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.

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.


09/04/2013 – GrappleThon In A Few Weeks & Teaching (Maintaining Mount)

Teaching #103
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 09/04/2013

If you’re somehow not aware of the Team Lloyd Irvin scandal, then take a look at this great summary, ‘LloydIrvinRapeTruth.com‘. Irvin is sadly trying to bury the facts with SEO, so the more you can click on and link to Lloyd Irvin Rape Truth.com, the better.

Update: Looks like TLI got hold of the original LloydIrvinRapeTruth.com site and put in a redirect. However, the original content is still here.

Also, the GrappleThon is less than a month away! I’m trying to pull a press release together, so hopefully I’ll be able to get that into a newspaper somewhere (last time I had the benefit of a professional press officer, so may not be as successful this time), but we’ll see. We’ve currently raised £4,542.35, which is very cool: still taking donations of course, so if you’d like to help the cause, please go here. 😀

There are two basic types of mount to choose from, which I’ll call low and high. Once you’ve achieved mount, I find that low mount provides the most control. First off, you want to immobilise their hips, as their main method of making space is to bridge up forcefully.

Bring your feet right back, threading them around their legs to establish two hooks: this is known as a grapevine. Alternatively, you can also cross your feet underneath, which has the advantage of making it much harder for them to push your hooks off. Your knees are ideally off the ground, to generate maximum pressure. How far off the ground they are depends on your dimensions: the key is getting loads of hip pressure. Another option, which I learned from Rob Stevens at Gracie Barra Birmingham, is to put the soles of your feet together and then bring your knees right off the floor.

Whichever option you’re going for, thrust those hips into them, using your hands for base, where again you have a couple of options. Either have both arms out, or put one under the head while the other goes out wide for base. Try to grip the gi material by their opposite shoulder, or even better, by the opposite armpit. Keep your head on the basing arm side, loading up your weight there. If they’re bridging hard, you can switch from side to side.

A basic escape is to trap an arm, bridge and roll. So, don’t let them grab your arm and crush it to their side. Instead, swim it through, like Ryron and Rener demonstrate in the third slice of the third lesson in Gracie Combatives. Be sure to do it one at a time, or you may get both arms squashed to your sides.

The drawback to the low mount is that there aren’t many submissions from there: the ezequiel is one of the few high percentage attacks. In terms of their defence, they are mostly going to be trying to unhook your feet and digging their elbows under your knees, so you’ll be battling to keep those in place.

To attack, you’re better off climbing further up, into high mount. Again, you need to worry about their hips. To control them, put your feet by their bum, tucking your toes underneath: Roger Gracie points this out as of particular importance. In what you might call ‘middle’ mount where you’re still over their hips, Saulo suggests that you ‘ride’ their bridges, like you were on a horse. Lean back, then as they bridge, lift up: you’re aiming to move with their hips, rather than just leaving a big space. So, this takes a good understanding of timing.

He also recommends against leaning forward, as he feels that gives them more space and leverage to escape. Hence why he leans back instead. Experiment, seeing how holding the head works for you versus leaning back. I think Saulo’s method requires more experience, and personally I feel unstable there, but as ever, I want to offer students choice whenever possible.

The danger of leaning back is when you’re facing somebody with flexibility and/or long limbs. They might be able reach their legs over to kick into your armpits, either sliding out through your legs or pushing your over. You must control their hips with your feet, to prevent them from bending their body. Swimming the arms through might help you out here, this time against their legs, depending on how they attack. If they do get their feet in place, I generally grab on the back of their collar, stay really low, then attempt to gradually work my hips back to flatten them out: that worked for me last time it happened.

Another option is to move off their hips, shifting into an even higher mount. Gradually walk your knees into their armpits (pulling on the top of their head may help) being careful of the elbows. If they start to work an elbow into your thigh, twist to one side and raise that knee. Pull their arm up with whatever you can grab, then reinsert your knee. I’ve seen Rob S teach grabbing their sleeve with your opposite hand, while Mauricio likes to grab the elbow with their opposite hand and Felipe essentially shifts to technical mount for a moment.

A final thing I wanted to mention, from Demian Maia, is that you can also use the cross-face. If they turn on their side to get their elbow back in, you can use the cross face to bring their head out of alignment: moving them with their head is easier than trying to move their shoulders or arms or whatever. Also, the body follows the head, so they are going to have trouble bridging or turning if you’ve got a solid cross face.


Teaching Notes: This is becoming a fairly defined lesson now, but as ever I’m still looking for tweaks. I think that the opening section on low mount is rather lighter on detail than high mounts, so I can shift some parts across. Next time, I will add the arm swimming to low mount, leaving the cross-facing in high mount. The cross-facing is something I emphasised this time, as I personally find it useful. Also, turning to the side, lifting a leg slightly then pulling their arm.

Something else I will add next time is grabbing the head and using that to either stop them sliding away when you’ve got to high mount, or to help pull yourself up into high mount from low mount. I was reminded of it when sparring Geraldine (again: she’s making a habit of being a useful training partner for things like this ;D), because I was commenting how people will try to slide back up under high mount. She immediately used it on me, quite effectively, which was cool.

I’m not sure if it is worth including the Saulo option, as I don’t think many people use it (though I know one student specifically said it worked well for him, so I can’t discount it). However, it is handy to demonstrate what you can do with a more upright posture, which leads into the warning about their legs reaching to grab your armpits.

While teaching, I used something I saw on a video a while ago, I can’t remember who from (Jason Scully or Jeremy Arel, possibly?) Very simple, but to show hip pressure from mount, get the person you’re demonstrating on to go through the alphabet without pressure. Then have them do it again, but this time apply pressure partway through. The change in voice hopefully gets a little laugh and helps solidify the concept in peoples’ heads.

02/04/2013 – Teaching (Mount: Elbow Escape & Heel Drag)

Teaching #102
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 02/04/2013

Dónal has stepped back from teaching (understandably, as he’s a new father), so the class schedule is shifting around to accommodate that. From now on, I will be teaching the Tuesday class, meaning that Thursdays will be just the one nogi class. That does have the advantage of meaning I’ll be on the main mats again, which have more space, more heat and a better timer.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re underneath, you don’t want to be flat on your back. So, start your elbow escape by turning to your side and working your elbows inside their knee. Keep defending your neck throughout, so that your elbows form a frame. Create some space by bridging. You can then use your frame to help you shrimp into the space you just created, pushing against their leg.

The idea is to make enough space to pull your leg through: don’t just bridge and plop back down. That leg will need to be flat, the other raised, or it will be hard to pull it free. After you’re on your side, bump slightly, then simultaneously pry their knee up and over with your elbow while sliding your flat leg underneath.

Aim to pop your knee through initially. If you can pull the whole leg out in one, great, but don’t be greedy. Getting that knee through will mean you can then brace it against their thigh, aiding your second shrimp to free your other leg. Once one of your legs is fully out, you can then use it to wrap around one of theirs. Getting half guard may be a possibility here, but generally I’d recommend you keep working towards full guard. To do that, continue shrimping (towards the trapped leg side: you should be able to base the trapped leg foot on the floor if you’ve already got your knee into their thigh) and framing until both legs are free. Another option is to put the leg around their back.

You can also use a frame against their hips, one arm across, the other bracing against that wrist, elbow in tight. That’s also handy for stopping them moving up higher in mount. However, be extra careful with your neck if you do that: as your arms are down by their hips, that could leave you vulnerable to chokes. Use a powerful bridge followed immediately by shrimping to make space, then complete the escape as before.

The elbow escape is related to my personal favourite mount escape, the heel drag. The heel drag is also quite simple, which is another reason I like it so much. You’re in mount, your elbows in a good place for defence, down by their knees. For this escape to work, you need to have one of your legs out flat, just like before. Again, you also need to get on your side: a slight bridging motion will help.

The big danger at this point is that the person on top will switch to technical mount. You therefore need to make sure that your neck is safe if that happens. You also don’t want to let them settle into technical mount: immediately prepare your frames to start escaping before they secure the position. You may even be able to disrupt them as they try to shift, using that shift in their base to enter into your escape.

If they don’t get to technical mount, or you’re able to work back to the previous position, wedge an elbow underneath their knee. You can either make a frame against their hips, or if you’re concerned about your neck, adjust so that you can still pry your elbow under their knee while protecting your collar with your hands. As well as chokes, you also need to be wary of their cross-face: if they can control your head, they can flatten you back out, which will make the escape less effective. Use a combination of your elbow and shrimping to shove their knee backwards, on your flat leg side.

Bring your other foot over both your flat leg and the leg they have next to it. That means you can use the heel of that foot to drag their leg over your flat leg. As soon as you get it over, lock half guard and shrimp towards their trapped leg. In half guard, you want to get onto your side as quickly as possible: if you stay flat on your back, you’ve already done their work for them, as they will want to flatten you out in order to pass half guard. If you’re comfortable in half guard, you could stay there and work your attacks.

Alternatively, keep shrimping in the other direction, in order to free your other leg, just like you would with an elbow escape. It’s also worth noting that some people, like Roy Dean, recommend just pinching your knees rather than fully triangling your legs around theirs, so that’s worth trying too. To help recover full guard, you can also bring your arm across to their opposite shoulder, impeding their movement while aiding yours. Emily Kwok has a handy tip too: if their foot is too flat, making it hard to get your heel in for a drag, shove under their heel with your knee to pry it up and create that space between their foot and the mat.

A very similar escape, which I don’t use much, is the foot lift. Dean shows these two escapes in sequence on his awesome Blue Belt Requirements. The foot lift is for when they have some space underneath their in-step. People won’t often do that, in my experience, but if they do, this time just step over your flat leg. Use your foot to hook underneath their instep and lift it over, then as before lock up half guard (your legs are already in position), or shrimp to recover full guard.

Make sure that you pay particular attention to shoving on their knee with this variation, as it is easier for them to slip free (though if that happens, you can always switch to the heel drag). With both escapes, it is important to get the knee of their trapped leg back behind your legs. If they still have their knee past your legs, it makes it much easier for them to move straight into a half guard pass, by driving their knee to the mat and sliding through.

Teaching Notes: I suspected something like that might happen, so wasn’t overly surprised when Geeza rang me today to ask if I could teach. Fortunately this week is mount escapes, an area where I’m fairly confident of teaching material. Like I said last time, I wanted to rejig up my lesson plans for mount escapes, as I think elbow escape and heel drag goes together better than with the trap and roll.

A lot of people were forgetting to clamp down on the leg after shifting towards half guard, so I’ll emphasise that more next time. I think I’ll also review removing grapevines, as I could probably demonstrate the second option of bringing in a leg and stepping on their hook more effectively. Sparring was handy, although I think I learned more about being on top, as I didn’t spar underneath much, except for a bit of progresive resistance.

So on top, cross facing (making sure to use your shoulder) is handy when they’re getting up on their side and wriggling free. Crossing your feet under their bum, like I often do, works well but does mean they can stamp on your feet, which isn’t comfortable. Then again, that serves as a good reminder to crawl up into their armpit and go on the offensive.

It’s very common for people to snatch half guard and stall when sparring from mount. I generally say that people should keep on working from half guard if that happens, then if nothing is progressing reset in mount. I’m not sure what the best cut-off is: I was getting put in half guard a few times myself, which I took as an opportunity to practice working free, but there’s a line: it’s good to practice getting free of half guard as that is so common from mount, but not to the level where it takes away from practicing mount in general. Something to think about for next time. 🙂

28/03/2013 – Teaching (Side Control Transitions to North-South & Scarf Hold)

Teaching #101
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 28/03/2013

When moving around to north-south from standard side control, start by shifting your grip. You’ll need to place one arm by their near hip. A useful tip from Braulio is to anchor your hand flat on the mat by their legs, elbow near their bum. If you instead grab their gi or their trousers, they will be able to follow you with their legs as you turn. If you put your hand in the way, that acts as a barrier, meaning you can scoot around but they can’t scamper after you. Your other hand will normally wrap under their far shoulder.

As always with top positions, you must make sure you are maximising the weight you’re driving into them. Stay on your toes as you walk around, also establishing solid grips with your hands. Press your chest down to turn their head to one side: that is a good general rule of thumb from top position, as if you can turn their head to one side, it is tough for them to turn their body in the other direction.

As ever, there are numerous ways you can grip in this position. A common option is to basically flop your upper body onto their head, bringing your knees in. My personal preference is to move off to one side of the head, driving my weight onto their shoulder, my head low and pressing down, sprawling back with my legs.

You can also experiment with various grips. The most basic is probably grabbing under their shoulders and reaching for their belt, then pulling them in towards you. You could also try putting your elbows into their armpits, or maybe wrap up an arm, perhaps sliding your arm under the head. Another common approach is to have one arm over their arm, while the elbow of your other arm digs into their armpit.

Generally you want to keep your hips low, like in side control, but there are variations where you raise your hips, driving your weight through your shoulders. As Jason Scully over on Grapplers Guide mentioned, if they try that escape where they wriggle out and fling their legs over to take your back, raising your hips can be useful. You can then drive your forehead into their chest to stop them completing the escape.

The best place to learn about maintaining the north-south probably isn’t BJJ: its parent art judo is much better at pins. In judo, the orthodox north-south is called ‘kami shiho gatame’, with lots of variations. For example, the above picture shows three options mentioned in an old instructional book from 1952, Higher Judo: Groundwork, by Dr Moshé Feldenkrais (not only a good judoka, but an engineer, physicist and founder of the eponymous ‘Feldenkrais Method‘).

Scarf hold is useful to switch to if they start shoving into your neck and bridge. Turn your body, resting your torso on them, leaning into them for extra weight. You can have your knee up (to provide a counter if they start forcefully bridging into you), but be careful they can’t hook that with their leg. You can also sprawl your legs out, one crossed over the other. Keep your head low for additional control.

The position is also handy for when you want to kill the near arm. Scoop up their elbow with your near hip, digging it underneath as you switch to scarf, pull up the arm, then return to side control. Bring your knees in tight and suck your partner in with your arms to remove any space for their arm. From there, shifting backwards and sliding through to mount becomes much easier.

Most instructors would say that it is very important you pull up on their arm and keep good control of that elbow in scarf hold. If they can get their elbow back and dig it back under your hip, they can start to make space and escape. However, John Will disagrees. He feels that this position wasn’t as common as it used to be, because people often have a bad experience. They go into scarf hold, pulling their opponent’s arm up…then the opponent links arms behind their back and rolls them over. The move can often be discarded by beginners as a result of that bad experience.

For Will, the key detail is that linking arm. Instead of pulling it up and trapping it under your armpit – which exposes you to that linked hands escape – jam your arm next to your raised knee so they can’t get their arm around your back. There are various attacks you can do on the arm if you use the non-Will orthodox scarf hold, or like good judoka, you can simply pin them here. If they try and shrimp away, you can return to side control, and switch between the two. Also, make sure to stay right up into their armpit, rather than going low by their hip.

Finally, this can also combine well with the Saulo position I demonstrate in my side control basic maintenance class. If they are really shoving their forearm into your neck, you can go with that pressure but still keep control, ‘connecting the hip’ like Saulo advises.

Teaching Notes: North-south is my personal favourite transition and I also often shift into scarf hold. I’ve combined north-south with knee on belly in the past, but I think knee-on-belly is better served by a separate lesson. I’ll have to think of what to combine it with: perhaps reverse scarf hold and a transition into mount? That might be too much for one lesson though.

Today ended up being quite conceptual, which is hopefully useful. I know I like general principles that can be broadly applied, but then not everyone likes to learn in the same way. I’m at the point now where I’m confident on at least one lesson for each position, but still working on how best to introduce techniques beyond that.

That’s one of the downsides about only teaching once a week, as I can’t test things out as regularly as I’d like, but then teaching more often on a regular basis at this point would essentially become a job, so I’d need to get paid to make it viable. Hopefully some day in the future that might happen, but for now once a week is cool. 🙂

26/03/2013 – GrappleThon Passes £4000 & Teaching (Side Control Basic Maintenance)

Teaching #100
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 26/03/2013

For my hundredth class, it’s a pleasure to be able to say that the GrappleThon has now passed £4,000! The team continues to grow: if you’d like to help the fight against sexual violence and rape culture, then please donate here. You can also get involved and start fundraising yourself, if you’re able to get to Bristol on the 4th May. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested. 🙂

Tonight I’m covering what has become a favourite topic of mine, maintaining side control. I kicked off with the conceptual framework John described to me in Texas, which I’ve mentioned before: the primary control points are the hips and the triangle of shoulders and head, secondary control is inside the knees and elbows, then finally tertiary control relates to the wrists and ankles. John goes into more detail over on this thread. I think it’s helpful to have that framework at the start, as then the students can hopefully see how that principle filters through everything we’ll be training today.

Another key point to keep in mind is that when you’re underneath, one of the worst things that can happen is they control your near arm. Now you’re on top, you therefore want to get control of that arm. Dig your knee into the armpit, aiming to slip it right under, bringing your knees in close to their head to trap their arm. You can also try switching to scarf hold briefly, scooping their arm up with your hip, then switching back to side control.

Next, you want to apply the cross face. If you’re not familiar with the term, that means bringing your near side arm under their head. From that position, you can then drive your shoulder and/or arm into the side of their head or neck, aiming to get their head to turn away from you and/or generate some choking pressure to distract them. If they can’t turn their head back towards you due to the shoulder pressure, it will make it much harder for them to create space and escape. “The body follows the head” or “where the head goes, the body follows” is an old adage and a true one. Choking pressure can also open up opportunities to switch to mount or consider initiating a submission attempt. This is what SBG call the ‘shoulder of justice.’

So, you’ve got control of their near arm and their head. You’re now going to deal with their far arm. Reach under that far elbow with your arm, coming under the armpit. You have a couple of options here. Option one is linking your hands together with a gable grip and sucking them in towards you, providing a very tight side control. This is how Tran showed it to me several years ago, and has been my preferred control ever since. Option two is gripping around their shoulder, to bring their shoulder off the mat: this is something Dónal likes to do, which isn’t surprising as I think I first saw that on a Braulio video. You can also use the elbow of your far arm to squeeze into their far hip.

You want to keep control over this far arm for two reasons: first, they can use it to defend, by getting it into your neck. Second, there are a number of attacks you can do from here. Final point I wanted to emphasise was chest position. Picture an imaginary line between the middle of their chest and also between yours. You want to bisect those lines: don’t be too far over them, or they can easily roll you (if they DO try and roll you and it’s working, put your far arm or your forehead out for base). Too far back, and it’s easier for them to slip out and escape. Stay low, dropping your hips: don’t leave them any space.

This is what I would call orthodox side control, and it’s the one I use all the time. I prefer this position, because here I feel like I have the most control, as my opponent has no space. I also tend to clasp my hands, in what Xande calls the ‘super hold’ on his DVD, with good reason. It’s a powerful grip.

At this point, I wanted to note that there are a bunch of different things you can do with your legs. I generally prefer to bring both knees in tight, although more recently I’ve been sprawling the leg nearer the head back. If you can sprawl, it will help your control in that you’ll be able to lower your hips. That means more weight on top of them. However, if you have both legs sprawled back, there is a chance they might be able to bring their knee inside: you need to block it somehow, which would commonly be with your hip, your hand or your knee. Play around and see which position you like, and also be ready to switch depending on your partner’s movement

That leads into the second section, where I wanted to emphasise mobility in side control as well as focused pressure. Although it can be tempting to just seize up in side control, you have to keep moving: otherwise, you aren’t reacting to your opponent and they’re eventually going to escape. The old “it’s better to bend than to break” cliche comes to mind.

That transitional, mobile element to side control can be seen in Saulo’s method for maintaining side control, which he shows on Jiu Jitsu Revolution. He keeps his hip stuck right by theirs throughout. The only time he lets off the pressure is if he gets something better, like strong control on the far arm. As they move, turn and put your other hip to theirs, following them around with your legs sprawled back. Your elbow is across, blocking their other hip: however, be careful of pinching that in too forcefully, as that may help them initiate an escape where they roll you over the top.

Your weight should constantly be on them, because of that sprawl: don’t touch the floor with your legs or knees. You can also reverse, which Saulo’s brother Xande discusses in detail on his DVD. Turn your hips in the other direction, so that you’re now facing their legs. Control their far arm, also making sure to block their near hip to prevent their movement in that direction.

To continue emphasising the importance of that hip connection, I then brought in the drills I first taught a while ago, with sparring from side control without using your arms, then another round where the bottom person can use their arms but the top person still can’t. My intention was to help students improve their sensitivity and weight distribution, both on top and on the bottom. That progresses into general specific sparring.


Teaching Notes: I’m still not sure of the best order to teach this in. Last time I had the Saulo method first and orthodox side control second, but the problem with that is it means I’m saying “stay mobile, don’t lock”, followed by “here’s how to really clamp down.” It probably works better starting off with the tight control, then progressing to mobility. But meh, hopefully I’ll get some feedback that will establish what students prefer and find more useful.

I’m also continuing to experiment with arranging people for sparring. I’ve tried counting people off, putting them in two lines and king of the hill. I went with king of the hill again today, initially in two groups, one heavier the other lighter. Two people stayed on top, then I switched in another two for the next round. The problem with that is that one person is often left out, so I have to either add in an extra round for them, or switch things around mid-round (which could potentially cut somebody’s else go short).

At the end I did a typical king of the hill, except that if you stay on for three goes, switch out. I’m going to continue experimenting with that system and see if it works. Ideally I want something that gives everyone a chance to work the technique, doesn’t confuse anybody in terms of where they are supposed to be and also enables me to jump in if I want to.

I didn’t today, though I was sorely tempted, because I don’t think my injury is up to extended side control bottom sparring yet. I’m fine on top, and progressive resistance with somebody I trust is ok, but I’m still being careful when it comes to sparring. Nevertheless, it was useful doing progressive resistance with Mike: he had an interesting escape attempt where he put his arm at his side and used that as a brace to try and spin the other way.

21/03/2013 – Teaching (Running Escape from Side Control)

Teaching #099
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 21/03/2013

I started off by focusing on the survival posture for the running escape. Rather than gripping under your head and far arm as in orthodox side control, for tonight’s scenario your opponent is using near side grips (i.e., an arm under your head and by the same side hip). That means that it is very difficult to bridge towards them and shrimp, because they’ve trapped that side. However, you can still bridge away from them, as that side is completely open.

A simplified version of the running escape starts in much the same way as an orthodox escape: bridge to make some initial space. Your aim is to create a gap so that you can turn on your side, getting your hand past their near shoulder. Use that hand as a block, then step out with your bottom leg. Be careful you don’t elbow your partner in the face as you do that, especially if you’re pushing off their shoulder with your hand.

The defensive position you’re looking to reach is turned away from them, with one leg over the other, foot based out. Your top elbow is clamped to that stepping leg (your forearm should be glued to your upper leg), while your other hand goes behind your head for defence. This can be a handy place to catch your breath, although it can also be tempting to stall.

You need to keep several things in mind while in your defensive posture. First, don’t let them sneak an arm around your waist. If they get an arm in, you aren’t going to be able to turn away and free yourself. Should they get an arm inside, you’ll have to either wriggle your elbow and knee back underneath, or shift to a different escape. It’s possible you may be able to roll them, as when somebody reaches too deeply in turtle, but most likely they will start making space to insert their leg.

That leads into the second point: be careful they don’t take your back. This is the most common attack people have done to me when I’ve tried it. If they can lift you up enough to slide their bottom leg through (if they have an arm around your waist, this becomes much more likely), you’re in trouble. If it does happen, stay tight and don’t let them get that second hook in. Your elbow is already by your hip and knee to block the first hook, which means you can use the hand of that same arm to help protect your other hip from their second hook. You might also be able to move into turtle and roll them, but that needs good timing and control of their arm.

Third, watch for chokes. Saulo confidently states that they are never going to be able to choke you if you duck your head, bringing it next to your arm to block their entry. However, you can’t just lie there and assume you’re immune to being choked: you still need to take care they aren’t able to set anything up. Should they get hold of a collar, you can try yanking that same collar outwards to remove their grip, but it may be too late if they’ve already got a solid grasp and started cinching the collar tight against your neck.

Moving on to the actual escape technique, I went with two options. Saulo’s version in Jiu Jitsu University (p69) begins by making a little space and turning to the survival posture, then links directly to his knee on belly escape. I normally just teach that knee on belly escape as a drill for my open guard maintenance lesson (e.g., back in October), as the swinging motion is a useful skill to learn. However, in his book, Saulo uses that motion to recover his guard from under side control, rather than the swivel he uses in Jiu Jitsu Revolution 2 (he does a much quicker version in his first set, Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1).

The risky part is as you’re swinging through with your legs in the air: if your partner is prepared and you aren’t able to perform that motion smoothly and efficiently, they may be able to set up a double-underhook pass. It is therefore important to clamp your legs down as Saulo does in the last picture, rather than leaving them dangling and vulnerable. Jiu Jitsu University is more recent than Saulo’s DVD set, so I’m not certain if this version of the escape is a progression that has been stripped of superfluous elements, or a simplified version which is intended as an introductory option to the full technique presented in the second DVD set.

The second and perhaps more difficult option is from Saulo’s DVD. Push off the floor with your back foot, using that to move your body forward, your hips raised. Base on your head and shoulder, then turn your top knee inwards. Continue the rotation until you can recover open or half guard. This is probably the simplest option, but I find it is difficult to secure that position, as I have to scramble for a grip before they pass.

Whichever option you go for, be careful to time your escape, staying sensitive to their weight distribution. If they are driving into you with lots of pressure, it will be hard to make space and turn. A good moment to attempt the escape is when they are looking to attack or transition to another position. Often, there will be a brief moment before they start when they take their weight off you. That is the time to spring the escape.

Finally, as you start to recover guard, you need to make sure you secure the position. If you aren’t careful, they can just keep moving round and put you back in side control. That’s where I tend to get caught. If you’re having trouble, you could instead try going to turtle, or perhaps use the principles of guard recovery: block their shoulder and bicep, get your legs in the way, hook their leg into half guard, etc.

It is possible that the person you are training with won’t often use near side grips from side control. Speaking personally, I tend to go for the orthodox grip under the head and the far arm. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the running escape, it simply means you have to put yourself into position, forcing them to use near grips. All you need to do is make enough space that you can turn away and curl into a ball.


Teaching Notes: I added in a bit more detail on the swinging legs escape, in regards to recovering if you mess up and they underhook both your legs. I could go into more detail, but I just advised to make your legs heavy, wriggle back on your shoulders, then hook your insteps inside their thighs. As I’m separating the escapes part into a separate section, I don’t think I was overloading by adding that in, but I’ll ask for feedback and see what people think.

Also on the escapes, I could probably make more of framing after doing the second escape, when you just turn. Geraldine (who has recently moved to Bristol from Torquay, where she trained with the Fightworx crew, so ex-team mate of Vikki and She-Beast) did something interesting when I was drilling this with her, as she simply scooted back.

I hadn’t thought of that, so will add that in next time, as it’s a good idea, along with framing and/or securing grips. Geraldine proved to be a great training partner (particularly as she was doing stuff that I think will help when I next teach this escape, like that scoot back), so hopefully I’ll be able to roll with her more in future (plus she said she’s read my blog, which means extra cool points ;p).

Judging from what the two big guys in the class said, I don’t think they found the running escape as useful as the smaller people, so that’s something to think about. I could try asking some of the other bigger people if they ever use it, like Nick, or indeed Geeza. Steve mentioned that he generally just turns to turtle: I guess the running escape could be handy as an intermediary stage if you like going to turtle under side control anyway.

I’m also continuing to get in plenty of sparring with students, which is nice from a selfish “I want to train more” perspective, but also handy for testing out stuff I want to teach, in this case top side control. It is especially good that Tony is back training regularly, as he and Mike are two of my favourite training partners. I know I’ll get a challenging roll from both of them, but it will be technical. Mike hit a nifty stiff-arm escape on me, which is something I can never manage myself, so will have to pick his brain on it (he mentioned it’s been working well for him recently).

Speaking of Tony, he had an interesting point during sparring. When teaching, I had mentioned that it is generally a bad idea to reach under your leg to grab it, as then they may be able to collapse your leg on top of your arm, trapping both limbs (something I think Jeff Rockwell taught me). Tony likes to put his arm under, but he brings his heel in tight to his hip, as if he was technically mounting himself. That means the knee is up high, so it’s difficult to collapse. Next time I teach it, I can therefore mention that you break that ‘rule’ if you’re sufficiently flexible.

19/03/2013 – Teaching (Side Control Escapes)

Teaching #098
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK – 19/03/2013

Geeza is away in the US again, so various senior GB Bristol members are sharing teaching duties for the next week or two. Now that I’m back from Paris (I’ll do some kind of write-up and stick the link here, in case anyone cares), I’m covering the next two Tuesdays along with my usual Thursday classes: there won’t be a nogi class, so the Thursday gi class will be on Mat 1.

Tonight I went with the basic guard recovery under side control. Along with the running escape, this is the escape I personally use the most. I started by focusing on your hand and arm positioning. First thing to note is that they will want to kill your near arm. This is bad for you, because it means you can’t stop them shifting up towards your head. From there, they can make as much space as they want and pass to mount.

So, you need to get your arm inside, the forearm pressing against their hip: this is a bit more reliable that grabbing the gi material, as they can potentially still bring their body onto your hand and collapse it due to the loose material. The forearm into the hip will help block their movement, and initiate your attempts to create some space. It should also help you block them moving to north south, as if you clamp your arm by their side, your body will move with them if they try to switch position.

One thing to note is that having your forearm by their hip like that does leave you more open to the cross-face. So, you could potentially block inside their cross-facing arm instead, which will prevent their shoulder pressure. This is the Saulo method from his book, which has advantages, but personally I prefer to block the hip.

With your other hand, grab the gi material by their shoulder, close to their neck, then pull down. Twist that arm up into their neck, keeping the elbow in: you need to be tight here, as otherwise they will go for a figure four on that arm. Once you’ve got the forearm into their neck, they can’t press down into you, as they’ll essentially be choking themselves. Note that this is a block: you don’t want to start pushing and reaching, as that may leave you vulnerable. Reach too far and they can shove your arm to one side and set up an arm triangle.

Next I moved on to the legs. Your legs have two main purposes here: first, blocking your opponent getting to mount. Raise your near knee and drive it into their side. The idea is to wedge them between your knee and the arm you have by their hip. Personally, I like to keep my knee floating, glued to their side.

That makes it easier to slip my knee under as soon as they give me any space, which is something I learned from Roger. Many people prefer to cross their foot over their knee, which is something I used to do in the past as well. However, as this long Sherdog thread discusses, that can leave you open to a footlock, and also limit your mobility. Then again, you can see it used at the highest levels, like here at the Mundials.

The second use for your legs is bridging. Marcelo Garcia has a handy tip for this (although the escape he is doing there is slightly different), related to increasing the power of your bridge. To do that, bring your foot right to your bum, up on your toes. That increases your range of motion, so you can really drive into them.

Make sure you turn into them as you bridge, rather than just straight up. This will help the next part, which is to shrimp out as you come back down. That’s why you’ve created space in the first place: if you simply plopped back down, then you’ve wasted the opportunity. As soon as you shrimp out, slip the knee pressing into their side underneath. Note you aren’t trying to lift them with your arms. Instead, you want to push off them, moving your body away rather than pushing theirs higher up.

Once your knee is through, you need to be careful they don’t immediately pass by pushing down and moving around that knee, ruining all your hard work. To prevent that, keep your hand by their shoulder. Straighten it, then add further support by bracing your other hand into their bicep (same side as the blocked shoulder). Your new frame should create a barrier to their pass, giving you enough time to recover your guard, or even move into a submission.

Alternatively, you can control their arm with your hip-bracing arm as you escape, like Roy Dean demonstrates in Blue Belt Requirements. That will also stop them pushing down on your knee, as their arm is trapped. It is worth trying both and seeing which you prefer, or which one the situation demands.

Roy Dean is also a useful reference point for the second side control escape I like to demonstrate, where you go to your knees. It begins in much the same way as the shrimp back to guard, again establishing that frame with your arms, knee into the side and bridging. As an instructor, that meant I could review what we’d just done once again, which is useful: whenever possible, I also want to closely link whatever techniques I’m teaching.

After you bridge and shrimp this time, you’re going to do something different with the arm you have into their neck. Rotate it under their armpit, then reach for their legs. Roy Dean shifts out to the side, ending up crouched next to them (as in the picture). From there, he reaches for the far knee and drives forward, moving to the top position.

Teaching Notes: I managed to get in more sparring today, as given it was a Tuesday there were enough people for me to join in. I decided to split the class by weight, as there were some quite big guys along with people more my size. I don’t normally mind rolling with somebody bigger when it is side control, as that’s a great test of my ability to maintain and escape, but when I’m injured it’s entirely different. As to the students, I think most of them prefer somebody around their weight, though I know a few also enjoy rolling with bigger people, such as those who like a self defence angle to their training.

So, the methodology I used this time for breaking up the sparring pairs was have two groups, one of bigger people the other of smaller. Within those groups, half the people went on their backs and stayed on their backs, the other half rotated on top. That then switched for the next round. It did mean that everyone didn’t get to roll with everbody else initially, so in the third round I mixed them up to make sure there was enough variety.

In terms of teaching, I’m fairly happy with how the lesson went. As this is the lesson I’ve been teaching the longest, I’m confident about the content now, though I’m still looking for areas to refine. A number of people were forgetting to put their knee up to block the transition to mount and also not bridging enough, so those are two things I could emphasise more next time.