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Opening Up Your Top Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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