Ask a group of first year students to brazilian jiu-jitsu “what are you having trouble with in your training?” certain answers will inevitably arise. “I get stuck on the bottom, under side control / mount / north-south…how do I escape?”
There are many specific escapes for specific situations and the new student can expect their black belt professor to teach these moves in the class. The more perceptive students will notice that there are principles that are common to ALL of the escapes. They will recognize that for every escape the instructor shows, the instructions start out similarly “You need to bridge and move your hips…”
Today, let’s talk about the Five Commandments of Escaping from the Bottom:
1) Bridge and hip escape
The warm up at your bjj academy likely includes the 2 fundamental movements: bridge and hip escape. Shrimps down the length of the mat and back bridges to develop core strength.
Because nearly every escape from the bottom will begin with these 2 pieces of advice! These 2 movements are not instinctive to most of us starting bjj and new students must drill them in order to make them second nature when we are in a difficult situation in a match.
Your coach is very likely yelling these things at you when they observe you in a tough spot on the bottom.
If you are caught on the bottom and your situation seems hopeless, and you can only remember these 2 things: Bridge! Escape your hips!
2) Basic understanding of what you need to do
Gracie Barra black belt and World Champion Bruno Fernandes summed it up perfectly:
“The person on top is trying to remove space and be as tight as possible. The person on bottom is trying to create space and escape.”
Think about it. When you are applying side control, you want your bodyweight tightly on your opponent, contact the chest and control the head with pressure. Your strategy on the bottom is not surprisingly the exact opposite of what your opponent is trying to accomplish.
When you are escaping, you need to do anything you can to break that body connection. Relieve that pressure….(see #1)!
3) Get your arms in a safe defensive position
This is a big one. It is difficult to escape when your opponent is threatening you with a submission and all your effort goes to defending the sub. If the top can control an arm and start to threaten arm bar, Kimura lock, Americana or even chokes that involve the head and arm (ex. shoulder choke or side choke) then you might never even get started with your escape before being submitted.
The first step is to hide your arms and take away what your opponent needs to start their attack. Grabbing and holding the head is offering your elbow for a Kimura attack. In fact, you should be looking to hide your arms, keep your elbows in tight as soon as you recognize that your guard is being passed.
4) Use frames, not bench presses
Use your forearms to create braces / structures to keep the top opponent’s weight off of you. Attempting to bench press your opponent off of you is a poor strategy when you are tired and the opponent heavier than you are. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to push someone off of your chest and when you get fatigued, a submission is usually next!
Secondly, by straightening your arms on the bottom, you are exposing your arms to be armlocked by the top. They are just waiting for you to stick an arm up for4 them to lock.
If you are extending your arms it is like a Christmas present to the guy on top!
It is difficult to do any escape in bjj (or play guard for that matter) when you are flat on your back. Whether it is half guard, elbow to knee escape from mount, shrimp and knee inside reguard from under side control, you need to get on your side.
When you are on your side, you are not carrying your opponent’s full weight. When you are on your side, you back is not creating friction on the mat and you have greater ability to move. When you are on your side, your opponent must stop their attack and concentrate on flattening you out to maintain the position.
Take a closer look at your escapes from the bottom and look for these principles.
read also: Position Before Submission
Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taiwan