The Whitebelt Problem – Getting Stuck in Side Control: 3 Pieces of Advice

Sometimes at the academy, when I have a group of less experienced students who show up for class I will ask the students which position they want to learn that day. “What problems have you been having in your training? Where have you been getting stuck?”


Inevitably, a student’s hand goes up and they ask (by far the most common question!) “I keep getting stuck in side control and I can’t escape!” Getting caught under a heavy side control is the bane of the whitebelt’s existence!

14954161162_89c0d8bf2f_kI can demonstrate some technical side control escapes, how to recover the guard etc.
Those are all essential, but the answer to their problem is less obvious than needing an escape technique.

Here are 3 pieces of advice to help solve this problem.

Read also: 3 White Belt Guard Mistakes

1) “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Escaping from a strong side control is very difficult once the opponent has secured their controlling grips. It is easier to prevent the side control in the first place than to escape it once you are caught. If we “rewind the tape” and see the events that led up to your guard being passed and ending up in side control, we can see certain high risk / low percentage moves that led to the pass.

a) Attacking a triangle when the opponent has a strong posture. They easily defend and stack pass.
b) A sloppy sweep attempt before you have established control in your guard and the opponent pushes your legs aside.

Question: Are you creating the opening for the guard pass by being careless with a guard submission or sweep? Can you tighten this part and prevent the problem in the first place?

2) Acknowledge that your guard is being passed.
One of the aspects of bjj that differs between lesser and greater experienced students is their early recognition that a position is lost. At a certain point when you are playing guard, your opponent will break one of your controlling grips, pin one of your knees to the ground or obtain a solid control of your pants and start to advance their guard pass.

You have lost your defensive control!

14735504865_63966541bf_zYou may either:
a) Stubbornly persist with your now ineffective grips and guard as the opponent gains control
b) Acknowledge that you have lost your guard and change to a guard retention technique before your guard is completely passed

The willingness to recognize and accept that you have lost control and your opponent is about to pass is a major difference between lesser experienced and better guard players.
Give up on your guard attack and start your guard retention or recovery before it is too late!

3) Move your hips!
This simple piece of advice should be painted on the ceiling of every academy!

_MG_1290When you are pinned on your back or defending guard, look at up the ceiling and read these words…and start shrimping and hip escaping!

The hips, abdomen and lower back chain of muscles are the most powerful in the human body and the best way for you to generate the force and space you need to escape side control.

Moving your hips is something we can easily forget to do when an opponent’s weight is heavy on your chest…but is far more effective (and less fatiguing!) than trying to push them off using only arm strength.

IMG_3704Grace Barra Professor Bruno Fernandes says that the opponent on top control is trying to remove the space and the person on bottom trying to escape is trying to create space.

The best way to do this is those hip escapes that are part of nearly every bjj warmup.

Read also: 3 Pieces of Advice for White Belts

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ