Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Escaping Side

Sometimes people write to me, “Shark Girl, you never talk about technique. Are you even ever actually on the mat?” It’s funny you should ask. Yes, I am on the mat, as much as possible. But every time I start to write about technique, it goes nowhere. I stop, start, I shift focus. I can’t sustain it. Tonight, just for you, I’m going to talk about technique. Here goes. [deep inhalation] I can do this, I know I can.

I titled this “Escaping Side” not because I am going to tell you how awesome I am at side escapes. I am not going to give you my foolproof method to get out of it. If you came to this page looking for answers, I apologize. I’m the one who needs answers.
I can’t escape side—or mount or scarf, for that matter— to save my life. Basically, I can’t escape. I spend most of my time trying not to be on the bottom. And when I am on the bottom, forget it. I might as well tap immediately.

Tonight we drilled side escapes. I’ve practiced them many times. I still can’t figure them out. Sure, the drilling goes fine, but in practice, I can’t make ‘em happen. Here is a typical roll with Shark Girl:

  • Shark Girl and Opponent do the Tap of Cordiality
  • Shark Girl and Opponent shift around on knees until, usually, Opponent takes Shark Girl down
  • Shark Girl gets guard; Opponent tries to pass guard
  • Shark Girl opens guard; opponent is ensnared
  • Opponent tries to pass guard; Shark Girl reguards
  • Opponent tries to pass guard; Shark Girl reguards
  • Shark Girl tries to sweep, fails, reguards
  • Opponent tries to choke, Shark Girl scrunches chin down
  • Opponent gives up on choke, tries to pass guard
  • Shark girl reguards
  • Opponent goes for something crazy, Shark Girl seizes opportunity to get on top
  • Shark Girl floats around on top for a while, looking for something to attack
  • Opponent sweeps Shark Girl, finally passes guard
  • Shark Girl flails arms and legs like a dying cockroach
  • Opponent grabs an Americana.
  • Ouch. Shark Girl taps (which she hates to do)

If you close your eyes and picture yourself as Opponent, you’ve just had a virtual roll with Shark Girl. Hope it was good for you. It sucked for me.
I recognize that usually I am with a bigger, stronger, and mostly more experienced opponent. When I am matched with someone less skilled and my size or smaller I can usually jerry-rig some kind of escape. It may not look pretty, but as long as no one’s filming, I’m okay with that. 

Here’s where I need your help. Can you let me know at what point in your jiu jitsu career you started to master your side and mount escapes? Or is the point, as a weaker, smaller opponent, to avoid that position as best you can? I’m starting to get a complex about this.


  1. Well after 18 months I would have to say that I'm still working on it. However, I am always on bottom, so I'm getting lots and lots and lots of practice at escaping mount and side control. Last month I posted this on my Facebook "Want my offfense to be as good as my defense...tired of having to fight my way from the bottom all the time..grrrr....i think i missed out on the aggressive girl gene and got a second helping of nice lady genes." My coach responded with this. "I literally had to play guard and bottom position for years..ask questions..trial and error..ask more questions and now I'm confident in my jiu jitsu..when I stopped caring how good this guy was or how much better someone else was or how I wished my game was like this persons was when my game really exploded..I stopped caring about looking good and just learned to be in the moment and what my opponent wanted to give me..your on your way." I don't know if any of that helps, but his words helped me. I think that in our jiu jitsu journey we all find our own way and what works for us. I just had to realize that it wasn't bad for me to be on bottom, I just have to learn how to work my game from there!

  2. SG, I like your style. If you never write a word about technique again, you will not hear a complaint from me.

    Sounds like you are doing fine, considering your size and experience. I only started making headway with side control escapes when an instructor told me not to bridge up so high before I hip-escaped. Now I bridge just enough to make room for myself, which is to say, the escape works best when my hips are constantly butterfly-kissing the mat. When I bridged up really high, I couldn’t hold my opponent there, so we’d just fall back down before I could manage to hip escape. This way I use less energy in the bridge and hip escape simultaneously, in a more controlled way.

    And yes, the point Is to avoid side control and mount as much as possible, unless you are practicing escapes, because escapes are so much harder than good defense, at every level. You don’t see guys in side control much in championship matches, do you?

    I’m sure you flail better than a dying cockroach.

  3. Oh, and tell your drilling partner to Really Press his weight on you. I've done a lot of worthless side escape drills. You can't let him be nice and go through the motions on this one, you have to practice moving the other guy's weight.

  4. I was watching Keith Owen's "thumb in armpit" easy escape from side control, which being at the low level I am, is appealing because it "seems like a simple thing someone at my level can remember and do". No 500 steps and carefully gauged pressure and position here that will never be automatic as long as I live.
    Then one runs into the (sound of FAIL alarm buzzer) "douchey move" criticism, as shown on that page. I have heard this criticism for other moves I have considered learning, and then discarded the idea of learning them. Outside of the association with "bad because female" implied by the use of the word "douche", one wants to be a good sport, adjudged as a fair player and all that (it is hard enough competing in a sausage world already). When is a move "douchey" and when can a small person use it fairly in compensation for size (outside of things that we already know are prohibited or discouraged like small digit manipulation and pressure points)? Is a thumb in the armpit a pressure point or not? Ideas? There is no official Douche Index to quickly check acceptability.

  5. Hey, nice roll! Your guard is getting really tricky to pass! ;)

    Black belt Emily Kwok says she asks Marcelo Garcia for advice on escaping/defending some things, and he'll look at her and say, "But Emily, you should not be there in the first place."

    The thing about escapes is that they are more likely to succeed when you do them earlier. Before the guy has settled into side control. Before the guy has established a solid mount. It is easier to move them and to move around them when they are still moving, too. Not so much once they settle in.

    One of my instructors makes a distinction between defending (in a position and trying to prevent submissions or escape) and countering (knowing what's coming down the line and trying to prevent from ever reaching that place).

  6. It may help to think of escaping side control in an incremental way. Rather than visualizing the goal of "I want to be out and on top", imagine that you want to break things down to their atomic counterparts.

    You want to create a little bit of space so you can get up on your side/wedge a knee in/make a frame with your arms etc. You want to achieve half-guard/off-balance opponent/free up a limb etc.

    It's like saying "I want to change the world." Big, admirable goal. Perhaps too big to be practical. Break that down to "I want to supply clean water to five houses this year." Much more specific and manageable.

  7. Thanks for the words of wisdom, Lady Ibarra. I will try to live up to them.

    @Anon1-2: Thanks for the compliment and the advice. : ) You are right, usu we are too "nice" in our drills. And nope, dying cockroach, all the way.

    @Anon3: I go back and forth all the time on the "nasty" moves and whether they're justifiable. For now, I think that if a partner is stronger than I am and muscling me, I feel justified in using anything. There's some big dude who insists on putting his arm across my jaw and pressing the $h!t out of it when he's on top of me. Really? Like he needs to do that?(He's about a foot taller than me and probably 85# heavier.) Thing is, he can't get the choke, and he's forcing it. I do not feel he is justified in getting nasty, but I believe in my response, I am. Maybe my thinking will evolve eventually, but right now that's where I am. I know, then he will continue the nasty spiral, but I'll be damned if I'm tapping to *that*.
    See here and here for previous comments. I'll be checking out the thumb in the armpit thing!

    @Leslie: : ) That's about all I got is guard!

    @Tree Frog: I'm definitely going to try thinking about it more incrementally as you suggest. Sometimes that's hard to do when one is being crushed. But, I just have to ask, are you an engineer?????

  8. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any easier: along with passing the guard, escaping side control is one of those things that is always going to be a challenge.

    I bring this story up quite often, but: my old instructor was having a private lesson with a black belt once. He mentioned how he often had trouble escaping side control. The black belt replied "me too."

    The name of that black belt? Roger Gracie. ;)

    This may or may not help, but I've taught a couple of lessons on escaping side control, here. Although it doesn't get easier to actually get out, I do find that I'm a lot more comfortable underneath side control at this point. I'd almost rather be there than trying to pass someone's guard, which remains the absolute worst part of my game.

  9. LOL! Nearing the 3 month mark myself now so I don't have many useful things to say except that I have similar problems. I'm actually doing quite well with mount escapes, even against much bigger opponents (actually easier for me because their legs are so long and there's more room to shove them aside, hook and get to half guard). However, side control escapes elude me even against someone my own size. Once they really have me down from the side, I find it impossible to move at all. Although to be fair, even some bigger opponents have the same problem when I've got really good side control.

    I think the idea is to not let someone get you into that position in the first place. I've gotten a little better about bridging, overhooking, underhooking, etc. whatever needs to be done to prevent them from getting down that far. Obviously, it doesn't always work but I'm trying to be more intentional about it now (cupping the bicep to hold the arm back, pushing my forearm into their throat so that there's more room to move) instead of suddenly ending up with them in super tight side control and then trying (unsuccessfully) to get out of it from there. It's still usually where I end up though :P

  10. It's good to know I am not alone! I can handle being in the company of Roger Gracie and Reese.

  11. First, nice blog. This is the kind of motivation I need to get myself back on the mat sometimes.

    I've been doing bjj for about 3/4 years now (depends on how you count injury time). I started to get good at escaping side around the 18 month mark. Now, it's actually one of the stronger parts of my game. If I'm not escaping I'm at least making it difficult to get a submission, which makes the person on top have to move, which then creates the space I need to get to my knees or something.

    Really, it's all about the underhook on the far side. I'm not an instructor, but all I can say is NEVER, for any reason, give up the underhook on the far arm. (Ok, there are a few specific instances but don't worry about them for now). My instructor back home is a Rickson Gracie black belt and any time anyone asks him how to escape from side he immediately gets them in side and sees if they get the underhook. If they don't, he just says they need to do that before they can even begin to think about escaping.

    So, get your underhook, use it as leverage along with a quick bump bridge. Use the space created to get to your hip. ALWAYS face the opponent when on your hip. From there keep trying to work either to your knees or hook a leg and take half guard. Don't stop there. Roll to your other hip and try to regain guard.

    You will encounter a problem when people shift to THEIR hip (the one furthest from your head) and put their weight over your belly, which also means the wrist on your underhook. It's really one of the only ways to kill that underhook. You will be stuck there but the good news is submissions are few and far between from that position.

    Concentrate on your technique, don't power your way out of bottom side. Don't push their neck/head/chest etc. Use the underhook, use either your claw/hook with the other hand or good pushing pressure on their hip. Get to your side, insert your bottom knee between you and opponent, work toward knees/half-guard/full guard.

    If you're like me and you get your guard passed like butter you'll get really good at this. :)

  12. Hey, welcome and thanks!
    First, I laugh at your admonition not to "power" my way out of bottom side. There are so few things I can power out of. I am lucky to have a decent guard game, but there is my frustration. Once the big dudes pass the guard and crush me, forget it.
    I've seen that underhook escape; been taught it; drilled it. It never works well for me in practice. But you have given me something to focus on: if I can work on keeping the underhook and not even focus on the escape (I can't get it now anyway), perhaps once that is ingrained in me, I can start to work on the rest. Right now I'm always caught with my hand on the near side, and then to get it to the far side is impossible. I've got to worry about getting armbarred, though. I'm the queen of getting armbarred!

    Thanks for the tip.

  13. I truly appreciated this post. I've been doing this for a little less than a year, currently 4-stripe white (about to test for blue), and man, my back game sucks. Reading your typical roll hit home, because that's basically me. I know it takes a long time, but I don't seem to be improving much right now escaping side or sweeping from closed guard.
    Thank you for posting this, and may we all improve on our backs.

    1. Hi Eric and thanks! It has been 6 years since I posted this, and I am happy to say that I have gotten better! My typical roll looks different now. It took me a long time to figure out how "I" escape side. I put that in quotes because I drilled and drilled the technical ways to do it, but until I really figured out my own way, I was getting nowhere. It didn't happen in a class, drilling session, or anything else. It happened over years and I didn't even realize it was happening. So, I hope this update helps as well. Progress in BJJ, for me at least, is slow and unrecognizable in instants. And, in case you are wondering, I usually escape side best with a spin.


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