a moment (try to catch both of their arms when you do this). Make sure your other hand is ready and waiting near their shoulder, as you can then immediately bring that other arm across their suddenly undefended neck.

Even better, you can take their arm right out of commission. With one of your hands, grab their wrist. Shove it down towards their legs, then step over that arm with your same side leg. When you then re-establish your hook (or pin your heel to their ribs, or put your leg behind their back), they are left with only one arm to defend against both of yours. If they’ve grabbed your wrist, twist your palm outwards, shove it down and out, then again step over their arm with your leg. Make sure you maintain pressure, so they can’t simply swim their arm free.

There is also the method I learned from Dónal. Grab their wrist with your armpit hand. Drop to the choking arm side, twisting your hips to increase the range of motion for your leg. Shove their arm down, then swing your leg over your armpit arm. Grip your own shin with the armpit hand, then using both your leg and arm, get your foot to their spine to trap their limb.

Now that we’ve got an arm into the neck, it’s time to complete the rear naked choke. The elbow of the choking arm should be under their chin. You don’t want to leave any space, as the idea is to press into both sides of their neck. This will close off their carotid arteries and prevent the flow of blood to the brain. That is an efficient and safe way of subduing an opponent.

Reaching past their shoulder, you are then going to grip the bicep of your free arm. This is to lock the choke in place. It will be difficult to grab your bicep straight off, as your opponent knows that’s dangerous. You can instead secure your initial arm by gripping the back of their shoulder. Stephan Kesting has a useful video on RNC details, where he talks about holding the ridge of bone at the bottom of the shoulder blade, using what he calls a ‘tiger palm’. From there, switch to gripping palm to palm over their shoulder, dropping the elbow of your back-arm down along their shoulder blade. That will further help to lock it in position: as Demian Maia demonstrates, you can even finish the choke from there. If not, you can then do what Kesting calls the ‘creep’, wriggling that elbow across their back to cinch up the choke.

When you have managed to grip your bicep, bring the hand of that bicep arm to the back of their head: a commonly used version is to press the palm into their skull, but there are various options, coming down to personal preference. Using the back of your hand against their neck is arguably better, as that may slip in more securely than palm down.

Also, palm down is easier for them to grab, if they try to peel your fingers off their skull. Either way, when you’re locking in the choke, don’t reach your hand forward over their shoulder. If you do, then they can armbar you using their shoulder as a fulcrum. Instead, slide it behind the head.

Bring your head next to theirs on the bicep gripping side, to further cut off any space. If for some reason after grabbing your bicep you can’t get your other hand behind their head, grab your own skull, using that grip to finish from there. Staying close to their back, expand your chest and squeeze your elbows together.
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Teaching Notes: To my surprise, people said they actually didn’t mind the amount of detail when I asked. I had expected that maybe a few variations would be less popular and I could cut them down, but the feedback was that it proved useful to have several options to switch between, particularly when it came to progressive resistance. So, I guess I’ll be sticking with this format for the moment, though I’d still like to refine the details. Some intensive specific sparring from the back would help, where I try and go for the RNC repeatedly, as well as have people do it to me so I can continue to work on breaking down the typical defences.


13/12/2012 – Teaching (Bridging Back & Body Triangle Escapes)

Teaching #082
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 13/12/2012

Last Sunday was the 4th Gracie Barra Bristol No Time Limit Submission Only Competition. I was mainly reffing for the third iteration, but this time Geeza had a new job for me: admin. I suspect that was due to the GrappleThon, to which the organisation of the sub only felt quite similar (especially chivvying people along), but with lots of paper in front of me rather than beautiful clean laptops. Next time, I may seriously consider bringing my laptop and having the brackets laid out in spreadsheets: that would be a lot easier to track. But meh, we’ll see. Either way, great day, lots of good fights and reconnecting with friends from around the country (like Paula, Christian, Alison, Alex and others), along with making new friends, like Tanya. The full results are up on Facebook, here.

Operation Tattered Belt has been continuing over on Megan’s and Jiu Jiu’s blogs, where they’ve moved to knee on belly. That also reminds me, Julia put up an article by me about how I currently teach, here, which is apropos to this post, given I’m also writing about teaching. 🙂

I’m still teaching escaping the back at the moment. I exhausted the majority of back escapes from Saulo’s book last week, so today I’m shifting to another basic technique, the bridging back escape. Saulo isn’t a fan, listing the bridge escape under ‘common misconceptions’ in the back survival section of Jiu Jitsu University, but it is nevertheless standard at most schools I’ve visited. The motion is roughly similar to the bridge and shrimp under side control or mount to recover guard, but the body arrangement is quite different. Rather than trying to bridge and shrimp to crawl away from a weight on top that has pinned you to the mat, you’re bridging to pin them and then crawl over the top of a weight behind you.

The method I’m familiar with was taught to me by Kev Capel (which incidentally is the same way Feitosa teaches it on Gracie Barra Fundamentals). Cross your hands under your jaw, pressing the back of each hand against your face, elbows in tight. This should both block attempts to press a forearm into your neck, while still enabling you to use your hands to intercept theirs. Interestingly, Brandon Mullins grabs their choking arm with both of his, reaching back to grab behind their elbow with one hand and their wrist with the other. He then pulls it across to create some space. Personally, I’d be worried about my neck with that method, but it’s an option to try.

Bridge up, trying to get your head to the mat, with the intention of getting your shoulders to the mat. Keep moving to the side until you’ve created a bit of pressure on their hook. Brandon Mullins talks about a continuous motion of incremental shifts to the side and twists of the hips, until you can pop their hook off. Feitosa pushes it off with his same side hand, whereas Mullins prefers to use hip pressure, just like Xande and Saulo in the escape I taught last week.

Whichever method you use, do a big step over their leg (Mullins does a ‘high step, bringing his knee up high towards his head, then putting the foot over) as soon as you pop it off, then move your hips over onto the floor. Grab their leg (the difficult part here is knowing when to move your hand to the leg, as you don’t want to give them access to your neck), then drive with your legs to get your weight onto their chest.

You need to make sure that you keep your weight on their chest the whole time, gluing their upper body to the ground. Aim to get your head to their opposite shoulder. This part is much the same as last week’s escape. Again like Xande, Mullins notes that they will mostly likely try to come on top. You still have their leg, so you can always just recover guard (though if you can get on top yourself, that’s preferable).

To get on top, gradually walk around with your feet, maintaining that pressure on their chest. With your other hand (this will be the same hand that released their hooking foot earlier), reach over and grab their opposite leg. This is to stop them turning into you. It should now be a simple matter to twist into side control. You can also try hooking around their head: the picture above is from a slightly different scenario, as Xande is escaping the turtle, but similar principles apply.

I finished off with a simple escape from the body triangle, which I first learned from Nick Brooks. Once they lock the body triangle on you, your goal is to roll to the side of the dangling leg. Normally they will also be hooking their foot behind your knee (as this helps their control, because they can then lift and turn you).

If you can trap that leg on the floor, an easy footlock is now possible. Bring your nearest leg over the top of their dangling foot. Triangle your legs to prevent them moving their legs, then bridge, so that your hip shoves into the point at which their foot is locked behind their knee. That should cause sufficient pressure on their ankle and foot to make them tap. You can also try Brooks’ version, where you instead use the heel of your foot to block their dangling leg in place, then bridge.

Two less effective options which may still yield results are to hook around their leg as they turn you to the other side. From here, you can again try and bridge into their locked foot and knee, but they have a much greater range of motion, so it will be tough to generate enough pressure. Similar, if their foot is dangling between your legs, you can try crossing your legs over that and bridging.

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Teaching Notes: I’ve been tending to say get your head to the mat, then try and get your shoulders to the mat. However, if you’re trying to maximise your weight into their chest, I’m not sure if it is in fact better to keep your shoulders on them, rather than shifting them off then driving them back on. I guess it depends on what escape you’re using, or if you’re trying to combine escapes.

I reviewed the technique at the end again, but I would like to start reviewing the previous lessons technique in the warm-up at the start too. There weren’t enough people there from last week to make that viable, but hopefully I’ll be able to institute it at some point.


06/12/2012 – Teaching (Operation Tattered Belt: Basic Back Escapes)

Teaching #081
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 06/12/2012

I’m now back from Texas, but unfortunately my groin injury is still causing me problems, especially in closed guard and on the back. This fortnight is all about the back at Gracie Barra Bristol, so to give my leg a rest (holding back control with both hooks is painful for me at the moment) I decided to go with escapes. Operation Tattered Belt over on Julia and Megan’s blogs is currently focused on knee on belly, so I’ll have to leave that until later. In regards to back escapes, Operation Tattered Belt is drawing largely on Saulo’s book. The ones I teach are already very similar to how he teaches them in Jiu Jitsu University, so I don’t really need to change anything.

In the back position, your opponent is frequently going to begin by trying to attack your neck. Protecting your neck is therefore a priority. In order to choke you, they need to block off both sides of your neck. That will normally use either your gi (e.g., sliding choke), their gi (e.g., ezequiel choke), your arms (e.g., arm triangle) or their arms (e.g., rear naked choke). Therefore you have to be aware of all four of them: note their grips, if they’re trying to pull their gi across, if they’re attempting to thread an arm through yours, and most obviously, if they are attempting to drive their arm under your chin.

As with any escape, you need to stay tight. Keep your elbows in, using your hands to cover your neck. There are numerous schools of thought on just how to do that: clamping your hands to both sides of your neck (which I learned as the ‘Shirley Temple’ defence), crossing your hands over your neck, grabbing both your collars, and Saulo’s method of just grabbing one collar, keeping the other hand free to block. As his book is the main source for Operation Tattered Belt, that’s the method I highlighted.

Saulo’s back escape starts by putting a thumb inside your opposite collar, using your other hand to block their hands. You then do what Saulo calls a ‘big scoop’, shifting your upper body down and your hips forwards. Next, kick out one of your legs to clear their hook (you may also need to nudge it with your elbow), then drop your other elbow down past their other leg and turn. You need to be careful here that they can’t re-establish their second hook: block it with your elbow and knee if they try.

If you’re a bit late and they’ve already got an arm across your neck, fall towards the open side, as if you were reclining on a couch (if you fall the other way, you’re helping them get the choke. You also want to turn your head towards their elbow to relieve pressure. Both Saulo and his brother Xande suggest that when you fall to the side, you want to be lying on their knee (Saulo suggests just below the knee), as that will stop them shifting to mount or re-establishing their back control. From there, Xande adds the detail of turning your hips to clear their hook.

Step your leg over, using that as a base to shrimp out. Grab their other trouser leg, to prevent them from moving through to mount as you try to escape. Ryan Hall suggests reaching back and wrapping up their head, which is a different kind of anchor point. Whichever one you choose, it is important to immobilise their torso by getting your weight onto it as soon as possible, so they can’t either re-establish back control or try to swing over to mount.

I probably should have mentioned the option Xande demonstrates in the picture on the left, which is recovering guard, but forgot about that and emphasised getting to side control. Either way, Keep shrimping in order to clear their leg, aiming to either re-establish guard, or continue to shift your hips back into their armpit until you can switch to side control. Make sure that you are still being careful of your neck, as that is always a danger from back mount. Saulo mentions that you could use your free arm to stop them sneaking their other arm around, though generally when escaping the back, he emphasises that it is your hands that do the defensive work rather than your arms.

Saulo strangely doesn’t deal with the most common grip from the back, the seatbelt. Instead, he focuses on escaping when they either haven’t got a grip yet or if they have double underhooks (or at least he doesn’t in his book: in his first DVD set, he assumes the other guy has grabbed a collar, but the escape is otherwise much the same as on the page). I assume that is because he is imagining that with his survival position, you aren’t going to give them the chance to establish the seatbelt, but it would still have been useful to see his perspective on that position included in the book.

That meant that my focus for the first progressive resistance part of the lesson was seeing if students were able to use that ‘survival’ position to prevent their partner establishing the seatbelt grip. Generally people manage to at least get the arm past the armpit, which Saulo doesn’t talk about. Again, I would assume he is treating the survival position as capable of pre-emptively stopping that grip, presumably by keeping the elbow tightly clamped to your side.

I’ve also been asking for feedback via Facebook for the last two sessions (commenting on here is fine too, if any of the people I’ve taught are reading this). The main suggestions so far have been correcting mistakes more often, which is simply a matter of how much time I’ve got available with each person, and switching partners around to experience different body types and reactions. I’m restricted slightly on the latter point by what size people are in each class as well as their rolling style, so at the moment it is difficult to do unless class is fairly large. Still, something I want to try and institute, as a student suggested it. 🙂

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Teaching Notes: On the spur of the moment I decided to include something Carlos Machado had spoken about during our interview at RCJ Machado Dallas, which was reviewing the techniques at the end of class. I also took a leaf out of John Will’s book and had everybody face the same way, then ran through the techniques step by step. I think that’s something I’d like to institute for every class from now on. Ideally I’d be able to somehow put it into the warm-up too, but I’m not sure how well that would work.

A number of people were having some trouble stopping their partner recovering mount. I think the way to stop that would be getting your weight onto the torso, but that can be difficult if your partner is bigger than, better than you or both. I’m trying to come up with a simple way of explaining the motion: maybe getting your head to their opposite shoulder, as the body follows the head? I’ll need to experiment with it when sparring myself, though at the moment I’m hindered by this annoying groin injury.

I was very pleased that in class today, the women slightly outnumbered the men. For that reason alone, my favourite class I’ve taught so far! I would love to one day teach and train at a BJJ club with that kind of gender balance: that would pretty much be my ideal. 😀


23/08/2012 – Teaching (Basic Back Escapes)

Teaching #069
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 23/08/2012

Before I start, I just wanted to congratulate two old training partners of mine, Yas Wilson and Sahid Khamlichi. Yas has been tearing up the female competition scene for the last couple of years, establishing herself as among the best women in the UK. She even fought at the ADCC last year. There’s no question she’s at the brown belt level. It’s also really cool to see more higher ranked women in this country – we’re up to two black belt women in the UK so far, IIRC, a group Yas will no doubt be joining in a year or two. 🙂

Sahid got his purple belt the same day I did. However, we are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum: he had been smashing people at every competition he entered and then went on to win yet more medals at his new belt shortly after receiving it, whereas as I felt (and still feel) like a mediocre blue belt. So, I’m not at all surprised to see that a little over a year after getting his purple, Sahid is now a Roger Gracie brown belt. Very well deserved! 😀

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In the back position, your opponent is frequently going to begin by trying to attack your neck. Protecting your neck is therefore a priority. In order to choke you, they need to block off both sides of your neck. That will normally use either your gi (e.g., sliding choke), their gi (e.g., ezequiel choke), your arms (e.g., arm triangle) or their arms (e.g., rear naked choke). Therefore you have to be aware of all four of them: note their grips, if they’re trying to pull their gi across, if they’re attempting to thread an arm through yours, and most obviously, if they are attempting to drive their arm under your chin.

As with any escape, you need to stay tight. Keep your elbows in, using your hands to cover your neck. There are numerous schools of thought on just how to do that: clamping your hands to both sides of your neck (which I learned as the ‘Shirley Temple’ defence), crossing your hands over your neck, grabbing both your collars, and Saulo’s method of just grabbing one collar, keeping the other hand free to block.

Saulo’s back escape starts by putting a thumb inside your opposite collar, using your other hand to block their hands. You then do what Saulo calls a ‘big scoop’, shifting your upper body down and your hips forwards. Next, kick out one of your legs to clear their hook (you may also need to nudge it with your elbow), then drop your other elbow down past their other leg and turn. You need to be careful here that they can’t re-establish their second hook: block it with your elbow and knee if they try.

If you’re a bit late and they’ve already got an arm across your neck, fall towards the open side, as if you were reclining on a couch (if you fall the other way, you’re helping them get the choke. You also want to turn your head towards their elbow to relieve pressure. Both Saulo and his brother Xande suggest that when you fall to the side, you want to be lying on their knee (Saulo suggests just below the knee), as that will stop them shifting to mount or re-establishing their back control. From there, Xande adds the detail of turning your hips to clear their hook.

Step your leg over, using that as a base to shrimp out. Grab their other trouser leg, to prevent them from moving through to mount as you try to escape. Keep shrimping in order to clear their leg, aiming to either re-establish guard, or continue to shift your hips back into their armpit until you can switch to side control. Make sure that you are still being careful of your neck, as that is always a danger from back mount. Saulo mentions that you could use your free arm to stop them sneaking their other arm around, though generally when escaping the back, he emphasises that it is your hands that do the defensive work rather than your arms.


16/08/2012 – Teaching (Entering & Finishing the Rear Naked Choke)

Teaching #068
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 16/08/2012

The rear naked choke (so-called because you don’t need to grab any cloth: the Portuguese term is the more flowery ‘mata leão’, which means ‘lion killer’) is a high percentage attack from the back, and perhaps the signature submission in jiu jitsu. One of the great things about chokes is that they are so efficient: while somebody might be able to muscle their way out of a locked in armbar, a choke will work on everybody, no matter how big.

First, keep in mind those five points on maintaining the back I’ve mentioned previously:

  • Establish your hooks inside their thighs, making sure you don’t cross your feet
  • Bring one arm under their armpit, then the other over their shoulder
  • Follow them with your hips, so they have no space to escape
  • Press your chest into their upper back, for the same reason
  • Jam your head next to their skull, for better control and visibility

In terms of its basic mechanics, the rear naked choke is relatively simple. Begin by bringing one arm around their neck, so that the point of your elbow is under their chin. You don’t want to leave any space, as the idea is to press into both sides of their neck. This will close off their carotid arteries and prevent the flow of blood to the brain. That is an efficient and safe way of subduing an opponent.

Reaching past their shoulder, you are then going to grip the bicep of your free arm. This is to lock the choke in place. Should it be difficult to grab your bicep, you can secure your initial arm by gripping the back of their shoulder. Stephan Kesting has a useful video on RNC details, where he talks about holding the ridge of bone at the bottom of the shoulder blade, using what he calls a ‘tiger palm’. From there, switch to gripping palm to palm over their shoulder, dropping the elbow of your back-arm down along their shoulder blade. That will further help to lock it in position: as Demian Maia demonstrates, you can even finish the choke from there. If not, you can then do what Kesting calls the ‘creep’, wriggling that elbow across their back to cinch up the choke.

When you have managed to grip your bicep, bring the hand of that bicep arm to the back of their head: a commonly used version is to press the palm into their skull, but there are various options, coming down to personal preference. Using the back of your hand against their neck is arguably better, as that may slip in more securely than palm down.

Also, palm down is easier for them to grab, if they try to peel your fingers off their skull. Either way, when you’re locking in the choke, don’t reach your hand forward over their shoulder. If you do, then they can armbar you using their shoulder as a fulcrum. Instead, slide it behind the head.

Bring your head next to theirs on the bicep gripping side, to further cut off any space. If for some reason after grabbing your bicep you can’t get your other hand behind their head, grab your own skull, using that grip to finish from there. Staying close to their back, expand your chest and squeeze your elbows together.

Despite the simplicity, it can be difficult to get the RNC choke. Everybody with more than a few lessons under their belt knows that you’re going to be looking for that choke, so they will immediately be trying to create barriers with their arms and hands. Hence why I started the technical portion of the session by having everybody drill the basic mechanics, then went into further details on the RNC.

In order to clear a route to the neck, there are numerous options. First, you can adjust your hand positioning to maximise your efficiency. If you have one arm under their armpit and the other over the shoulder, then it can be helpful to grip palm to palm or grab your own wrist, with your shoulder arm on top. That means that as soon as there is any gap between the neck and chest, you can immediately slide your arm into their neck.

You can also try tricking them into giving you access to the hold you want. For example, when you try to get an arm around their neck, a common reaction on their part is to grab your arm and pull it down. If you respond by pulling up, they will pull down even harder. This means that if you time it right, you can suddenly switch direction, shoving their arms down right when they’re pulling, then bringing your other arm across their suddenly undefended neck.

Even better, you can take their arm right out of commission. With one of your hands, grab their wrist. Shove it down towards their legs, then step over that arm with your same side leg. When you then re-establish your hook (or pin your heel to their ribs, or put your leg behind their back), they are left with only one arm to defend against both of yours. If they’ve grabbed your wrist, twist your palm outwards, shove it down and out, then again step over their arm with your leg. Make sure you maintain pressure, so they can’t simply swim their arm free.

You can also just hold their wrist momentarily with your hand, although that does mean you are still going one arm against one arm, rather than the preferable two arms against one. Then again, if you have already trapped their arm on the neck-arm side, then you can use your hand under their armpit to hold their remaining arm. That would mean you now have one arm with which to attack, while they have no limbs left to defend themselves.

Finally, there is the method I learned from Dónal. Grab their wrist with your armpit hand. Drop to the choking arm side, twisting your hips to increase the range of motion for your leg. Shove their arm down, then swing your leg over your armpit arm. Grip your own shin with the armpit hand, then using both your leg and arm, get your foot to their spine to trap their limb.

Another problem is that people will also tend to tuck their chin. Some people advocate unpleasant methods to force your way through to the neck in that situation. For example, Kesting has a list here: the results of that kind of approach (though Kesting does make a point of saying he is not fond of pain-based options either) can be seen in this video. That is not how I want my jiu jitsu to look.

My goal is smooth, technical, leverage-based jiu jitsu, causing as little pain to the other person as possible. As Saulo says in my favourite BJJ quote:

“You have to think that your partner, the guy that you’re training [with], has to be your best friend. So, you don’t want to hurt him, you don’t want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain. You have to find the right spot to save your energy”

I strongly feel it is best to avoid hurting your training partners, for four additional reasons:

  • You’re in class to learn, not to ‘win’ at all costs. Save the ‘win’ mentality for competition.
  • If you’re always hurting the people you spar, eventually nobody will want to train with you, making it rather hard to improve.
  • Presuming you’re in BJJ for the long-term, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your training partners. Therefore it would make sense to build a good relationship.
  • Even if you don’t care about your classmates, everybody has a different pain threshold. So, the efficacy of pain-reliant techniques will vary from person to person. The efficacy of leverage does not: that’s based on physics, not how tough somebody is.

There is a less nasty option you could try for opening up their chin, from Andre Galvao. If they really shove their chin down, this may not work, but it is worth a go. Twist your hand so that your thumb is pointing down, then as you slide the arm to their neck, twist the thumb back up to lift their chin.

If I find I have no option except something brutish (e.g., crushing their chin until they tap from pain or lift their head), my preference is to instead transition to a different attack, like an ezequiel, a bow and arrow choke or an armbar (which I’ll be covering in later lessons). In my opinion, if I get to the point where force and pain are the main routes to finishing a submission, then my set up was poorly executed.


03/05/2012 – Teaching (Maintaining the Back)

Teaching #052
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 03/05/2012

It is common when on the back that you might find they manage to knock off one of your hooks, or perhaps you’re struggling to establish that second hook. If that happens, in order to take the back fully, use the grip you have with your arms to put them on your side, towards your remaining hook. Come up a little on your elbow and pull your remaining hook up slightly. Bring that foot across their body to hook their other leg. You’re looking to retain enough control that you can then reinsert your second hook, particularly if their reaction is to kick out that leg.

That does take a bit of flexibility, so it may not fit into everybody’s game. There is another option, which Marcelo Garcia calls the ‘hip extension‘. This doesn’t depend on flexibility. If they are blocking your second hook, cross your free foot over your hooking foot. Although crossing your feet if you had both hooks would be asking to get foot-locked, if you only have one hook, it means they can’t properly apply pressure against your ankle. You can then thrust your hips forwards into them and pull with your seat belt grip.

The result should be that your partner is bent around and stretched out, so that they can no longer connect their knee and elbow to block your foot. That’s your chance to quickly insert a second hook, before they can recover their defensive position. When doing the hip extension, don’t forget to keep control of their lower leg with your first hook. Otherwise they can just pop over and escape.

Another simple option to keep in mind is when they’ve managed to clear one of your hooks, or it’s slipping and you want to replace it. You might find that you can simply put the cleared hook foot on the floor (still keeping your knee tight) and bridge, to roll them back to the other side and re-establish that hook. Be careful though, as they are obviously going to react if you release a hook: you’ll need good timing and close control.

Similarly, and again this is a Marcelo tactic, you can use your foot on your underhook side (so, the side on which you arm is threaded under their armpit) to hook behind their same side knee. Lift that high in the air, then dump then back towards your overhook side. This is particularly useful if they are trying to get back to the centre, bridge and press their weight into you, in order to start wriggling their shoulders to the mat and begin their escape.

Incidentally, Marshal Carper (one of the co-authors on Marcelo Garcia’s latest book) did a handy video on maintaining the back Marcelo-style.