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Opening Up Your Top Game

Last week, we started a new module that is a bit less specific than usual: top control. Over the next few weeks, we will cover side control, north/south, mount, and knee on belly. This will not be an entirely comprehensive analysis of every position by any means but rather an exploration of how they connect and how to transition between them as you hunt for submission. Learning the individual techniques will be important, but my overarching goal is to help my students develop a willingness to transition in and out of positions as their opponent attempts to escape.

Newer jiu-jiteiros have a habit of clinging to a top position. They get to scarf hold or mount and then hang on for dear life. They don’t react and adjust to their opponent’s movement. They just hold their position and hope for the best. In guard, we learn very quickly that movement is essential. Standing still for any length of time when your opponent is working to pass is almost guaranteed to end in disaster. You adjust your hips. You reset a grip. You build a frame. You continually maneuver to keep the fight where you want it.

When it comes to top control, many people equate control with a wrestling or judo style “pin.” You hold the person in place and prevent them from moving completely. In reality, a pin is much closer in concept to a submission. A pin is the result of a very calculated accumulation of efforts and advantages that render your opponent helpless. While stifling movement is certainly a key to a dominating top control, having the ability and awareness necessary to flow and adapt and adjust is perhaps most important.

A powerful top game is built on movement. Some movements are subtle while others are more dynamic, but movement is still essential.

To kick-off this module, we started to work on movement drills to help my students get more comfortable with some key top transitions. First, we looked at walking your hips backward after a cross knee pass, using your hips to turn your opponent’s hips away, helping you to prevent the re-guard.

Next, we looked at two knee on belly transitions. In the first, we switch sides by traveling across the belt line. In the second, we transition by circling around our opponent’s head. Being comfortable with knee on belly and these transitions in particular will help you to regain control when your opponent resorts to explosive movements to create space. It takes some awareness and some confidence to do effectively, and these drills are a great place to start building those skills.

The last movement we covered is still new to me. I picked it up from this Aesopian video (and he does it better than me), and it’s already started to have a positive impact on my jiu-jitsu. So even though it’s a work-in-progress for me, I wanted to get my students working on it so that they could skip the hurdles that hung me up.

Artechoke in a Can is the online version of Marshal D. Carper’s weekly no-gi class. Marshal is a purple belt under Sonny Achille at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he is the author of The Cauliflower Chronicles and Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques.

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Polar Vortex Omoplata Wrap-Up

Unfortunately, the infamous polar vortex interrupted the omoplata module and impeded some filming and updating. So this post will be a bit longer than usual for the sake of delivering on the promises that I made to my students and to the readers of this blog.

Early on in the module, I said that I wanted to explore the full potential omoplata rather than simply looking at it as an attack from guard. We managed to do that to some degree, but not completely, especially not by Clark Gracie standards. Two key positions that we did not have time to address: the omoplata from side control and the omoplata from mount.

What we were able to do was build part of the instinctual foundation that is necessary for starting to attack with the omoplata quickly from a variety of positions, especially in scrambles. In it’s simplest form, the omoplata requires one thing: a bent arm wrapped around your same-side hip. It doesn’t matter if you are on top, on bottom, upside-down or right-side-up. If you have that, chances are good that you can get the omoplata.

In this first drill, we look at isolating this feeling by exploring an omoplata counter to a (really really) bad double leg. I actually land this fairly often when I roll with wrestlers, but it takes a bit more work than this drill let’s on. What I am most concerned about though is helping my students develop the confidence and the feel to isolate the shoulder even if they are falling. It’s a bit of functional, controlled chaos.

In this next video, we look at attacking the omoplata while defending a single leg. This is not a ground-breaking entry by any means, but it’s one that pops up more than many people realize. Having the awareness and commitment to attack it in the midst of a scramble takes some drilling and practicing. Once you get used to rolling after an omoplata, your submission world starts to get a lot more creative.

Once you have the presence of mind to roll into an omoplata, you have the ability to chase the submission even as your opponent attempts to escape, countering their roll with a roll of your own. Two caveats: You don’t have to re-roll, especially if you feel like you are losing control of the arm and shoulder. Taking side control is perfectly acceptable. Also, you may end up in a weird position where you have the shoulder isolated but your opponent is sitting on his butt, rather than on his knees or on his stomach.

In the next video, we look at the re-roll and this odd sit-up position. Technically, you can finish the omoplata from here, but developing the feel for the angle will take some time. Your goal is ultimately the same from a submission perspective, bend your opponent’s arm behind his head like a Kimura, but the dynamics are odd at first. As you’ll see, controlling the opposite shoulder is still critical (just like if your opponent was turtled), but you may need to hip out slightly to get the submission.

Another scramble where you can start to attack for the omoplata is when you are attacking the armbar. You can transition to the armbar from guard as well, but in this case we look at the armbar from mount. As my partner slips one arm out of danger, the other arm comes into range. The trick to this is catching it early (and you’ll see me miss my opportunity in the video because I wasn’t paying attention). If the arm closest to your opponent’s head is occupied, use your free hand to pull your opponent’s arm to your hip. If the arm closest to your opponent’s legs is occupied, you will punch forward with that same arm to achieve the omoplata position. This motion will look similar to the “zombie” for any 10th Planet goofballs that might be reading this.

And finally, in 3-D Jiu-Jitsu fashion, we look at the reverse, going from the armbar to the omoplata. This particular entry came from a YouTube video I saw some time ago. Unfortunately, I forget who was teaching it, but I vaguely recall it being a Gracie Barra black belt. At any rate, I watched the video and thought it was utterly stupid. Not a move that would be practical. One day when I was goofing around, I went for it on a whim, and I now look for it all the time. I love it, especially in the gi.

Thank you for your patience with the omoplata module. I promise that we will get back on track next week with a new course.

Artechoke in a Can is the online version of Marshal D. Carper’s weekly no-gi class. Marshal is a purple belt under Sonny Achille at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he is the author of The Cauliflower Chronicles and Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques.

Bonus omoplata sweep!


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Omoplata from Guard Set-Ups (Artechoke in a Can)

In today’s edition of Artechoke in a Can, we continue our omoplata module and start to look at specific set-ups for the submission from guard, rather than just covering the basic movements like we did last week. Before we dig too deeply, don’t forget that we are running an Indiegogo to fund a book by Matt “Aesopian” Kirtley and giving away a free book in the process. Click here to learn more about that.


The first set-up we look at is an open guard transition into the omoplata. In the video below, I emphasize controlling the elbow rather than the wrist to expose the arm. When you do this in training, you can really hit from either wrist control or from elbow control, but I started teaching it from elbow control to emphasize the importance of dominating the entire arm when you go for the omoplata and to focus on developing the awareness of rolling the arm forward with multiple parts of your body.

Remember, there are three ways to force your opponent’s arm to bend into the omoplata (or kimura) position. Most of the time, you use all three methods in combination, but some entries rely more heavily on one. Those three ways are:

  1. Collapse the shoulder.
  2. Flare the elbow.
  3. Rotate the wrist.

You’ll see what I mean in this video:

Next, we start to explore the connection between the triangle in a very basic way. In a lot of situations, the triangle and omoplata are closely linked. The set-ups will seem similar as you work for both because when you go for one, the other is often right next door. In this particular technique, we attack with a relatively fundamental omoplata to counter a triangle defense. It’s not very complicated, but we use this set-up as an opportunity to develop our ability to dig out the omoplata when there is a little space by using our free leg to create more leverage.

In the video, I mention that there is some risk to bringing your other leg into the fight, so remember that as you work this into your game. When you use your free leg, do it quickly and with it authority to establish control over the position. Don’t linger.

For our final entry of the class, we look at using a flower sweep to create an opening for the omoplata. Where in the previous technique we had very little space, we have a large amount of space in this technique. Each presents different challenges, but the key mechanics remain largely in the same. When you attack from a distance with any submission, usually your success or failure will come down to your ability to close the gap with your hips, which is what we emphasize here.

While these set-ups are effective in their own right, what we are ultimately doing is building comfort with very particular movements that we will re-purpose throughout this module. To have an effective omoplata, you need to be comfortable with these skills and these transitions, and these basic techniques are a great place to start.

Next week, we will start to troubleshoot common defenses and counters to the omoplata so that we can build the awareness necessary to fight through your last-minute challenges to either get the submission or improve your position.

Artechoke in a Can is the online version of Marshal D. Carper’s weekly no-gi class. Marshal is a purple belt under Sonny Achille at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he is the author of The Cauliflower Chronicles and Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques.

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Introduction to the Omoplata (Artechoke in a Can)

Before we dig into this week’s Artechoke in a Can, be sure to check out the Indiegogo campaign for Matt “Aesopian” Kirtley’s Mastering the Crucifix and Reverse Omoplata. Click here to learn about the project and to get access to your free copy of 3-D Jiu-Jitsu.

When I had my second knee surgery, I vowed to revise my game so that I put as little strain on my knees as possible when I rolled. I had already given up on rubber guard, but after coming back I found that even fighting for triangles put too much pressure on my knees. If someone thrashed really hard to escape a triangle when I had it locked, my knees would pop and swell up, putting me out of commission for a week or two while I waited for the inflammation to go down.

As I moved away from triangles, I thought that omoplatas would be out of the question as well, but I found that a well-executed omoplata put little to no pressure on my knees. If my set-up was clean, I could attack with an omoplata without pain or strain, and I began adapting any triangle-esque set-ups to set-ups for omoplatas. Since then, they’ve become a bigger part of my game.

In this class, I introduce an incredibly basic omoplata attack, choosing instead to focus on the fundamental mechanics of positioning and movement of the omoplata rather than a super specific set-up. In my mind, getting the general idea of the omoplata down first creates a foundation for a multi-purpose omoplata game. So if this technique looks loose to you, that’s because it is. We start with a lot of space to make it as easy as possible to grow accustomed to the movements.

In this next video, we look at a basic omoplata finish. At the start of a submission-focused module, I really like to dig into the endgame first so that people know where they are trying to go before we talk about the thousands of ways to get there. For the new students, this approach provides a clearer picture of what they are trying to accomplish, and for veteran students, this approach gives us a chance to clean up some details.

For me, the key concepts here are to try and flatten your opponent out. If he is on his knees, he is likely to roll out of the attack, so our first course of action is to prevent the roll and close off that route by flattening him out. For the submission finish, we do the classic sit-up motion to apply Kimura-like pressure to the joint. The key that I emphasize here is to take the slack out of the joint. It can be hard to see in the heat of a roll, but I shift my weight away from his shoulder slightly, using my legs to put tension on his arm before I look for the finish.

I compare this to gift wrapping. If paper is tense, it’s really easy to slide scissors through it. If there is slack, even something as fragile as paper can be resilient.

Next week, we are going to cover some basic omoplata set ups from the closed guard.

Artechoke in a Can is the online version of Marshal D. Carper’s weekly no-gi class. Marshal is a purple belt under Sonny Achille at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he is the author of The Cauliflower Chronicles and Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques.

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Artechoke in a Can: Basic X-Guard

Our half guard journey, specifically the focus on using a butterfly half guard to create space and movement when an opponent is particularly good at pinning you flat, has been moving toward one position: the X-guard.

X-guard is a natural next step when you play butterfly guard because your opponent’s attempts to ride out a butterfly sweep will often create the space that you need to swim underneath and establish the X-guard position. Though playing X-guard can fill a sizable hole in their games, many newer grapplers avoid the position because its apparent complexity is intimidating.

Like any position, the rabbit hole of counters and recounters can run pretty deep, but that doesn’t mean that you have to master the entirety of Marcelo Garcia’s X-guard system to make the X-guard a practical, effective part of your game.

In today’s lesson, we look at three basic X-guard attacks—counters to the most common reactions that you will encounter when you play X-guard. This is X-guard 101 for me, and it’s a simple way to expand your butterfly and half guard games. In this first technique, we look at how to sweep an opponent that postures up to maintain his base in your X-guard.

In this next technique, your opponent posts his hands on the mat to keep from getting swept. This is an incredibly common scenario, especially if you entered X-guard from a failed butterfly sweep. When you work this technique, remember to attack the single leg with a diagonal angle. You should be driving toward the shoulder of the arm you’re attacking as if you are forcing him to do a forward roll. If you try to move toward your opponent’s far leg, his base will remain strong.

If you wondered what to do if you couldn’t control the wrist in the last technique, this should answer your question. If your opponent’s far wrist is out of reach when his hands are on the mat, he is likely working to bear crawl away from your X-guard. Alternatively, he could backpedal to recover his posture, in which case his wrist will move into range, at which point you can use either the first or second technique.

At first glance, this kneebar may not look secure. In most cases, I’d agree with you, but this particular entry relies on your opponent to do most of the work for you. When your opponent tries to run out of the X-guard, his trailing leg natural extends for the kneebar, saving you the work of battling your way into position for the finish. If you latch on to the leg quickly and align the leg properly, you can skip quickly to applying finishing pressure. Remember to get your hips high on your opponent’s leg (your hips close to his hips) and to hug the leg tightly.

And that concludes our half guard module. Next week, we will start a module on the mount position.

Artechoke in a Can is the online version of Marshal D. Carper’s weekly no-gi class. Marshal is a purple belt under Sonny Achille at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he is the author of The Cauliflower Chronicles and Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques.