Without a doubt, Escaping the Side Control the most common point of frustration for most of my readers – and probably most White and Blue belts everywhere. There’s nothing more annoying than knowing you have a game, that you have options and techniques, but that you’re incapable of working any of it because you’re stranded in the dead end of bottom side control (often this happens against bigger, stronger, or more athletic opponents).
As a white belt, one of the biggest “bottlenecks” of my development was that fact that as a smaller, weaker guy (I’m still only about 130 pounds soaking wet), I found it near impossible to get back to guard once someone got side control. Even more than mount and back mount, I was basically a sitting duck even with a thousand shrimp attempts.
In this post I’ll be going over some of the concepts that I think are most important to bear in mind for ANY newer grappler trying to build a better escape game – and I’ll be throwing in some videos from champs / instructors showing techniques and details I believe in. Enjoy!
This concept was, and is, HUGE for my own escape game. Sometimes an opponent’s size or position won’t allow for a deep shrimp, but this kind of “cutting under” is different kind of motion, and tends to allow you to move in tighter, more constricted spaces. The big emphasis here is on the fact that I’m cutting my near shoulder and hip under my far shoulder and hip (watch the video to see what I mean).
It’s important to bear in mind that – like with shrimping – alleviating the pressure of the opponent’s shoulder on your chin first necessary to enable you to turn in effectively. Notice also, how I use my hip side hand to push off of Nick’s hip in order to cut my near shoulder under my far shoulder. It’s not just my legs doing the work of getting to my side.
In addition to using colorful language that usually makes Jiu Jitsu more fun to learn, Kurt Osiander has some great instruction. This is pretty close to the first underhook escape that I ever learned, which is the variation that lands you in a single or double leg takedown. Normally I like to go for the back, but if the angle isn’t there, this is the next best thing and Kurt covers a lot of important nuances.
One detail that I like about this move is how Kurt nullifies the cross-face by bracing his right palm to his face. This transfers to SO many other side control and half guard techniques that it’s ridiculous. In this particular case, however, it gives Kurt the ability to tuck his head under as he comes to his base, and immediately reach with his other arm for the takedown.
At 3:00 into the video Kurt explains how this cross-face counter can be used preemptively when you know the opponent is going to pass anyway. One of many details to bear in mind.
One day I hope to have rock and roll hair like Kurt – but the good news is you don’t need any tattoos or crazy hair to hit this technique.
In addition to the traditional options of under hook and guard retention, being a little guy has always forced me to come up with unique variations and “twists” on escapes. Here I go over a Kesa Gatame underhook variation (which I usually use to go for the back), and a “Skull Crawl” escape that was made relatively famous in an old YouTube video we filmed (original “skull crawl” video here).
I always thought this technique looked a little bit like the setup for a Granby Roll to get back to guard (Ryan Hall does this really well), but in fact it’s a little different. The key here is how Marcelo loads his hip up behind the shoulder of the opponent in order to bump him far enough away to set up the guard again.
Bare in mind, doing this incorrectly will get you choked, but Marcelo is a master of this technique and by defending your neck in the transition and never letting BOTH knees touch the mat, you should be in good shape. I think this move is a little easier without the gi, too.
Being underneath side control is lame. However, what’s equally lame is just watching YouTube videos about learning escapes, but never really mastering them. We’ve all been there with different aspects of our games, but with something as foundational as side control escapes, it makes sense to take improving seriously.
Plus, if I’m going to go to bed at night thinking I have a blog that’s actually “useful,” I’ll need to crack the whip a bit on giving some actionable advice, not just interesting advice. Hopefully this post has been useful, but the REAL usefulness is in the four steps I’m going to give you below:
If it was a waste of your time, call me and I’ll buy you a sandwich or something. However, that won’t happen. This is the kind of regular “plugging away” that needs to happen if you want this position not to be a frustration anymore.
Frankly, if I could be a white belt all over again, I would have done a LOT more muscle memory of important techniques early.
I hope you found that helpful, and feel free to lend your thoughts below,
Coach Daniel is the founder and head publisher at Science of Skill, LLC. A martial arts black belt and self defense instructor, Dan has spent years training with and interviewing some of the world's best self protection experts. His passion lies in encouraging others to train smart and to improve the skills that make them safer and stronger.
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