Slideyfoot's BJJ Teaching Journal: Escaping Side Control

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New BE Grappling Team member Slideyfoot shares his reflections on techniques as an instructor purple belt under Roger Gracie and Kev Capel at Artemis BJJ.

This post is by new Bloody Elbow Grappling Team member, Can Sönmez, aka Slideyfoot. Can began training in 2006 at the Roger Gracie Academy in London, UK. He received his purple belt from Roger Gracie and Kev Capel in March 2011. Can now teaches and trains at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, still regularly travelling up to Aylesbury to train with his instructor, Kev Capel. Along with Artemis BJJ and his blog on, Can also runs, a hub for charity grappling marathons all over the world.

Ever since I started BJJ back in 2006 at the Roger Gracie Academy, I have written extensive technical notes and posted them on my blog after every class. I come from an academic background, so that approach has worked well for me over the years. When I began teaching as a purple belt in 2011, I took the same approach, but this time in reverse. Rather that writing up the class afterwards (although I still take notes, in order to try and improve my teaching), I write my lesson plans in advance.

This year, the opportunity came up to co-found my own club with a fellow purple belt. We started up Artemis BJJ on the 27th January 2014, in the centre of Bristol, UK. I was approached by Bloody Elbow to cross-post my lesson plans on their site, which I'm happy to do, although I should emphasize that as a purple belt I'm certainly not an authority on technique. However, hopefully these lesson plans help beginners and perhaps result in some useful feedback on improving my own lessons.

We decided that for February, we would pick side control as our position of the month at Artemis BJJ. I like to start off by showing escapes, so my first class is always on the basic guard recovery under side control. Along with the running escape, this is the side control escape I personally use the most.

I start by focusing on hand and arm positioning, as the person on the bottom. First thing to note is the person on top will want to kill your near arm. This is bad for you, because it means you can't stop them shifting up towards your head. From there, they can make as much space as they want and pass to mount.

I would suggest getting your elbow inside their knee, your forearm pressing against their hip: this is a bit more reliable that grabbing the gi material, as that is loose. They can therefore potentially still bring their body over the top and onto your hand, then collapse your arm.

Putting your forearm into their hip will help block their movement and initiate your attempts to create some space. It should also help you prevent them moving to north south, as if you clamp your arm by their side, your body will move with them if they try to switch position.

Keep in mind that having your forearm by their hip like that does leave you more open to the cross-face. You could instead use your arm to block inside their cross-facing arm, which will make it harder for them to apply shoulder pressure. This is a method Saulo demonstrates in his book, which has advantages, but personally I prefer to block the hip.


A comparison of different hand placement in side control bottom, screen captured from a variety of videos.

With your other hand, grab the gi material by their shoulder, close to their neck. Twist that arm up into their neck, keeping the elbow in tight; you need to be careful here, as if you leave any space, they may be able to go for a figure four on that arm. Once you've got your forearm into their neck, they can't press down into you effectively, because they'll end up choking themselves. Note that this is just a frame. You don't want to start pushing and reaching with your arm, as that may leave you vulnerable. Reach too far and they may be able to shove your arm to one side and set up a head-and-arm choke.

Moving on to the lower body, your legs have two main purposes here. The first is blocking your opponent from getting to mount. Raise your near knee and drive it into their side. The idea is to wedge them between your knee and the arm you have by their hip, closing off the space they need to get their leg across your body for mount. There are a few variations on how to use that knee, which largely comes down to preference.

Personally, I like to keep my knee floating, glued to their side. That makes it easier to slip my knee under as soon as they give me any space, which is something I learned from Roger Gracie, back when I trained at the headquarters in London. Many people prefer to cross their foot over their knee, which is something I used to do in the past as well. However, as this long Sherdog thread discusses, that can leave you open to a footlock and also limit your mobility. Then again, you can see it used at the highest levels, like here at the Mundials a few years ago.

The second use for your legs is bridging. Marcelo Garcia has a handy tip for this (although be aware he is doing a different escape in that video), related to increasing the power of your bridge. Marcelo recommends you bring your heels right to your bum, then push up off your toes. That increases your range of motion, so you can really drive into the person on top.

Marcelo Garcia Submission Grappling Series 3 - Escapes (via WorldMartialArts)

Make sure you turn towards them as you bridge, rather than just straight up. This will help the next part, which is to shrimp out as you come back down. That's why you've created space in the first place. If you simply plopped back down after bridging, then you've wasted your brief escape window. As soon as you shrimp out, slip the knee pressing into their side underneath. Note you aren't trying to lift them with your arms, as that takes a lot of energy. Instead, you want to push off them and move your own body away, rather than straining to push their body upward.

Once your knee is through (ideally to their hip on the other side), you need to be careful they don't immediately pass right back to side control by pushing your knee down and moving around, ruining all your hard work. To prevent that, keep the hand of your neck-framing arm by their shoulder. Straighten that arm, then add further support by bracing your other hand into their bicep (on the same side as their blocked shoulder). Your new frame should create a barrier to their pass, giving you enough time to recover your guard, or even move into a submission.

Alternatively, you can control their arm with your hip-bracing arm as you escape, like Roy Dean demonstrates in Blue Belt Requirements. As you move to recover guard, you can use your hip-bracing arm to slide up their arm, pulling it out of position and ideally trapping their arm by your body. That should stop them pushing down on your knee, as their arm can no longer reach it. Try both options and see which you prefer, or which one the situation demands.

To fully recover your guard, you will normally want to get your legs out from under their body. Shrimp out in the direction of the leg you're trying to free, until you can swing your leg around their back. This may take multiple shrimps, depending on your flexibility and relative size to your partner. In order to shrimp, you'll probably want to base off something. If you have only managed to slip your knee inside and there isn't much space, you can use that as a basing point, pushing off their body to make space.

Your leg that is still on the outside can also come into play here. The two main options I use are either putting that leg around their back, or I try to hook it around their leg. If you like half guard, that means you could start working it from here. I generally look to get back to closed guard or open guard.

If you've been able to get a bit more space when you slid your knee inside, you may be able to put the foot of that leg in between theirs. If so, you'll be able to push off your foot, effectively shrimping as normal. It is also worth keeping in mind that you do not have to shrimp all the way back to closed guard: if you're comfortable with open guard, then you could go straight to butterfly or one of the numerous variations available.

The logical next step is the second basic escape, from much the same starting position as the guard recovery. The difference is that you turn to your knees rather than look for guard. Roy Dean is a useful reference point, so I normally draw on his method from Blue Belt Requirements. If I only have an hour to teach, I'll stick with just the guard recovery, but in an hour and a half, I'll add the turn to the knees as well.

It begins in much the same way as the shrimp back to guard, again establishing that frame with your arms, knee into the side and bridging. After you bridge and shrimp this time, you're going to do something different with the arm you have into their neck. Rotate it under their armpit, reaching around their back.

As you reach with that arm, you also want to turn to your knees, bringing one leg under the other. Roy Dean's method is to shift out to the side, ending up crouched next to them. From there, he reaches for the far knee and drives forward, moving around their legs to take side control.

Another typical method is to sprawl out after turning instead, leaving you square on, but I personally am not keen on that position. I find it is more awkward to crawl up into a strong base from there. However, it is a totally valid variation and the first one I learned: experiment to see what works best for you.

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