I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in late 2003 the same way most folks I know did: Getting my grubby hands on a dusty VHS tape of UFC 1 and 2. At the time, I was amazed by the usual things everyone finds so interesting about jiu-jitsu–How efficient it seemed, the ability to really be able to control another resisting human being, and how it delivered on the age-old promise that all martial arts make (to be able to defeat a bigger and stronger opponent).
At first, I experienced the same growing pains in rolling that most students do. You slap hands, and then some tangled web of limb spaghetti somehow becomes something kind of resembling a move we might have seen in class and then all of a sudden someone’s elbow hurts and there is a tap. It was interesting to me that there was this wild storm of confusing movement which somehow organized itself in the end.
Through the help of my teachers, Phil and Ricardo Migliarese, and experimentation on my own, some patterns of behavior started to emerge, and I found myself successful in some actions which led to other actions which eventually led to something else. Organically, I started to gravitate to what I was good at and build off of that while trimming useless and unproductive branches from the tree. Constrained by trial and error as well as being directed in certain directions by injury, the scaffolding of a game developed for me.
Influenced by the work of people like Rhadi Ferguson, Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti, and other organized thinkers, I started to try to find ways to structure my training to streamline the process of learning. This led me to a strong interest in reading about systems, processes, how professionals in other fields, arts, and sports organize their training. Bear in mind, I’m not saying I fully understand these subjects, but I’ve gleaned a lot of useful ideas which have helped make my training and teaching much more effective than it would have been without this study.
As I began teaching BJJ sometime around 2007, I quickly realized that I would have to do a lot of research outside of my own specific BJJ game. Variations in my students’ body types, age, mentality, and other factors made this a necessity. The problem was that the more I taught, and the more games and styles I researched, the more information I had. Without a clear way of structuring that information for my students, I feared I would be unable to help my students learn as well as I wanted them to. Eventually, I put enough pieces of the learning puzzle together to form a method which has produced good results for me and for my students. By providing a structured learning process with a strong emphasis on critical thinking, progression, troubleshooting, and constant testing and refinement I found a good recipe for them while still leaving room for improvement.
My hope with this instructional is to give you a glimpse into part of the way I do things. The focus is on an underhook-based half guard, but the underlying themes can be applied in any area, whether it be takedowns, striking, ground-based technique, or many other subjects. In fact, I’m trying to apply this thinking to re-teaching myself how to skateboard right now. I’ll let you know how that goes.
The Sloth Report
People ask me all the time “what is the Sloth Report” and I’m not really sure what to say. It’s a magazine, it’s instructional, I post technical videos and also jiu-jitsu philosophy and concepts. That’s kind of what it is. But none of that is unique. What is unique is my method.
I present my techniques, concepts, and philosophy in the same way I teach my students, both public and private, in an organized curriculum which progresses from basic to intermediate/advanced material. I also teach as honestly as possible. That means I don’t teach the techniques the way they are supposed to work. I teach them the way things really happen when I and my students use them in sparring or competing. I also teach from a unique perspective of movement. What does that mean? This means I teach Brazilian Jiujitsu from a larger point of view of human movement which means I look at body mechanics, how the body works and moves, concepts from other disciplines which shed light on how Jiujitsu works. Learn more about the Sloth Report here.
This chapter introduces a theme which will be maintained through the book. I teach step-by-step according to the problems most of my students come across when I introduce half guard to them. This means each layer of technique and detail added is in response to a real need you will come across rather than overloading you with detail disconnected from experience. You will remember details better and more meaningfully if they are introduced as solutions to specific problems you have already experienced. Detail works best as servants to relevant problems, in my opinion. So what I’m saying is, take a technique and go spar with it, go gain some experience, and come across some problems. Then come back and add new layers based on the problems you experience!
To solve some of the first level problems you will likely deal with, there are some fundamental concepts I want to make sure are in place before we dig deeper into half guard. Like making a good sandwich, if you have quality ingredients you don’t really need much. Half guard is no different. You can play a relatively simple game quite well if you go back and make sure all of your basic ingredients are the best they can possibly be.
First, it is important to capture your opponent’s leg and always have some kind of control of it. Without this piece, half guard does not exist, and it is this piece which is the difference between your being smashed in side control or mount and being able to work into a better place. No matter what style of half guard you play, you have to use both of your legs like chopsticks to both control and monitor your opponents trapped leg. Triangling the legs is only the most basic form of control, but using clamping pressure with both or one leg and developing dexterity and sensitivity with your legs to do this well becomes a skill you will develop which will serve you well.
Knowing how to angle your body, relative to the ground and your opponent, so that you can support their weight is important. There are a number of details necessary to creating this structure on the ground, but the concept is essential to get to your side and stay there while supporting a lot of weight on top of you. Your arm positioning is what will allow you to defend your structure and dig yourself out of trouble and into better positioning.
Once we establish the basics of the underhook, off-balancing, getting to your side, and blocking the crossface, troubleshooting becomes an important practice. Hopefully, you have installed an internal video camera at this point because solving your problems will be difficult without it.
When I teach private lessons or answer questions in group classes, I constantly ask my students “when you tried this, what did your opponent do? What happened exactly?” I try to get them to be as specific as possible. Then, we go to light positional sparring to try to recreate the problem, and I give them a chance to solve the problem on their own. If they start to come close, I’ll give hints here and there to help them be more successful, and if they are way off, I’ll help point them in the right direction. We then work that solution in positional sparring against gradually increasing resistance until they reach a certain level, then we introduce a new problem.
It’s a live form of troubleshooting, and we are solving the problem together rather than me spoon-feeding answers. The goal isn’t to spoon-feed; the goal is to improve skill but simultaneously teach how to think in jiu-jitsu while also gaining valuable experience using the material live. How to troubleshoot, solve problems and guide your own improvement.
The trick is keeping troubleshooting within one’s appropriate level. If you are struggling with addition and subtraction and are trying to solve calculus problems posed by a much more advanced practitioner, then there is some backtracking that needs to be done.
I have the dubious pleasure of regularly playing bottom half guard against really good shoulder-pressure-based passers. My wife is one example, and my friend and student Brendan is another. Both are excruciating to be underneath when they have strong shoulder pressure, and I’m left feeling like I am always one mistake away from disaster when playing there with them. The way I play against both is slightly different because of the difference in their body types. Brendan is 19 feet tall and my wife Angie is 5’4 or something like that. I am 5’7/5’8 (depending on which convenience store door I measure myself on, #wawajokes). I usually am forced to use my outside butterfly hook to battle both of them. Right here is where the game branches.
In introducing these next techniques, I’m often asked why I don’t teach them right from the beginning because they are effective and solve a lot of the problems you will face in half guard.
First of all, the leg work in these positions is often more intricate than a beginning student is capable of sparring with. This means while you are messing around trying to figure out what your legs should be doing, your arms are losing the more important battles. I believe it is better to keep the leg movements simple at first and focus on learning to win the body position, arm, and off-balancing battles.
On top of that, your legs need time to develop the dexterity to work well in half guard. Using simple leg positions at first teach you the useful skill of truly trapping your opponent’s leg and educating your legs to get very very good at snagging a stray leg or maintaining a grip on an escaping leg. Have you ever rolled with anyone who seems able to snag your leg into half guard from damn near everywhere? The person who you are almost passing, but they are able to catch you and pull you back in just with the corner on your pinkie toe? This is why. They have educated their legs and can use them to speak fluently and with authority.
When you develop the “survival dexterity” of fighting to keep and recover traditional half guard positions, the “active dexterity” to play lockdown and leg turning half guards becomes much easier to perform and the experience with the problems these intermediate leg movements solve is much more relevant.
The thing about any position or technique in BJJ is that it always connects to something else. There are never clean borders and lines between each move but rather vague transitioning points from one thing to the next. When we isolate a position, such as underhook half guard, it’s more akin to ripping a messy chunk out of a loaf of bread rather than taking a neat slice from the bread.
A transition is basically the space in between the beats of the drum. It is the point where one element (position, submission, sweep, pass) transforms into the next. In some cases, these are thought of as “scrambles,” but I think a scramble is just a transition which hasn’t been fully understood yet. In other cases, this in-between space is just ignored in favor of focusing on the full position. The problem with overlooking a transition is that it seeds of control are planted in the fertile soil of the transition.
I’ve been waiting this whole book to say something obnoxious like that.
What that means is that things like grip, positioning, and movement fought during the transition often determine who will be successful when the full position is finally established. Another aspect of this is following up with a submission, sweep, or position which makes sense. For example, if you cross grip someone’s collar from bottom closed guard and scissor sweep them, it makes more sense to follow up with an X choke from the mount because your hand is already in there than it does to release the grip and go for an Americana.
When you use the underhook half guard, in this same way, your arm positioning is going to lead you into certain directions during the transition and you want your next actions to make sense for that arm position. You want to cut out the extra pieces during a transition and flow from your back take, sweep, or guard pull directly into the next action with as few steps as possible.
A related point is making sure your strong sides are consistent. If you have a strong (from a skill perspective) left arm underhook developed and transition into closed guard, you want to make sure your telephone arm lock is well developed on that side as well. Sometimes what happens is you will have a good takedown on one side which will lead to your weaker side in the next connecting piece.
There are some solutions to this problem. The first, which I am a fan of, is to simply get good at both sides with each part of your game. The second option is to develop ways to get back to your good side from everywhere. There are upsides and downsides to both ways of thinking. I prefer to do a little of each method, depending on the part of my game I’m focusing on. Some stuff is easier to develop skill at both sides and some stuff you are better off just figuring out how to get to your good side.
Earlier in this book, I mentioned there being a lot of video to study on this style of half guard and positions related to this style. Expanding on this, the value of there being a ton of footage to study is the ability to see how other people of various levels and in various contexts solve the same problems you are facing in training.
For example, if you are using an underhook in half guard and keep getting shut down by a solid top players whizzer, there is footage of people at every possible level of skill, body-type, and context dealing successfully and unsuccessfully with this and similar type situations. How do they succeed here? What do they do when they fail? When you watch enough footage of people using the whizzer, you start to see which counters have the highest rates of success. You see which variations of the underhook make it most difficult to whizzer in the first place. You see which athletes have made the whizzer irrelevant and which have developed great “B games” (auxiliary plans of attack) when the whizzer forces them to deviate from plan A.
If you are interested in watching exceptional underhook players, I suggest you start with Lucas Leite. He is the most famous player of this type, and there is the most available footage of him playing at a high level of BJJ competition. In both BJJ and MMA competition, Demian Maia would be another excellent example. Both are great to study for both underhook based half guard, and it’s connection to wrestling style takedowns.
Bernardo Faria is another exceptional half guard player who has reached a very high level of accomplishment in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition. He has competed in both gi and no-gi, but has reached higher levels in gi competition by using a lapel-based deep half guard. His style is different than what we covered in this instructional, but there are some areas of overlap and, of course, it’s worth studying a great athlete like him simply to watch the tenacity with which he plays his half guard and how brilliantly he connects it to guard passing and top positional pins and submissions.
Xande Ribeiro is one of the all-time greats in both BJJ and submission grappling and while he is known for having solid Judo and amazing top positioning, he also has a nearly unpassable guard. He often plays a combination of half guard, butterfly guard, and a loose, collar-based open guard. For our purposes, he is worth studying to see how he connects his half guard to both butterfly and open guard as well as his foot and arm positioning when the half guard loosens up and transitions to those other guards.
Eddie Bravo and his students have developed the lockdown half guard position much further than anyone I know of and are worth studying to expand on this area. Bravo’s second match with the great Royler Gracie has a lot of great material to study as far as how to use the lock down, how to keep tight with it against an excellent cut passer, the tenacity you have to have to stick to the position, and some of the possibilities which happen during and after the electric chair sweep.
Oliver Geddes and Ronnie Wuest, as mentioned earlier, would be the people to study for all kneebar/dogbar related things in half guard. I know there is some great footage of Ronnie using this in competition online and I’m pretty sure you can find material to study of Oliver online as well as in some of his instructionals.
There are many other people to study, of course, but I figure this is a good start and these athletes play in a way that is fairly easy to follow what’s going on and the things they do easily sync with the themes of this book.
I hope to be studying your half guard innovations someday!
Winning is one thing, but Russians strive for total victory. That is why we’re taking an in-depth look at their approach to takedowns. Through superior jacket manipulation in sambo, one could achieve that total victory with a devastating throw. The rules of jiu-jitsu might not reward us for throws to the same extent that sambo or judo do, but that mentality of pursuing total victory is sometimes lost in jiu-jitsu.
Throughout this book, we will talk a lot about “dominating” and “killing” the limbs of our opponent. To me, this is the first inkling of that total victory mentality. First I completely dominate one of your arms–with a Russian tie or with an arm drag–and that opens the door to completely dominating you.
I’m emphasizing the mentality here because I don’t want you to drill a Russian tie and think “I grip here and here to get this two-on-one and then I move on the next steps.” The technical details are important, but I want you to instead think, “This arm is mine” when you start to play with the Russian tie.
Attacking with that tenacity will force your opponent to react and will open up your takedown game.
By building our takedown game from these principles of technical domination, my hope is that I can help you do it better too. And the concepts that we start to explore here in terms of positioning, leverage, and control will come up again and again throughout this book.
A strange argument often erupts in jiu-jitsu circles: “Should I learn judo or should I learn wrestling?”
First of all, this discussion often omits sambo completely, which irritates a certain friend of mine (Reilly Bodycomb) in a deeply emotional way. Second of all, I’ve been fortunate enough to have trained both, and I can’t imagine choosing one art over another when you can take the best of every world and meld them together.
Why We Have Been Teaching Seoi Nage Wrong
While jiu-jitsu borrows techniques from sambo and judo, especially when it comes to jacket-based takedowns, some of the practicality of these movements gets lost in the translation between rulesets. Lacking the ippon–a victory from a properly executed throw–some throws can seem dangerous to use, so jiu-jiteiros shy away from what are actually incredibly effective throws.
The seoi nage has perhaps gotten the worst of this treatment. The fear is that if you botch the throw you end up on the bottom, or worse, with your back taken. In judo, this is less of a concern. Your opponent would be on your back with a deep collar grip for only ten seconds before the referee would stand both opponents back up.
Using that same example in a jiu-jitsu match, your opponent could be on your back with a deep collar grip for the entirety of the match, assuming that you are not submitted right away. With a couple of tweaks to your grip, falling victim to things like a bow and arrow choke off of a failed seoi nage are much less likely.
Taking an entire page to talk specifically about grapplers ignoring the merits of seoi nage might seem like overkill, but in my mind it’s crucial. If you don’t learn the seoi nage, you are shutting off an entire avenue of useful takedowns. Armed with these adjustments you can approach the seoi nage with the same total victory mindset as the rest of your takedown game while gaining access to a bunch of options that you might have overlooked before.
Wrestling in the Jacket
When you have the versatility of transitioning from a classic jacket-based takedown game into an explosive shot, you create a game that is both dynamic and efficient. An opponent can rarely defend every avenue at once, so if you find yourself struggling to win the jacket game you can change gears and attack the lower body, and vice versa.
A willingness to bounce between fighting for grips and taking a shot is incredibly off-balancing for your opponent, and it helps you to develop the habit of seeing the whole picture of the scenario in front of you. Sometimes totally dominating an arm results in a clean path to a leg via a shot. Yes, you’ve established that the arm is yours, but if you have the option to trade it in for a takedown, hit the ticket counter and claim your new prize.
Did capturing that arm win you a single leg or an O uchi gari or a back bodylock? At the end of the day, you shouldn’t much care as long as you end up on top with two points.
At their roots, all of these takedown arts shared many of the same techniques, but their various rulesets drove them apart, and now you have a chance to bring them back together in a way that is fun and useful.
I fell in love with the folding pass because I was often one of the bigger guys in the gym, which meant that I was usually the guy that got paired with the biggest guys. Any little big guys that happen to be reading this will understand this kind of jiu-jitsu struggle.
While it was frustrating at first, my jiu-jitsu benefitted from the fires of big guy natural selection, and as a result, my guard passing against more agile players improved as well.
See, big guys are typically not known for their guards–probably because you will not find yourself in a big guy guard very often if you roll with them–but their jiu-jitsu can be quite technical. With the added advantage of weight and strength, even the simplest threat from guard can be like staring down a cannon if the guard you are facing has 200 or more pounds behind it.
So I started to use the folding pass. I did not want to play the explosive guard pass game of a small guy, because the smaller guys might out-speed me, but I needed a reliable way to kill the hips of someone that had the power to pick me up and throw me if I left the opportunity open.
A Central Passing Position
I love the folding pass position because I can enter it from virtually any position. No matter what guard my opponent chooses to play and no matter how I ended up in the guard passing position–from a sweep or a takedown–I can make my way to the folding pass.
In addition to its accessibility, the folding pass also integrates with traditional passing games that you have probably already started to practice. If you like to knee cut or X-pass, for example, adding the folding pass to your arsenal expands your tools without forcing you to completely abandon the guard passing work you have already put it in.
Footwork and Pressure
Thus far, we have talked a lot about the value of integrating identical or close-to-identical movements throughout your game. When you make the folding pass your home-base for guard passing, you build-in a large volume of repetitions on very similar movements. You are always trying to get to the same place, and many of the tricks that you will use to get there will quickly feel familiar.
One of the problems with guard passing is that the puzzle in front of you can feel infinitely complex, with newer and stranger variations coming out with increasing frequency. Instead of trying to find a unique solution for every unique guard, think instead about adapting the tools you already have. That’s the philosophy we are taking with the folding pass.
We are going to work through multiple variations of guard and a range of roadblocks, but we will always come back to the folding pass in some way or another. Like your takedown game, you can efficiently work your way into a dominant position by reading your opponent and adjusting your footwork accordingly.
We will do a lot of side to side movement and grip fighting and hip movement to enter and finish our folding pass, but after you play with the techniques for a while you will notice less and less of a difference in the solutions you employ. You will instinctively beat grips and settle into a heavy, stable, and dominant folding pass.
I want to point out here that the philosophy we used in the takedown chapter is very much at play in this chapter. The folding pass might not look like a Russian tie, but I am still trying to secure and dominate a limb. In this case, I am focusing mostly on my opponent’s hips and setting my grips and my weight in such a way that my priority is pressuring the hips. This idea of killing the hips is true across virtually every guard pass strategy, so this is not some super cheat code.
However, the nature of the folding pass can mean that you get distracted by other potential problems and do not set your pressure in the right places. Yes, your opponent’s grips and his feet can create problems for you as you come down into the folding pass, but getting to the folding pass position is your first priority. Kill the hips, and then work on killing everything else.
The classic jiu-jitsu learning story is that big guys learn guard passing and top game early on because the majority of the gym just pulls guard on them anyway, and smaller guys tend to get a lot of guard and bottom escape practice because they struggle to get on top. What can happen as a result is an unconscious bias against what should be good positions. For example, the guard player might avoid effective sweeps because he actually does not want to be on top. Being on top means having to pass, and it sucks to do something you might not be good at.
That’s a big reason why I want you to look at the folding pass first. If you have a guard passing game you are confident in, your guard almost instantly becomes more dangerous by virtue of your attitude alone. That might sound silly, but hesitation can be a crippling weakness. Even small moments of it can give your opponent a dangerous opening, so when you are on your back working that sweep and you know that you can crush right into your folding pass sweep when you come on top, that matters. A lot.
Grab limbs. Kill them.
My discussion of limb control in the folding pass chapter might have felt a little abstract, but what you see in this chapter is a straightforward application of the takedown principles we discussed, except from your back. We look to initiate a two-on-one, and just like it does from standing, it opens a whole new world up to us. So grab your gi because Aladdin is bringing his magic carpet right to your window.
When you attack with the two-on-one from guard, you can get the armbar, sure, but the threat of the armbar is really what creates opportunities for you. Just like from standing, you can use the arm threat to attack the legs–in this case for sweeps–or you can make a transition to the back–in this case getting back control instead of a back bodylock.
While it will not happen often, you might also find yourself fighting for a two-on-one from standing but ending up on your back from a weird scramble. Again, because your game is built on a lot of the same movements and strategies, you can keep attacking without slowing down.
Changing Levels in Guard
In your first takedown class, you will learn about changing levels, and that’s an idea we explored in the takedown chapter as we worked on single and double legs. Despite how often people talk about changing levels from standing, it’s a subject that gets little attention from the guard even though it is just as important. From standing, some takedowns are accessible from our current hip level (transitioning to another level as we go). Other takedowns are not accessible unless we move our hips to a different position first (typically lower).
From standing, changing levels usually means lowering our hips. In guard, changing levels means elevating them, but the principle at play is the same: your hip positioning gives you access to different points of leverage, and you will miss out on a huge swatch of techniques if you do not learn how to utilize all of the hip levels available to you.
The idea of changing your hip levels in guard will become a huge factor in the next chapter on the shin-on-shin guard, but you can learn the core ideas and skills from full guard where positions are less dynamic and you have a bit more control over the situation. If you have trouble executing the full guard techniques that we use to address a standing opponent, you will find the anklelock guard material especially difficult (shown below).
At the same time, when you practice these hip movements from full guard and move on to anklelock guard and shin-on-shin guard, recognizing that what you are doing is mechanically similar to techniques you already know will dramatically accelerate your learning. So learn it here first, and then tackle the more complicated stuff.
The conceptual discussion we had in the full guard section is just as relevant in this chapter, except we take the application of ideas like dominating limbs, managing grips, exploiting footwork, and capitalizing on hip movement to a new level. Working from closed guard means that you are mostly working within a limited system. Your opponent has a relatively finite number of options, so you can more easily predict and anticipate movements and counters.
When we open the guard, we give our opponent a chance to be unpredictable. He can move up, down, backward, or forward, and perhaps he can execute more dynamic transitions like rolling transitions or changing positions entirely (perhaps dropping back for a leglock or inverting into some sort of crab ride).
This is where that total domination mentality can help. If you can establish control of one limb, suddenly the problem you are facing is much less open-ended. Your opponent becomes more predictable, and you have a clearer path to winning the match.
In the takedown chapter and in the closed guard chapter, you learned how getting two grips on one limb gave you a huge advantage. If two-on-one is good, then everything-on-one is even better right?
Pretty much, yeah.
In this chapter, we explore how to use a shin-on-shin guard, which essentially a variation of a two-on-one. From there, we look for the sweep or to transition to anklelock guard (which you might know as single leg X-guard or one leg x-guard). From anklelock guard, we can look for the anklelock (surprise!) and again for more sweeps, using a few new tricks to accomplish our goal.
All of the techniques in this chapter assume that our opponent is standing, and typically moving to shin-on-shin is my go-to option when this happens, which is why we look at a few entries into shin-on-shin from other guards. We did not have the space to look at my open guard game for when my opponent is kneeling. I apply a lot of the same principles, but I felt that the shin-on-shin and anklelock guard material would be especially unique and useful.
Shins and Ankles
We cover shin-on-shin guard and anklelock guard in this chapter for two reasons:
1) They are more effective when used in combination. They contemplate each other so well that you are handicapping yourself if you learn one position but not the other. Your sweep success rate will go way up if you have both guards at your disposal.
2) They have a lot of mechanical similarities. In fact, they are basically the opposite of each other in terms of grips (arms on knee, shin to ankle for shin-on-shin and legs on knee/hip and arm on ankle for anklelock guard), and they both rely on constant destabilization efforts to be effective.
I cannot emphasize these two points enough: You need to use both of these positions in conjunction with each other to see the best results, and you need to push your offense at all times. These are not positions where you hang out and fantasize about tacos. Your entries should be fluid, and the attacks that follow should not look like distinct techniques. They should look the next step in a series because you have not paused or stopped or hesitated.
You might be able to get away with relaxing in the shin-on-shin position, but not for long. If you waste time in anklelock guard, you will almost certainly end up in trouble, which is why I demonstrate most of the techniques from that position by starting at the entry. I really want you to see what it should look like in live applications.
Notes About Anklelock Guard
Anklelock guard has many names, and jiu-jiteiros might know it better as one leg X-guard because of Marcelo Garcia and his influence on jiu-jitsu as a whole. I’m a big fan of Marcelo, and I’ve happily stolen a lot of material from him, but I like leaning toward the sambo mentality because I like to focus on winning by submission, I like leglocks, and I want to reinforce a very specific type of grip.
There are a few variations for how you can hug the leg from anklelock guard, and depending on who you talk to, they may encourage you to squeeze the leg into your armpit with your elbow (not committing your hand to a clear grip) or they might tell you to wrap the ankle (similar to how you would grip the ankle if you were looking for an Achilles lock). I prefer the latter grip because it gives me access to the anklelock and makes that threat persistent for my opponent–any grappler worth their salt will probably be a worried if you wrap up their ankle–while at the same time giving me some unique leverage options.
We will talk more about the specifics of anklelock guard and how to use it effectively, but this big picture point is worth going over more than once: You have a lot of options from anklelock guard, for sweeping and for submissions. I am covering my favorites here, but I do not want you to think that I am suggesting you do not use the other techniques available to you. You should!
I just did not want this to turn into a leglock or one leg X-guard instructional. I hope this piques your interest and you explore some of the other great instructionals available on this topic because it’s a lot of fun to learn and to use.
In the previous chapter, we looked at multiple ways to wrap up one of your opponent’s legs to push forward with the total victory mentality we have been talking about throughout the instructional. From the open guard, we have a lot of space to work, which gives us multiple options for controlling the leg that we can cycle through with significant speed if we need to.
In half guard, we are wrapped around one of our opponent’s legs, so we have the potential to dominate a limb the way we would like to, but the lack of space can create problems, which gives me an opportunity to highlight how you can build your attack from controlling one limb by picking the right grips, even when your opponent has a pretty strong positional advantage.
Half guard has a pretty colorful history. The position has evolved from being a last ditch effort to stop the guard pass to becoming a powerful staging point for sweeps and even submissions. You have a lot of options from half guard, and as far as that goes, we barely scratch the surface here. That is intentional.
We are focusing mostly on how you can connect half guard to the rest of the game that we have covered in this book, which means using it to set up single legs or back takes or X-guard. And the emphasis on particular bad half guard positions (where your opponent has the theoretical advantage) should help you to see how useful the principles we have been discussing again and again in this instructional can be.
On Point Execution
When you are in tough positions, like losing the underhook battle when you are on the bottom of half guard or facing the shoulder of justice when you are on the bottom of reverse half guard, your grips, footwork, and hip movement need to be precise for you to recover. The techniques that we cover in this chapter should not be your plan A. Fight for the underhook. Block crossface pressure. Try the traditional half guard techniques first before you fall back on the material we cover here.
If you are in trouble, though, this material will help. Since you are starting from a compromised position, you might have more luck learning these half guard techniques by practicing them on a lighter opponent first and then slowly increasing the weight and size of your training partner to refine your movements. We are addressing some very careful and subtle positioning, so starting on someone below your weight class lowers the starting difficulty. The bigger your opponent, the smaller your margin for error.
The principles that we covered in this instructional, and the techniques that we used to showcase them, are a brief collection of things I wished I would have learned earlier. When I did pick them up and understood how to connect them, I saw my game leap forward. My hope is that by cutting out all of the time I spent experimenting and struggling you will be able to accelerate your learning and show me your new innovations if we cross paths at a camp or a seminar.
At the least, you will probably need a few months to properly absorb and drill all of the material here, but if you are looking for where to take this material, here are some suggestions:
For takedowns, consider exploring wrestling, sambo, or judo.
For passing, consider digging into cross knee set ups or into leg locks (a lot of the recovery options from the bottom of the folding pass are nice openings to wrap up the leg).
For closed and open guard, look into butterfly guard as learning to use your hooks against a kneeling opponent will help you to get on top and will help you to transition to the other open guard positions we covered.
For anklelock guard, dive into one leg X-guard or into the leglock game (starting with the Achilles lock and building outward).
For half guard, dig back into the fundamentals of the underhook game or check out something more advanced like deep half guard.
Even if you perfectly transplant everything I taught in this instructional into your own game, you have the opportunity to personalize and modify all of these techniques to your style and your taste, and I hope you do. If this book is one of the springboards that helps you incorporate new positions from me and beyond, I’ll be pretty happy (and you should be too).
Like many American practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I owe mixed martial arts for leading me to the art. But unlike most, my story really begins with Dungeons & Dragons.
In the early 2000’s, my interests were typical of a nerdy teenager: video games, computers, wasting time online, and, naturally, playing D&D with my friends.
My friends were preparing to start a new D&D adventure, and this meant rolling up new characters. I wanted to play something I’d never played before. Swords, axes, and magic spells were too cliché. Reading through a D&D book, I ran across a picture of a dwarf running into a fight wearing padded armor covered in metal spikes. That was something totally different. The book laid out how to draw up a character sheet for a grappler that tosses enemies around and pins them to death. That sounded bad ass, but what does “grappling” really look like? I looked for examples.
When I told my dad what I was up to, he said he knew just what to show me. He put on The Smashing Machine. If anyone fits the description of a “dwarf who tosses enemies around and pins them to death,” its Mark Kerr. Before this, my only experience with MMA was watching the pale white giant Semmy Schilt in spandex shorts pummeling someone against a chain-link fence on the new Spike TV channel. I found Kerr’s story tragic, but the film pulled back the curtain on the MMA world, and I wanted to learn more.
While I never did play the spike-studded grappler in D&D, MMA kept my interest. The question was how to find more of it.
At this time, watching MMA wasn’t as easy as turning on the TV or going online. This was before UFC on Fox Sports. It would be a few years before the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. YouTube did not exist yet. BitTorrent was in its infancy. But Borders bookstores and Blockbuster video were still in business, and they carried MMA events on DVD. I began buying up old UFC’s and Prides. My sister Kelly took an interest too, and we quickly became eager but uneducated MMA fans.
Nightly MMA event viewings became commonplace in our house. My sister and I looked up the records for fighters we liked. We started learning the big names, many of them ending in Gracie. We became big fans of Sakuraba, the infamous “Gracie Killer.” We found a few grainy fan-made highlights reels on Sherdog.com to download.
After months of watching MMA, memorizing fighter stats, and reading whatever I could online, my dad asked the obvious question: Why don’t you try it if you like it so much? He was trying to get me out from behind a keyboard, where I spent most of my time. This was the only sport I’d ever shown any interest in. Taking his advice, I started trying to find a martial arts school.
One friend recommended a kung fu place. A coworker wanted me to try a class at her karate dojo. I even went in to meet her instructor and take a brochure. Someone else mentioned a local boxing gym.
All these options seemed like they had potential, but what did I know? (These MMA guys did kung fu or something, right?) My knowledge of martial arts was limited to Jackie Chan movies and playing Tekken. The first UFCs–and the upheaval of the martial arts world caused by Royce Gracie’s success–were over a decade earlier and completely unknown to me.
Before I took anyone up on their offers, I looked around online to find out what my favorite MMA fighters trained in. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu usually popped up as their primary style. Many of the fighters were Gracies or trained under a Gracie. Maybe that’s the style I should look into…
When I turned to the MMA message boards to ask what martial art to do, fan boys confirmed my suspicion, declaring BJJ as the best art (followed quickly by others arguing for Muay Thai, wrestling, judo, etc.). The prevailing opinion was to find a BJJ school. That failing, do something that could give you cauliflower ear. (That’s still good advice for judging if a martial art is combative enough.)
One particular poster on Sherdog.com’s grappling board recommended a BJJ school in my hometown, some place called Gracie Barra. He trained there before moving away. A Google search found the school’s website. Aside from a lone image of an intimidating Brazilian guys in a combat stance, the only useful info was a phone number and address.
During a break at work, I gave the number a call.
A gruff voice answered, “Hey.”
“Uh, hi, I’m calling about the schedule.” I said.
“For the classes…”
“Oh right, jiu-jitsu classes!” he said with a spark of recognition.
He eagerly told me the class times and encouraged me to come any time. Years later, I told Eduardo about that first phone call and asked him what was up with it.
He laughed and said, “I dunno, I probably thought you were a telemarketer.”
Somewhat confused but now armed with the schedule, I planned a night to go try a class after work.
My sister and my best friend Alex came to do the intro class with me. The school was in a warehouse complex, away from the road and near the back of the facility. It was wedged between an A/C company’s air filter storage and a scrap metal collector. The entrance was a metal roll up door. The back side was a loading bay facing a railroad track. The walls were unfinished cinderblock and the ceiling was corrugated metal. We stepped into a “lobby” made up of a rusty desk and plastic chairs on bare concrete.
We stood awkwardly in the doorway, glancing around the small gym for who to talk to. Some guys were putting on their gis and tying their belts. A curly-haired man wearing a white gi and a black belt peered around the drywall bathroom built into the side of the room, then came running over to welcome us. He told us his name was Eduardo de Lima, he was the instructor, and we were welcome to try a class.
After a big warm-up that had me do more push-ups than I’d ever done in my life, Eduardo brought us to the corner of the mat while the rest of the students drilled. He had us each lay on our backs while a lightweight female blue belt took mount.
He told us, “Try to escape without poking her eyes out!”
We all thrashed and flailed around but failed. Instead, she usually ended up on our backs.
When this happened, Eduardo stopped us and asked “Is this better or worse?”
Worse, we found out. Our first lesson was “Don’t turn your back to someone who wants to beat you up.”
“Let’s learn the right way now.”
He showed us how to trap an arm, trap a foot, and bridge over. Much easier.
We learned a few more moves, then were given a chance to spar. My best friend was very athletic, so he eagerly jumped in. My sister and I weren’t so confident, so we sat back and watched while a little blue belt climbed all over him and tapped him out over and over.
It would be a week before I took my second class. Like I said, I’d never done so many push-ups before. I could barely lift my arms for a week. But next Monday I was back in the school with my sister and friend joining me.
For the first few months, I’d get a knot in my stomach while driving to class. My dad would try to pump me up by blasting hard rock from his truck’s stereo. He’d yell “Go kick ass!” and try to hype me up. It just made me more nervous, but now I miss the ridiculousness of it. At the time, I tried to tune him out and calm my nerves.
What was I so nervous about? Remember the perspective of a brand new white belt. Until you learn the class format, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Every technique is new and strange, and remembering even a few simple steps to repeat is difficult. You’re surrounded by strangers who all know more than you, then you are expected to grab one of them to drill a strange movement on them. You worry you’re wasting everyone’s time. Then you’re made to spar and spend rounds getting squashed, sucking wind, and tapping repeatedly.
The biggest encouragement at this time came from my classmates and instructor. The toughest looking, most intimidating guys would take the time to see how we were doing and say they were glad to see us still coming. If our ride was late picking us up, someone would stay to make sure my sister and I got home safely. These little gestures went a long way.
Eduardo was especially encouraging to my sister and me. As class was winding down, he would pull us over and tell us stories about his days in Brazil. We heard how he went to high school with Renzo and Ryan Gracie and the trouble they all got into. He had a story about Rickson throwing around mall cops when they thought he was setting off cherry bombs in toilets. He told us how he got beat up by a bunch of fifteen-year-olds at his first class, and the frustration just made him more determined to learn jiu-jitsu.
He also shared lessons from his life’s philosophy. One of these had a big impact on me. It is one of the reasons I became so dedicated to jiu-jitsu.
Sitting in our gis on the side of the mat, Eduardo grabbed our elbows and told us: “You need to have a passion! I don’t care if it’s jiu-jitsu or chess or cooking. Just don’t sit around eating junk food and watching TV. Do something! You only live once–don’t waste it!”
While that may not be groundbreaking to you, when you’re an impressionable young white belt like I was, hearing it from your idol leaves a big impression.
This is just the first few months of a ten year story, but this is the part I wanted to share with you most. We all start somewhere. Black belts were once white belts. Jiu-jitsu is a long road, and no one has seen the end of it yet.
The best way to add the crucifix to your game is to treat it as a component of a larger strategy for attacking the back. In this chapter, we’re going to develop skills that every grappler needs to know but are especially valuable when our goal is the crucifix.
While the first two techniques–countering bad single legs and fireman’s carry takedowns–are shown as quick introductions to the crucifix, most of this chapter has you using transitions to gain other superior positions that will ultimately lead to the crucifix. These core lessons are:
Sprawl — Defending takedowns and exposing the back.
Spin Behind — Countering side control escapes and securing back control.
Side Ride — Controlling a turtled opponent and setting up the crucifix and other attacks.
Even though I call these basic techniques, you will learn to use them in advanced ways. If you truly commit to integrating the crucifix into your jiu-jitsu–and you may find that it fills a gap you didn’t even know you had–these setups will become a big part of your arsenal. You will find yourself hitting them faster and faster, especially if you put the time into drilling them. After a few months of working on the crucifix, you will start to trap the arm without even thinking about. That’s when your crucifix game will be truly dangerous.
When introducing a student to the crucifix, I like to first present it as an answer for a “bad” single leg takedown. Here your opponent has latched on to your leg but made the mistake of leaving their head outside. In this case, your opponent has given you a gift-wrapped present–you just need to take it!
Once you know to look for it, you’ll be surprised at how often this situation presents itself. While experienced grapplers can’t be expected to foolishly insist on a head-outside single, as you develop your other skills (like sprawling and the spinning behind, covered later), you’ll be able to force your opponents into this compromised position, if even for a moment. As you’ll see, it’s actually common for the arm to become exposed as your opponent scrambles to salvage a failing takedown or to prevent you from taking the back. The key is recognizing the opportunity and seizing it.
Common Mistake: Trying to Put Hooks In
Caught in a “bad” single leg, overeager beginners may try to leap into rear mount and throw hooks in only to be sloppily dragged off. Despite its reputation as an advanced position, here the crucifix is the simpler and safer answer. Below, you see what happens if you fail to get your hooks in. You end up on your back fighting to recover your guard, a defensive position.
When you first start training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you are obsessed with the what and the how. What do I do in this situation, and how do I do it? Those two questions are forever linked, and a new student asks them hundreds and hundreds of times over. In those early months—or in some cases, years—the why of technique and strategy is glossed over, which is natural.
In chess, discussing advanced strategies and theory is difficult without first knowing how the game works, what pieces do what, where they can move, and what you have to do to win. Jiu-jitsu is no different. You can’t delve into the advanced concepts until you have an understanding of the basics. If you wait too long to explore jiu-jitsu on a conceptual level, however, your ability to improve and to evolve your jiu-jitsu will be stunted. Learning to think about jiu-jitsu is just as important as training your body to perform techniques. As your jiu-jitsu career progresses, you should understand the why of every step of a technique and the purpose of every change in positioning.
Why are you putting that hand there instead of there? Why is this particular technique better to use in this situation than another? Why are you choosing to use this technique, and how does it connect to the rest of your game?
These are hard questions, and they can difficult to answer if you are not accustomed to thinking about jiu-jitsu conceptually. This book is designed to introduce you to some basic jiu-jitsu concepts. By showing you these principles, I hope to give you the tools to explore your jiu-jitsu, to seek out concepts of your own and to have your own epiphanies. By learning to explore the why behind what you do on the mat, you can improve your technique and unearth new possibilities.
Because this book is focused on jiu-jitsu theory, it is structured and organized differently than other instructionals. We will look at how to perform technique and do so in great detail so that a variety of skill levels can benefit from this book, but we will bounce around between positions as we explore the conceptual connections between them, just like we would in a class or in a private lesson.
To replicate the quality of instruction that you get in a private lesson, we will talk just as much about concepts as we do about the details of technique, and that’s also why we are not using still photographs. To bring the jiu-jitsu to life, we are using video and looped, multi-angle animations.
The armbar is where I first began to think about 3D Jiu-Jitsu, though I didn’t think to call it that at the time. As a smaller white belt grappler, I often found myself on my back, so I developed a love for the guard. I played a ton of closed guard and rode the rubber guard bandwagon for a few years—until my knees couldn’t take it anymore, that is. From the rubber guard system, which basically taught me to hunt high guard, I developed a love for the armbar and the spin under armbar.
In that battle, of learning to continue chasing the armbar as my opponent stacked and rolled and sat up and stacked and rolled, I developed an awareness for the finish angle. I found myself getting better and better at aligning the joint and applying the pressure needed to get the tap regardless of how my body was oriented. Even though I had initially learned an armbar from guard and an armbar from mount, sometimes I was finishing the armbar on my side or posting on my forehead or midair as my opponent tried to roll out.
I suspect that most grapplers experience a similar growth in their technical ability, but the point is this: I soon learned that an armbar was an armbar regardless of where my body was in relation to the mat. All that mattered was having the arm trapped between my legs with the pinky against my chest and my hips pressing into the back of the joint.
We’re starting with the armbar because that’s where my thinking started. Because the concept of an armbar is relatively easy to understand, it’s a great jumping off point for exploring 3-D Jiu-Jitsu and for illustrating the concepts that we just recently introduced.
As you work through each technique, notice how the armbar—with all of its counters, recounters, and branching transitions—converges on one common core position. No matter where you start the armbar, you end up in the same fight. If you learn to enter that fight from a variety of different positions, you can very quickly turn the direction of a match down a road that you’re very familiar with. You know the turns and the road blocks and the pot holes. You’ve taken the road so many times that you know what’s around the bend before you even start turning the wheel.
And each time you travel this road, you do it a little bit faster, shaving off of a second here and a fraction of a second there. If your opponent has taken this route half as many times as you, he will soon fall behind.
This efficiency is what makes any gameplan valuable. Taking the fight where you are most comfortable is common wisdom, but there is a gem hidden here that I missed for a long time. If we think about a position or technique 3-dimensionally, we can find a new degree of efficiency. When you realize that the armbar from mount and the armbar from guard are the same technique just oriented differently, your mind does not have to struggle with learning a new technique. You are simply learning to apply an old technique in a new way.
No matter where you are looking to attack the armbar from, it’s the same battle:
Force his elbow in front of your hips.
Create an angle.
Dig your hips as close to his shoulders as possible.
The armbar is a great starting point for discussing 3-D Jiu-Jitsu because it’s a simple submission that any grappler, even very new ones, can understand. You can see how using your bones instead of your muscles strengthens your technique. You can see how it’s easier to trick your opponent into moving for you and then moving around him than it is to force his limbs into position where you want them. We also looked at the rewind principle and the way that thinking 3-dimensionally can help you to form an efficient web of techniques, creating a familiar funnel for you to push opponents into.
But the armbar, because it’s such a basic technique, can make 3-D Jiu-Jitsu seem a bit underwhelming, so let’s look at an application that’s much more fun: the arm drag.
Greater grapplers than I have written about the arm drag. Marcelo Garcia—the undisputed king of the arm drag—dedicated a significant portion of his book, Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques, to the technique. My intention is not to cover the same ground that other, better, instructors have already detailed. Instead, I want to explore the arm drag as a concept, going a bit more abstract than the usual instructional might.
The Path to the Back
In the simplest terms possible, one obstacle blocks you from taking the back: one of your opponent’s arms, in the form of an underhook or an overhook. If your opponent neglects to keep his arm in the way, you would slip right to his back, and this is why taking the back of new or inexperienced grapplers feels effortless. They don’t know to block that path.
It doesn’t take long for grapplers to learn to keep the path to the back blocked, so the game becomes finding ways to trick or force your opponent to leave that route unprotected. The arm drag has become a popular tool for making this transition happen because of its simplicity and speed. Since most grapplers understand the basic idea of an arm drag, we can use it as a tool for exploring taking the back on a more conceptual level. We’ll cover the technical details shortly, but the arm drag essentially repositions your opponent’s arm just enough so that you can swing around into back mount.
Virtually every back take scenario, with the exception of the more esoteric back taking techniques like the berimbolo, starts with your opponent’s arm repositioned as though it has just been arm dragged. This is a topic that I could wax on poetically about for much longer than a chapter, but hopefully this brief insight will give the foundation to explore this topic more deeply on your own.
Despite its name, the arm drag is less of a drag and more of a subtle redirection of your opponent’s arm. If you insist on dragging your opponent around, you will miss out on the power of the arm drag.
Move into your opponent when you execute the arm drag. Do not pull away.
The arm drag is an effective threat for setting up sweeps and takedowns, so be ready to follow-up your attempt with another attack.
My parents would never let me train martial arts as a kid. They thought it would make me too prone to violence. I looked on with envy as some of my friends earned their black belts in Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kung Fu. These were the only real martial arts I knew about and therefore were the ones I wanted to learn. I secretly trained in the backyards of my friends–where my parents couldn’t see–while my friends taught me the secrets of the side kick, the reverse punch, and how to make a wooden club with a string through the handle. We made “numchucks” out of PVC pipe and rope, whipping them around in our best Bruce Lee impressions. We had pretty much no actual skills but were sure that deep down, we would come out on top if we were attacked by 20 opponents or less.
I only got into a few real fights as a kid. The most memorable one was in the winter, on a hill, sled-riding with a bunch of other kids. I got into an argument with a taller, lanky guy who was a wrestler. When I repeatedly refused to go back down the hill to get his sled for him, he suddenly punched me square in the jaw. Luckily, he had gloves on, and I wasn’t rocked too badly. I had never fought for real before, but I instinctually returned the favor with a right cross that connected, and we both swarmed each other with blows. I connected again with several head shots, but then he suddenly changed levels and attempted a double leg takedown.
I knew absolutely zero grappling at this point, but I did watch a lot of WWF wrestling. That’s right, not WWE, WWF. Anyway, as I saw his back bent over in front of me, one word ran brightly through my brain: PILEDRIVER! Luckily for me, he was higher on the hill than I was, which allowed me the leverage to reach around his ribs for a body lock, pick him up off the ground and begin to slam him. Luckily for both of us, it was at this moment when his wrestler friends decided things were not going well for him, and it was time for them to break up the fight.
They tackled me off of him just before I could slam him down, and we both came up spluttering with our faces full of snow. I can’t remember exactly how things ended, but in retrospect, I’m very grateful those wrestlers had a lot of honor. It would have been easyl for them to have mobbed in with their friend to beat me up or to teach me a lesson afterwards. But they stayed out of it early, broke it up when they felt they needed to, and there was no ill will afterwards. Respect!
Instead of martial arts, I played team sports: basketball and finally volleyball at the collegiate level. I never lost the interest for martial arts, and while in college, I joined a “Jeet Kune Do” club on campus. There was no such thing as mixed martial arts yet, but Bruce Lee’s art of Jeet Kune Do seemed like the next best thing. There was punching, kicking, grappling, and even weapons training. We trained hard and did our best, though we had little guidance and were lucky to not hurt each other worse than we did.
Eventually, I sought out further instruction at a real Jeet Kune Do Concepts school and borrowed my roommate’s Jeep to travel there several times a week. The grappling we did was my favorite thing to learn. It was some jiu-jitsu mixed with Sambo and Catchwrestling, heavily influenced by Erik Paulson. We did some sparring, but in retrospect, not nearly enough. I was reasonably athletic, and while I was learning 20 kinds of leglock flows and neck cranks, I didn’t have the real positional knowledge that is so crucial to jiu-jitsu. The few times I got to roll with actual BJJ blue belts, I got smashed under side control and all my fancy leg locks didn’t help me. I became frustrated, and when another school within driving distance opened-up offering a BJJ affiliate program under Rigan Machado, I began training there as well.
That’s where my real BJJ journey began, and it has taken me all over the country. I won’t bore you further with all the details of my jiu-jitsu coming of age as my story is likely similar to yours, but I will give a shout out to a few of the schools and instructors I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a part of or personally influenced by:
Mike Krivka’s Martial Arts Koncepts in Maryland
Pat Tray’s Trident Martial Arts
Eddie Edmunds’ Fusion Academy
Tony Passos BJJ in Virginia
Mike Downing’s Oregon Pound in Corvallis, Oregon
The University of Texas BJJ Club
Paragon BJJ Austin down under the big, bright stars of Texas.
Gyms and garages in Florida, New York, Hawaii, and New Jersey under the amazing guidance of Marcelo Garcia, Ricardo De La Riva, Burton Richardson, Matt Thornton, Erik Paulson, Pedro Sauer, Rylan Lizares and countless others I know I am forgetting.
And finally, to what has become my home, my friends and family of Raptor BJJ in State College, PA.
One last revelation I want to share with you that you may find surprising: I have claustrophobia. Yes, that incredible, irrational, uncontrollable fear when trapped in tight spaces. Like, not just a little uncomfortable. Like, you feel like you are going to die and your body and mind go through a legitimate panic attack.
Actually, I have what I would call “grappling specific claustrophobia”; that is, my condition only seems to manifest itself in grappling scenarios. I’m just fine in caves and elevators! It started for me as a white belt and continued on even as I progressed through the ranks. It very nearly made me quit jiu-jitsu many times, and if it wasn’t for the help of my training partners and friends, I likely would have done so. I used to be embarrassed by this problem. Our art is full of testosterone and ego, and no one wants to admit to fears and phobias in front of their teammates or opponents. Eventually, I came to realize I wasn’t alone and that this scenario is extremely common in the grappling world; it’s just that no one wants to talk about it.
The process of how I exactly was able to deal with it is a story for another time, but one thing I can say for certain is that I wish I had been exposed to the Sit-Up Escape System much earlier in my career. Its ability to avoid bad positions or deal with them early would have saved me a great deal of mental and physical suffering. So if some of you out there who are reading this have experienced grappling claustrophobia, take heart! First, you are not alone, there are many people out there who feel the same way, and most will probably quit if they aren’t in the right environment. Second, here is a system that will radically reduce the amount of time you spend in trapped positions, and will put your mind on a positive path so you can more easily enjoy the art you love.
I never wrestled in high school. I didn’t do Karate. I wasn’t even allowed to play football because it was too dangerous in my parents’ eyes. The closest I got to violent contact was slide-tackling a center forward, one of the few opportunities for heroism available to a right full back. Even then, I was far from a physical specimen. My high school soccer coach used to joke that I was a pirate’s dream because, being so skinny, I had a sunken chest.
When I started jiu-jitsu after high school, I struggled with any sort of explosive attack. Being smaller than most of my training partners, my game revolved around using my guard to slow the pace and suck my opponent into a battle that was mostly based on wits and not any sort of athleticism. My attempts to learn to shoot or to set up throws were unsuccessful. Launching myself into a takedown and then having to continue driving to bully my opponent to the mat if he sprawled or defended in some way never didn’t click for me.
It didn’t make sense to me the way that playing guard made sense to me, so I avoided takedowns through white belt and through most of blue belt. If I competed, I pulled guard, and in the gym, I gladly flopped to my butt at the start of every roll.
From the Ground Up
My wrestling coach Paul Reihner, a friend and MMA fighter that I helped prepare for bouts, taught me the basics of taking and setting up shots, but executing those techniques in a live situation was still out of the question for me.
As a blue belt, I revisited the way I played the stake out position, a seated guard variation and last technical remnant of my Eddie Bravo years. I previously used the stake out exclusively to secure the lockdown. As my competition became more advanced, my success with the lockdown dwindled, so I started to use the stake out as an open guard sweeping position. In that process, which you’ll see detailed later in this chapter, I found myself attacking with a single leg.
By shooting into the single leg from the guard, the transition felt much more natural for me. I could ease myself into learning the pieces of the takedown, starting from a point of comfort. As I grew more accustomed with the process of entering into a single leg position and fighting for the finish, my confidence grew. And then I started working on arm drags, which gave me a route to enter the single leg from standing.
Looking at the single leg 3-dimensionally gave me a takedown game. While I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to takedowns, I’m on my way, and I hope that 3-D Jiu-Jitsu will help other timid grapplers to develop their takedown games as well.
We covered a great deal of ground in this brief introduction 3-dimensional jiu-jitsu, and we looked at the application of multiple grappling principles in the process. For many, thinking about jiu-jitsu in this way will still seem unusual even after an entire book on the topic because it is a significant departure from the standard process of memorizing technique after technique after technique.
Now that you’re familiar with the terminology that I use and have a batch of techniques that demonstrate the concepts we’ve covered, we can zoom out and look at the conceptual connections with greater ease.
Mount is like Guard
In the first chapter, we started with the basic idea of thinking of mount as an upside down guard, allowing you to repurpose much of your guard strategy for use in your mount strategy. In the examples below, you can better see the similarities between how you attack with the armbar and with the cross collar choke from guard and from mount.
Seeing the Arm Drag
After learning the basic idea of flipping a position, like flipping a guard into a mount, we went deeper into the rabbit hole by exploring the arm drag. The arm drag is not a complicated technique, but its apparent simplicity can make you miss other situations that have the makings of an arm drag. For example, you learned one way to transition to the back using the threat and positioning of the armbar (which often puts your opponent’s arm across your body, like an arm drag). There are more of these transitions, by the way, but our space was limited for this book. For reference, consider the rewind connection between the armbar from turtle and the spin under armbar to back take:
Dominating an arm with a Kimura grip is another way to clear the path to the back, achieving the same results as a traditional arm drag:
And don’t forget, you can apply the arm drag principle even if you don’t use your hands:
Learning to recognize when your opponent’s arm is out of position, as it had just been arm dragged, will help you find more paths to the back. Drilling these techniques will help you to develop that awareness so that you can apply the principles of the arm drag to many different positions.
Reorienting and Rethinking
Seeing that mount is like guard and seeing that the application of the arm drag as a concept extends well beyond what we typically call an arm drag hopefully makes it a bit easier for you to digest the more advanced 3-D Jiu-Jitsu concepts that we covered in the single leg chapter. In looking at the single leg, you can see how a standing single leg is similar to a seated single leg and how both of those are, by extension, similar to half guard. Your opponent’s legs are between your legs, and your arms are under his arms.
It’s the same position, just reoriented:
The idea of elevating your opponent’s leg to finish the single leg is a principle that is univeral to many different applications of the single leg:
If you experiment with your own jiu-jitsu, taking the time to think about what a position would look like if you flipped it over or flopped it on its side, you can discover similar connections in your own game. In fact, when we first planned to do this book, we intended to do two other chapters that explored the idea of 3-D jiu-jitsu. One chapter applied 3-D concepts to guard passing, and another chapter applied 3-D concepts to escapes. While we didn’t have the time to shoot those chapters, mentioning them should help to get you started in your own exploratory process.
When I began training jiu-jitsu, I was heavily influenced by de la Riva. I built my game around sleeve grips and open guard. I loved to play spider guard, and I had a complex web of traps and funnels from de la Riva guard. At the time, this style felt like the pinnacle of jiu-jitsu. Many of my idols fought this way, and I felt like I was on the right path to jiu-jitsu mastery because I was following in their footsteps.
At brown belt, my hands started to deteriorate. They ached. They felt weaker. I would spend twenty minutes before each training session meticulously taping each knuckle. By the time I reached black belt, I had to come home after every training session and soak my hands in ice water to fight the inflammation and the pain.
One night, as I soaked my hands in front of the television, I looked around and saw my family. My two boys were still young, and they were starting to play wrestle. I smiled at this for a second–because what jiu-jitsu dad does not want to see his children train–and then I remembered my hands.
If I stayed on this path, I would never be able to roll with my children. I would be lucky if I could train at all. At black belt, with over a decade of training behind me, I decided to start over. I abandoned my game and sought out a system that did not rely on grips to the extent that a de la Riva or a spider guard game did. Not long after that moment, I decided to devote my training to imitating Marcelo Garcia. His game was highly mobile with very little straining to maintain sleeve or lapel grips. He flowed from position to position using a style that transitioned smoothly from no-gi to gi.
That sent me down the rabbit hole of the sit-up escape system. At first, I used Marcelo Garcia highlight videos, Marcelo Garcia DVDs, and MGInAction.com to watch as much footage on Marcelo as I could, whether he was explicitly teaching the sit-up escape or not. A significant portion of the system was learned from watching Marcelo teach, but I also picked up a great deal from watching him roll. From there, I put my own twist on the system by incorporating techniques that I myself liked or that I saw other grapplers using in sit-up-like scenarios.
I am excited to share this system with you, and I hope that learning it can do for you what it did for me: give you a new appreciation for the art and help you to protect your body from wear and tear.
Chapter one is designed to teach you the core sit-up escape path and to expose you to key framing concepts that will come up again and again in this instructional. I start with this path because a lot can go into achieving the basic collar tie in the first place, and a clear route from point A to point B helps students to stay focused.
In this chapter, we start to explore the rabbit hole of “what ifs” that is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What if I can’t get my hooks back inside when I get to the collar tie? What if my opponent shucks out of my collar tie? What if he tries to take my back? We will answer all of these questions , and in doing so explore new applications of the sit-up escape that can be utilized for escaping positions other than side control. We will touch on this potential within this chapter and explore it in greater depth in future chapters.
For this chapter, we start with troubleshooting the beginning of your sit-up escape from the bottom of side control and eventually work through the counters and recounters you are likely to face as you get deeper and deeper into the sit-up escape.
One of the frustrating aspects of learning from an instructional as that you can often feel as though you have to learn every technique the instructor shows for the system to be useful. Unfortunately, that’s not practical, and it’s not actually how anyone learns jiu-jitsu. We start with small pieces–one or two techniques here, one or two techniques there. Then we run into a new problem and learn how to solve it by learning a few more techniques. And the process repeats until we amass a full game surrounding a position, technique, or strategy.
That’s how I learned the sit-up escape. I picked up a few movements at a time and gradually patched the holes and overcame the obstacles that held me back. I designed this instructional to follow a similar process. In chapter one, you learn the basic sit-up escape path. In chapter two, you learn how to troubleshoot basic sit-up counters and familiarize yourself with some other key sit-up escape movements in the process.
By themselves, chapters one and two can make a big difference on your escape success rate, and I recommend starting your journey there. For this chapter and the remainder of the instructional, we dive deep into the sit-up escape and explore its nuances and off-shoots.
Where you can learn the techniques in chapter one and two in order, you will likely find yourself picking through the techniques in this chapter and the ones that follow in a piecemeal fashion. Having trouble with your frames? Brush up on your options. Not creating enough space for your escapes? Find a new tool or improve upon one that you have.
In the first chapter, you learned how you can use your bones to create a powerful frame. If you use the right frame at the right time, you can maintain space and create movement. If you position your body properly, you can accomplish feats far greater than your stature would seem to allow. This is the idea behind posture, and we start talking about posture on the first day of jiu-jitsu.
The drawback of the traditional class format is that even though we talk about things like posture and frames, the constraints of running a class with mixed levels of students means that we rarely get to explore the structure of individual frames in great detail, so you could go six years or more without an in-depth analysis of how something as seemingly simplistic as a frame from the bottom of side control actually works.
We remedy that in this chapter.
Starting with some more conventional frames, we work our way into frames that might seem more alien to you, like the reverse collar tie, the reverse frame, and the Ryan Hall back grip.
To review, a strong frame hinges upon understanding your opponent’s positioning as well as his movement. Your frame should ultimately be rooted in the mat, positioning your bones in such a way that your structure–rather than your muscles–bear the force of your opponent’s pressure. Some of the frames in this chapter will immediately feel intuitive and powerful while others may take some practice and experimentation to feel strong.
Take your time, and always ask yourself, “Where is his pressure coming from and where is it going? Am I positioning my body to meet that pressure directly or is my angle off?”
As you move into the later chapters of this instructional, the frames that you learn here will become an important part of your advanced applications of the sit-up escape, so feel free to bounce back and forth between these detailed explanations and the explanations of the techniques that use them.
Grapplers are always talking about space. Creating it. Closing it. Managing it. Understanding the value of space is the key to virtually every technique in jiu-jitsu. While this concept can be complicated in a discussion about offense, it can be straightforward in a discussion about defense: escaping is typically a battle to create space.
The sit-up escape is no different, and in my pursuit to perfect the system I have collected a number of tools along the way that you might find useful. Since most of the sit-up escape system comes after you have created the space necessary to begin moving, the majority of the tools provided here address the roadblocks you might encounter at the beginning of the journey: creating space at the bottom of a disadvantageous position.
We will review the basics and work our way into some other approaches to creating space that might seem unconventional. Even though they are new and perhaps look a bit odd, I have tested them over and over again and have looked to many of the jiu-jitsu greats for inspiration.
By the end of this chapter, with a deeper understanding of frames and tools for creating space, you will have the pieces you need to take your sit-up escape to the next level, using it to escape and counter more positions than just side control. You will find yourself blending the movements and tactics covered in the first two chapters with a new application of key sit-up concepts, making you an escape machine.
The core sit-up escape path that we covered in chapter one and the basic troubleshooting techniques that we covered in chapter two will give you a big return, and you will rack-up a lot of mileage with them. As your training partners grow accustomed to your game or perhaps as you face stiffer and stiffer competitors, you will begin to see yourself facing more complex obstacles.
These new problems will require use to new some of the new techniques that you learned in chapter three to create space and building effective frames. Your opponent might stubbornly insist on resisting the sit-up escape, or he might abandon fighting for the crossface and transition to a different position like scarfhold to escape the pressure of your collar tie.
The sit-up escape system is well-rounded and has answers to these problems, but these solutions hinge upon mechanics and movements that you started to learn early in the book. While you are certainly welcome to cherry-pick the techniques you feel will fit best into your game, you will likely have the most success with the techniques in this chapter if you first become proficient with the core path and the basic troubleshooting techniques covered in chapters one and two.
In practice, the techniques in this chapter and the chapters that follow are not that different from what we have explored already, but your timing will often need to be more precise and your finesse will need to be sharper. With less room for error, it can feel like the sit-up escape itself is failing you when in actuality you are trying to run before you can crawl.
From the beginning, I promised that the sit-up escape would transform the entirety of your defensive game, not just your defense from the bottom of side control. Up until this point, our focus has remained on side control so that I could expose you to the many tools, techniques, and concepts that comprise the sit-up escape system. Now that you understand how these pieces work from side control, we can take the same movements that you have been practicing and apply them other positions, like escaping mount or north/south.
As you can see in the above GIFs, my application of the reverse frame from the bottom of side control is nearly identical to my application of the reverse frame from the bottom of mount. Timing is a bit more critical because I am in a worse position, but the way the frame forces my opponent out of position so that I can regain my mobility is the same. As I have said before, this is what I love about the sit-up escape. I do not have a distinct set of escapes for each position. Instead, I have condensed my escape game into a handful of movements and have learned to apply them everywhere.
When you first begin to learn these advanced escapes, you might think that they put you in danger. This is a reasonable concern, but I assure that if your frame is set properly, you are in no less danger than is usual for being on the bottom of a dominant positions. In most cases, your frame actually puts you out of harm’s way because your opponent cannot easily recover his stability to attack.
For me, I feel almost untouchable when I successful initiate a sit-up escape. You will reach the same level of confidence with practice.
The line between guard retention and escaping side control is a blurry one, with many instructors arguing that they to a point they are the same thing. In this chapter, we use sit-up escape principles to either recover from a failed attack or to retain guard when our opponent attempts to pass. Again, finding even more applications for sit-up escape techniques brings even more economy of technique to your game. You’ll be able to get even more mileage out of the same techniques.
Using the sit-up escape to counter or to retain guard drops you back into the same network of techniques that you have been working on up until this point in this instructional. As you can see, the collar tie recover from a failed armbar puts you in the same position as the basic collar tie sit-up escape, meaning that you might need to granby roll, elbow push, or reverse frame to fully address your opponent’s guard pass, but that’s okay since you now feel comfortable fighting from these positions, probably more comfortable than your opponent does.
With time, your use of the sit-up escape will be instinctual. Your body will feel the right weight distribution and positional triggers, allow you to escape quickly and with less effort. Working through these counters will help you to develop that awareness and to find the common openings that make the sit-up escape possible.
I have spent countless hours drilling and experimenting with the sit-up escape position. I’ve been blessed to have worked with a number of great training partners who patiently stayed at the gym late into the night as I worked on collecting repetitions or worked to dissect a problem I was facing. Now, as I teach this system to other grapplers, I encourage them to use some of the drills I used to accelerate their learning process.
Defense to Offense
Though the theme of this book is defense and escaping, I encourage you to use these drills to connect your sit-up escape to your offense. The nature of the sit-up escape means that you will routinely finish your escape in seated guard, butterfly guard, or one leg x-guard, all of which are powerful sweeping positions.
As much as I would love to dedicate more time to explaining your options from these positions, each of those topics warrants an instructional in themselves. To fill in the gap, I recommend exploring Marcelo Garcia’s instructionals for tips and tricks on incorporating these techniques into your game if they are not a part of it already. At the very least, you should have at least one strong butterfly sweep and one strong one leg x-guard sweep to get the most out of the sit-up escape. Otherwise, you might struggle to dig yourself out of a position where you don’t actually feel comfortable.
Ideally, these drills will be a starting point for the drills you develop on your own. Ask your partner to give you certain reactions at random to help you refine your reaction time in the core path. Challenge yourself to start on the bottom of side control with increasingly more skilled training partners. Be comfortable with losing position and maybe even getting submitted if it means trying something new and learning from it.
The sit-up escape is powerful, but it’s not an instant silver bullet for all of your escaping woes. By this point in the instructional, you have seen its versatility and should be able to see its potential for transforming your game, but like all techniques it will take time and work. And drills. Lots of drills.
Creating this instructional was a dream come true. In jiu-jitsu, no grappler is an island. We have all been touched and influenced by dozens of instructors and training partners by the time we reach black belt. I have a lot of people to thank, but I don’t want you to think that just because I don’t thank you by name in the video below that you are not important. It’s been a fun ride, and I’m looking forward to many more years of fantastic training experiences.
Countering a fireman’s carry or a high crotch takedown with the crucifix is similar to countering a bad single leg, but the threat of being taken down in this scenario is more serious. An opponent skilled with these takedowns knows the risks and will be quick to hide their arm, making your window of opportunity much smaller. The wrestlers or Judokas that love this style of takedown hit it quickly and with power, so expect to be tossed a few times until you get the hang of the timing.
As with most counters, don’t needlessly bait your opponent unless you are very confident. You need to respect a skillful fireman’s carry at all times. The safer approach is to proactively seek your own takedowns (or pull guard, if that’s your strategy). But it doesn’t hurt to have an ace up your sleeve for when you need it.
Every grappler needs a solid sprawl. The sprawl is a cornerstone of jiu-jitsu and wrestling, with good reason. You won’t get far without a strong way to deal with the ubiquitous single and double leg takedowns. Even if you have an advanced guard game, a successful takedown often puts you out of position, putting you behind on points and struggling to recover a neutral position. Here, we use the sprawl to stop our opponent’s forward driving takedowns and then secure the front headlock. In the coming pages, we’ll use the front headlock to spin behind and gain back control from side ride.
Sprawl Versus Double Leg Takedown
Sprawl Versus Single Leg Takedown
Toes or No Toes?
My students often ask whether or not to use their toes when they sprawl. The answer is that both ways have their uses and knowing the right time to do one or the other is what’s more important. Being on your toes allows you to drive forward and change directions faster, which will be necessary for executing the spin behind. Being on your toes can backfire, though, because it allows your opponent to stand you up, suck in your hips, and twist you down.
Hips high and on the toes
By straightening your toes and extending your legs, you can keep sliding backwards and creating downward pressure as your opponent drives you across the mat. Once you’ve killed your opponent’s shot, you can go to your toes to regain both your mobility and your ability to generate forward pressure.
Hips low and off toes
As you gain experience with the sprawl, you’ll instinctually feel which way is right in the moment. You may stay on your toes the entire time against a weak shot, or you may throw your legs back to ride out a shot that takes you across the room.
Early in my jiu-jitsu training, my professor Eduardo de Lima impressed on me the importance of the spin behind as one of the best weapons against bigger, stronger opponents. Holding down a brute can be an impossible task, and you don’t want to be caught like a deer in headlights when they turn in to take you down. Being able to spin behind allows you to flow, avoiding danger while maintaining a dominant position.
Given its simplicity and effectiveness, I consider the spin behind a “must know” technique, especially for lightweights. This is a critical skill to master for attacking the back. Start drilling it today.
Below I present the two main variations of the spin behind that I practice and teach. The first version is how I was first taught, and the second is what I learned from watching competitors like Ryan Hall and the Mendes brothers. Each way is worth knowing, especially when you learn the unique uses for each approach.
Spin Behind With Base Switch
Starting a spin behind by switching your base is more explosive and allows you to break grips on your legs, especially if your opponent is gripping your pants.
The trade-off is in the time it takes to re-switch your base and spin to the other side, your opponent can flatten out and hide their back, like so:
While you didn’t take the back, consider this a success. You killed their escape, forced them to waste energy, and maintained a dominant position. In fact, back and forth spin behinds are often done as a side control retention drill. We are just aiming a little higher by trying to use it to take the back.
Spin Behind Without Base Switch
In this variation, the goal is to quickly wedge a knee behind your opponent’s shoulders as you spin behind. This blocks them from flattening out or turning in once you’re on the far side. A particularly fast or strong opponent may still find a way to flatten out and protect their back, but you’ve lost nothing while they wasted time and energy.
As a teacher I like to present all the options so students can test and compare for themselves. Here, you’ll see many ways to grip and position yourself from the top of turtle. Through experimentation you will find which you like most in different circumstances. No single grips or positioning is best, but each has the potential to be the best tool in the moment.
I’ve chosen to separate side ride controls into upper body grips and lower body positioning. Certain grips and positionings will pair better together, but I want to lay them out clearly so you can recombine them. The basic rule is to see how far towards your opponent’s head or hips you are, and pick a grip that doesn’t over-extend your arms or block your movement. For example, the seat belt is very good when you’re beside your opponent and near their head, but double lapel or spiral ride is more natural as you circle behind.
Upper Body Grips
The seat belt (also called the harness) is the standard back control grip. Key points: Hug tight by pulling your elbows back towards your ribs to glue your chest to the middle of their back.
With one hand controlling their wrist, your other is free to attack the neck or grab elsewhere. This naturally leads into the clock choke, as taught later.
Obviously a gi-dependent grip, but a very effective one at that. You can steer your opponent around by their lapels. I like this grip against heavier opponents because you can quickly release it and free your arms if they try to flip you over.
The name “spiral ride” is borrowed from wrestling, though I’m sure a true wrestler would argue it’s not quite the same. Drive one arm down by the hip, and the other pushes on the back of the armpit. This cross-pressure controls their movement and blocks guard pulls.
A simple body lock around the waist is useful when you’re further behind your opponent. Be careful not to reach too deeply or you risk giving them Sakuraba-style kimuras.
Lower Body Positioning
Stay on your toes and drive your hip against theirs to pressure the position and control their movement.
You will often find space under them to drive your knee in. This becomes especially useful later when we get into trapping the arm for the crucifix, and for blocking guard returns. Just be careful because you can compromise your balance and get rolled over too.
Sprawling out can be useful when you’re further behind. Be ready to jump from one side to another, otherwise you risk them turning and sitting to guard.
Drive your knee over their ankle, pinning it under your shin. Make sure you keep your foot hooked outside their leg so they don’t try any rolling kneebar nonsense on you.
So far, we’ve spent most of our time covering the sprawl, the spin behind, and maintaining side ride. Those are valuable skills on their own, but now we get to what we really want–the crucifix. In this section, we will look at your primary options for trapping the arm and discuss how to choose between your tools.
People laugh the first time they see this, but it works a surprisingly well. You can usually get a “free” one against someone not familiar with the crucifix. To catch more cautious opponents, you need to break their focus by threatening other attacks (like clock chokes and taking the back) to the point that they become desperate to grab whatever you put in front of them.
Knee Slide and Heel Stomp
This simple way of trapping the arm is also the most dependable. Assuming you can get your knee in, it’s your strongest tool for exposing the arm so you can stomp over it. Be a little wary of over-committing and losing your balance, but later you will learn how to recover if you do.
Once people become wary of the crucifix, they can defend by turtling up tighter and blocking your knee from sliding in. But no matter how hard they try, it’s nearly impossible to close the space between their hip and armpit. When you encounter an exceptionally tight turtle, pop up and drop your knee into that gap to crack their position, then follow up with a knee slide and heel stomp.
So your opponent couldn’t stop you from driving your knee in, but they aren’t giving up their arm without a fight. They can buy time by holding your knee tightly so there’s no space for your foot to step over. By grinding your heel into their forearm, you can work your way in and give them nowhere else to go. The pressure or the pain should do the trick.
Grab and Pull
This is the caveman answer–you want it, so grab it! Pull the arm out and stomp over it. If it’s stupid and works, it’s not stupid.
Jerk and Bully
You can catch an opponent off guard by suddenly jerking them around and threatening to bounce their face off the ground. Most people will instinctively post their hands to catch their balance and protect their face, exposing their arm for a quick stomp over.
It’s time to put all the pieces together! Think of what we’ve covered so far as building blocks. I’ve shown you each piece and taught you its purpose, and now we see how they all fit together. As you experiment with your new techniques in drilling and sparring, you will make your own connections and combinations, so the potential impact that the crucifix will have on your game is likely much higher than the sequences you are learning here. At the same time, these sequences give you the foundation that you need to build your own masterpiece, so don’t skimp on the details.
The two progressions below take the techniques we’ve been doing so far—sprawling, spinning behind, securing grips, knee driving, heel stomping—and turn them into a smooth flow. The techniques are almost the same, but the little pauses are cut out, and we’re aiming for our ultimate crucifix position without stopping to think of the next step.
Sprawl to Fast Spin Behind and Crucifix
Knowing I want the crucifix, I prepare to knee drop/slide and heel stomp to trap the arm as I spin behind. This is often an easy transition if they aren’t quick to retract their arms after being sprawled on.
Spin Behind from Side Control to Crucifix
As our opponent turns in to escape side control, we execute our spin behind, knowing a gap is usually opening-up on the far side. We could throw in a hook to take the back, but here we wedge a knee in and heel drag for the crucifix. As tempting as the back-take may be, the crucifix is sometimes the faster, safer option.
The goal of the previous chapter was to arm you with the skills you need to create opportunities to trap your opponent in the crucifix. You learned some of the fundamental entries for achieving the position, so now the next step is to learn how to maintain control of the crucifix and when to use what finishing positions. In reality, you go through a similar process with any position in jiu-jitsu. You first get a sense for what the position is. Then you learn how to keep your opponent from escaping. And then you learn how to win the fight from there.
I’ve divided the crucifix fundamentals into five main sections, each with their own techniques:
Kneeling Crucifix – The “crucifix on the knees” is a distinct position with its own grips and controls.
Traditional Crucifix – We take the classic crucifix position and dig into its entries and controls.
Kneeling Crucifix Submissions – Treated as a distinct position, the kneeling crucifix has its own submissions, centering on rear chokes and armlocks.
Traditional Crucifix Submissions – The basic “face up” crucifix submissions and combinations.
Recountering Escapes – Ways to stop escapes from the traditional crucifix and even counter with submission chains.
Notice that we split the crucifix into kneeling and traditional variants. The kneeling position is often neglected or ignored, but it’s almost always a part of any crucifix setup, even if many choose to quickly roll to the classic “face up” position. By breaking it down separately, we arm you with more options. This is a product of treating the crucifix as a serious part of a jiu-jitsu game instead of viewing it as a novelty. If you learn the whole system, your success with the position will skyrocket.
While I’ve chosen to split the instruction into many small lessons, your mission will be to combine them into flowing sequences (and I’ll give you guidance on how to do this). By studying, drilling, and practicing in sparring, you will gain the experience you need to take individual techniques and turn them into smooth combinations.
So far, we’ve been staying on our knees once we catch the crucifix instead of somersaulting to the classic “face-up” position, and that’s on purpose. You can develop the kneeling crucifix as a position of its own with its own network of submissions and transitions. In this section, we cover the grips and pressure necessary for maintaining control. From there, we’ll go over your submission options from the kneeling crucifix.
We’ve trapped the arm one way or another, and now we need to stabilize the position. If your opponent keeps a strong grip on your leg, they may salvage a sloppy takedown. It won’t be pretty, but it could be enough to put you on your back playing guard. In this situation, use a one-on-one grip on the far wrist and the pressure of your hips to pry his hands apart. This gives you a free hand to post far out in front for balance. Notice that my hip drops heavier on the side closer to their rear and my knees twist forward to torque the arm back.
Seat Belt Grip
You can get the same effect without a strong seat belt grip and crossface. Be mindful of your balance and pressure, though, because your opponent can grab your arm and drag you off the front if you’re not careful, a mistake we will address below.
The kneeling crucifix can be a high-percentage part of your game if you avoid a few common pitfalls. Some of these mistakes are obvious, and some are more subtle. If you find yourself struggling to maintain the kneeling crucifix, return to this list and compare your positioning to what you see here. You may find that in the chaos of a roll you are leaving out a key detail, which is fine as long as you learn from it and work to improve. Here are common mistakes to avoid when holding the kneeling crucifix position:
Too Much Space
Leaving too much space between your hips and your opponent’s shoulder gives him room to escape his arm. This mistake most commonly occurs when you go too far trying to break his grip by stretching your legs back. Hunker down into the position and lean heavy on them to trap the arm and correct your error.
Poor Balance with Arm Trapped
If you’re lazy with your free arm and put it too close, your opponent can grab it and drag you off the front. Avoid this by posting the arm far out in front. If it is trapped, as is common when using a seat belt grip, pay extra attention to your hip pressure and lean heavy toward your opponent’s rear.
In this section, we get into what most people think of when they hear “the crucifix.” To enable the distinction between the kneeling crucifix and the classic “face up” positioning, I’ve chosen to refer to the second as the “traditional crucifix.” The purpose for the differentiation was to bring attention to the kneeling variant, which is often overlooked.
That said, the traditional crucifix position is famous for good reason. It is extremely dominating (almost humiliating) and offers you strong finishes while your opponent is only hanging on by a thread. This level of dominance puts it up there with rear mount in the positional hierarchy, and in fact it shares many submissions.
We will be looking at how to roll into the traditional crucifix and maintaining the position. In a later section we will go over its submissions.
In this instructional, I have been dividing the crucifix into two main positions: the traditional (or “face up”) crucifix and what I call the kneeling crucifix. My purpose for doing this is to show how the crucifix has a wider scope than the one or two techniques most jiu-jiteiros tend to associate with the crucifix. The crucifix is a complex and versatile position if you take the time to learn it.
Being able to control and attack from the kneeling crucifix allows you to seek submissions sooner than if you always roll into the traditional finish. The main submissions we’ll cover in this section are rear naked chokes and armlocks, with a guillotine to cap it off.
While it usually starts from the kneeling crucifix, we’re saving the reverse omoplata for its own in-depth chapter later.
The two major submissions to focus on are rear chokes (gi or no-gi) and armlocks. These are the “double attack” of the crucifix. Your goal will be to know how to control your opponent and prevent escapes while simultaneously attacking their neck and arm. This strategic advantage is shared by all dominant positions: You are in no immediate danger and can launch multiple attacks, while your opponent’s only chance is to defend and escape.
In this section, we will go over a variety of chokes and armlocks, and end on a signature crucifix neck crank.
Even with all our tips and tricks for maintaining the crucifix, some opponents will inevitably escape. This can be especially frustrating when first learning a position because all the hard work you did to gain the position feels wasted when your opponent can quickly escape. To lessen this frustration and give you options for dealing with escapes, I’m going to arm you with recounters. I borrow the term “recounter” from Stephan Kesting who defines it as “countering a counter.” These go a long way toward making the crucifix feel like a real position that connects to the standard jiu-jitsu game, rather than being a novelty.
Now we get to my favorite technique ever–the reverse omoplata. This technique has the unfortunate reputation of being too flashy, too difficult, or too dangerous. I hope to change the perception, if you happen to share it, by the end of this chapter. You can find other instructors teaching this technique, but it’s usually just pulled out as a cool move for a DVD or seminar. My goal is to show that it can be a simple technique that doesn’t require extreme speed, flexibility, strength, or a reckless sense of abandon.
First, let’s de-stigmatize the name. Plenty of people have a hard enough time with normal omoplatas, and adding “reverse” to any technique usually doubles the perceived complexity. “Reverse omoplata” is a double offense. Maybe using the names “kimura with leg” or “rolling shoulder lock” is less intimidating. This technique has little to do with the regular omoplata, aside from both using the leg to crank the opponent’s arm and shoulder. Other than that, the entries and finishes are very different.
The simplest way to think of the reverse omoplata is as another submission from the kneeling crucifix, since that is how most reverse omoplatas begin. As we go deeper into its counters and re-counters, we’ll expand thinking of it as a series of unique positions. Your success with many submissions can be improved by taking the focus off the finish–the final second–and backing up to see it as a position. Common examples of this are the triangle, the omoplata and leglock positions. This allows you to slow down and figure out the finer points of the control and the contingency plans for when your opponent defends or attempts to escape.
Once you have this advanced understanding of the reverse omoplata, it adds another branch to the crucifix gameplan:
Staying in the kneeling crucifix and seeking submissions
Rolling to the traditional face-up crucifix
Rolling into the reverse omoplata
With this technique, I also hope to change your attitude towards “advanced” moves. To be sure, some techniques are more complex than others, and certain ones are more useful to beginners. But sometimes it’s just a matter of being persistent and open to new ideas.
By chance, I learned the reverse omoplata within my first month of starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It was taught at my first ever no-gi class. My instructor, Eduardo de Lima, sensed that people were intimidated by it, so he started using it almost every day to prove a point. As a brand new white belt, the reverse omoplata didn’t seem more complicated than anything else (everything was too complicated for me), so I drilled it like any other move. My naivety was rewarded when, lacking the mental block, I would recognize the opportunities for the reverse omoplata just like I had drilled them.
Follow Eduardo’s lead and don’t let the seeming complexity of the move scare you away. Learn it, and drill it just like you would any other move.
In this chapter, we will first simplify the reverse omoplata to its five fundamental components, then troubleshoot how to finish it no matter what our opponent throws at us.
The reference to “fundamental five” started as a joke. Matt Thornton of Straight Blast Gym teaches lessons he calls “fundamental five of side control” and “fundamental five of guard passing.” I thought it was funny to give the reverse omoplata the same treatment, given its reputation for being advanced, but the resulting five points turned out to be accurate and useful guidelines. If you look at how anyone teaches this move, you will see that they do these five steps one way or another.
This reductionist approach can be taken toward many techniques and positions with reputations for being complicated. By boiling it down to its essential steps, you make a seemingly complicated move lose its intimidation factor. As you continue on your path with jiu-jitsu, having this mentality will not only make it easier for you to learn seemingly complicated techniques, but it will also help you to try techniques that you might have passed up before.
By treating the reverse omoplata as a series of sub-positions and objectives, we take what’s usually treated as a novelty and transform it into a real move. Approached this way, I’ve had white belts performing this move safely and without confusion.
Let’s take a quick look at the reverse omoplata in action, then we’ll break it down.
The reverse omoplata can be broken down into these fundamental five steps:
1. Trap the Arm
Trapping the arm for the kneeling crucifix is our first main goal for the reverse omoplata. Every entry to the kneeling crucifix we show in this instructional is the beginning of a potential reverse omoplata.
2. Cross the Arm
With the arm trapped, we need to cross it back so it’s wrapped around our rear leg, the one closest to our opponent’s hips. The most direct way is to cross your knees and pass the arm from one leg to another. Some people will cross their arm back on their own, thinking they are finding a way out.
You can often trap the arm so it’s already crossed back, accomplishing the first two steps simultaneously.
3. Reach Inside
Releasing whatever back control grip you have, turn to face forward and reach your arm inside into the space in front of their chest. Aim to hug the near knee, but anywhere across the body can work. With your arm in front of them, they can no longer roll without you sticking to them in the same relative position.
Rolling begins to crank their arm and signals the beginning of the end. Roll in toward your opponent, similar to how you do a rolling kneebar, rather than out and away.
This roll can be fast and explosive, or you can wiggle into it, gradually increasing the pressure as you hug their knee closer and closer to your head.
Sometimes the roll takes you backwards or sideways, possibilities we’ll discuss later in this chapter.
With your roll complete, you should have flipped your opponent over to their back with you sitting next to them. Keep a grip on your opponent’s leg as you sit up and adjust your position by scooting back. Finish the submission by cranking your leg back under you as you rise up slightly.
If your opponent’s arm got cranked behind their back mid-roll, then you can even submit them without flipping them over to this final position.
With our fundamental five to guide us, we can figure out how to troubleshoot the reverse omoplata when it doesn’t go as planned. In this section, we’re going to stick the reverse omoplata under the microscope to examine how to modify it as we run into counters. We may need to deviate from the “standard” method but we know our end goal and each objective along the way.
Exploring the depth of a technique like this is what takes it from being a singular submission and elevates it to being a position, where the core technique sets the stage for a network of transitions, counters, and recounters. If you learn the reverse omoplata in isolation, it will be nothing more than a novelty in your game, but if you learn the system that surrounds it and understand how it fits into the crucifix game–and consequently the turtle game–it can become a high-percentage, reliable attack.
The rapid reverse omoplata drill will build the instinct to cross the arm and roll for the reverse omoplata without hesitation. Your training partner repeatedly shoots head-outside single legs on you. You do you first four steps, but let them out before the finish so they can keep the drill going. I recommend drilling the most basic version of the reverse omoplata, sticking to the fundamental five steps, then doing this drill for a few minutes before getting into the troubleshooting. You need a feel for the move before the “next level” tips will be useful to you.
By now I hope you’ve come to understand that “advanced” doesn’t necessarily mean “complicated,” “low-percentage” or “difficult.” Many of the techniques in this chapter, and book in general, are actually fairly simple. The advanced aspect is that they may require you to know another technique to create a combination or may call for a heightened sense of timing, or expect you to be confident in your crucifix control.
With these techniques, as with all techniques, take your time to study and practice. Try to break down a seemingly complex move into its basic elements and see if each element makes sense. Figure out how and why it works. Don’t just take my word for it. This process isn’t always fast, and you will need to go through trial-and-error before you find success, but the personal understanding you gain is very rewarding and will help you to elevate your game as a whole.
This chapter excites me because we now get to explore the jiu-jitsu map, finding routes between our standard positions and our crucifix game. We will break this down into two main categories: 1) crucifix entries while passing guard and 2) crucifix entries from various guards. We’ll close out with the “Big Step,” a shortcut from front headlock to the crucifix that blends together skills from earlier in the book.
Near the beginning of the book, we touched on how to combine your guard passing game with back attacks using the spin behind. Now we go deeper into this strategy with entries to the crucifix that counter specific guards and scenarios.
Worrying about the crucifix is probably the last thing on your opponent’s mind when they have guard, but we know the triggers we want–an arm between the legs, the back exposed–and how to maneuver into position. These techniques will add another dimension to your guard passing that can catch even experienced grapplers by surprise.
As with all techniques, but these in particular, it’s important you practice until you have a good feel for the timing. Knowing when not to go for these is just as important as knowing when it’s right to try. I will give you the tips I know, but ultimately its your experience that will make the biggest difference.
Most crucifix entries we’ve shown so far have revolved around first being on top with a dominant position–side ride, sprawling, passing the guard, etc.–and having the opportunity to attack the back. The first setup in this section will follow that familiar formula, using a “connect the dots” logic like “get up from guard and side ride.” But as we get deeper into the topic, we get to switch things up, finding crucifix entries from guard, sometimes even as we defend guard passes, that bypass these intermediate positions.
The value of these techniques is that they can easily be incorporated into your standard jiu-jitsu guard games. They don’t rely on any special positions or strange grips. Many of them take advantage of what you were already trying to do, such as armdrags or defending guard passes. With a few little tweaks, you can add the crucifix dynamic. You get the benefit of surprising your opponent with the crucifix without overcommitting to all-or-nothing moves.
The big step is what I call a crucifix entry from the front headlock. As you can guess, you take a big step straight into trapping the arm. We shortcut the usually sequence of “sprawl, crossface, spin behind, side ride…” by stomping straight into the crucifix.
What makes the big step somewhat advanced is not its complexity (stomping your foot isn’t very hard) but that you potentially compromise your balance to do it. You need to be confident in your balance and lower body coordination to dig for their arm while still defending against takedowns and reversals. As you drill the other techniques in this book, you will find yourself growing more and more confident with this type of coordination. It’s a natural part of the crucifix game, so if these techniques feel too awkward at first, circle back to them later after you’ve put some reps into other facets of your crucifix.
The Big Step from the Front Headlock
From the front headlock, angle to the side and slide your chest forward as you take a big step, aiming your heel into their armpit. Stomp your heel back to catch your opponent’s arm as you spin to the kneeling crucifix.
Notice that while the arm is trapped by what would normally be the “reverse omoplata” leg, it will often still be pointing forward. You will need to move it behind your knee (making them do a thumbs down) if you want to roll into the reverse omoplata.
Big Step Versus Single Leg
Even with your opponent latched on to a single leg takedown, you can usually still big step to the opposite side. The pressure on the back of their head as you spin will likely break apart their grip on your leg. If you start to feel as though your base is compromised, transitioning back into a traditional sprawl can help you to maintain your top control. You may not achieve the crucifix right away, but at least you don’t end up on your back trying to play guard.
Big Step to Reverse Triangle
When doing the big step, you may run into trouble cleanly catching the arm. This doesn’t have to be a problem. Instead, slide your leg across the front of your opponent’s neck and lock up a reverse triangle. The last technique, big step versus the single leg, often leads to this reverse triangle since your opponent’s head and arm are already close together.
For the finish, I like to hug around the waist, fall to the side, and squeeze my legs as I bridge in. Be mindful that this can be a strong neck and/or spine crank in addition to being a choke, so be a good jiu-jiteiro and lookout for the health of your training partners.
Matt traveled up to 10th Planet Chicago to teach a no-gi Mastering the Crucifix seminar. We decided to add the entire seminar as a freebie to this instructional. Just a heads up, the footage is raw, unedited and a bit shaky (it was taken by one of the seminar attendees) so it’s a bit rough around the edges, but we think you’ll be happy to get more than 50 minutes of extra instruction.
Back when Mastering the Crucifix was originally filmed in 2013, I taught a seminar at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, PA. That is Marshal’s BJJ school, and the location of our Artechoke shoots. Until now, the seminar footage was only available to backers of our Indiegogo crowdfunding, but it is now available to everyone who purchased Mastering the Crucifix. Enjoy an extra hour of instruction!
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