Dec 06

All white belts should know these side control escapes

“I can’t breathe. He’s too heavy. This sucks. I need space.”

All those thoughts and more go through your mind when you’re trapped under side control. It’s rough. Especially when you’re rolling with someone who understands pressure. They know how to make you feel every last bit of discomfort. They know how to make you wish you were somewhere else. And they know to make you tap to pressure alone.

Have you ever been in that situation? Whoa, if you haven’t, it’s only because you haven’t been training long enough. I know because I’ve been there more times than I can count.

It’s Not A Fun Place To Be

You want to escape. Hell, you want to do more than just escape. You want to do it easily and effortlessly. You want people to start believing that you simply can’t be held down.

Wouldn’t that be great?

When you get to that level of ability, that’s when you really start to have fun. It’ll mean that you’ll be able to try out all of those new and fancy techniques because you won’t be concerned about getting passed. That’ll allow you to truly explore the art and discover where you want to focus.

So You Should Escape

Listen: the title of this post promised you 4 effective side control escapes. And you’re going to get them below. It will even include added details and conceptual focus.

These escapes will give you a firm foundation for escaping the position once it’s been established (the hardest thing to do). You’re going to have to drill them though. It’s going to take time, but it’s worth it. In fact, it’s a better investment for your time than learning any advanced technique.

Hell, I wish I had spent more time drilling side control escapes when I was a white belt. Because being able to escape bad positions gives you freedom.

Essential Elements for the Side Control Escapes

Every last one of these escapes require two things. One, you must create space. And two, you must move within the space you create. Those two essential elements is what we are going to focus on in this quick review of technique.

Escape #1

  • The elbow frame against the hips will help you maintain space once you create it. Without it, escape will not be easy.
  • Rolling the head will help you create space. The body always follows where the head leads, and when you move someone’s head, their body will naturally follow.
  • The bridge and shrimp are used to create more space, and you have to move back in while that space is still present.

Escape #2

  • The elbow frame serves the same purpose here.
  • Space is created by stepping away and rotating your hips towards your opponent. This reduces the flexibility requirements for your leg, and give you another space to weave the foot inside.

Escape #3

  • Rolling their shoulder towards you will create a small pocket of space and shift their weight slightly over you. It’s a small detail, but it works.
  • Bridge towards your opponent. That creates space, and it allows you to bring the arm that was framed against their hips under their body.
  • Use both arms to scoop yourself out as you roll. This movement should only be done while you’re elevated. You must create space and then move within that space.

Escape #4

  • This time, you pull their shoulder away from you to maintain space. The constant pull will make it hard for them to follow you once you start moving yourself.
  • Lifting one shoulder and then the other, as you walk backwards will help you create space. That movement is otherwise known as the shoulder crawl, and it has broad applications.

I didn’t outline the techniques as I have done in the past. But these little elements are things that you can focus on and apply elsewhere. For the actual techniques, watch the video and go drill. Being able to escape from side control is liberating, and you can never get good enough at the basics.

Essential Elements for Side Control Escapes

Oh, and let me know if this was helpful. I’m also willing to do requests.

Nov 21

Three basic armbar drills that must be learned

Every technique begins with movement.

And even the most basic technique isn’t always easily learned. It takes time to develop the correct movement because Jiu-jitsu is so different than most common activities. That’s the reason why drills exist.

They allow us to isolate specific movements and repeat them over and over again until they’re mastered. That’s the true basis of excellence when it comes to Jiu-jitsu. Master the movement, and the world opens up to you. You can start playing, and that’s incredibly fun.

Armbar Drills for White Belts

If you’ve started Jiu-jitsu recently, and you don’t know the three armbar drills in the video below, it’s time to rectify that.  They each teach you specific movements that are necessary for the future of your development.

So study the video right now, and we’ll break it down afterward.

First Drill

This is the most common drill, but it’s common for a reason. It works, and you will benefit from mastering it.

  • In the drill, the first step is to post both hands on the shoulder, surrounding the arm you want to attack.
  • Use that post to elevate yourself so that you can rotate into S Mount, with one knee pressed against their ear and the other knee pressed against their armpit.
  • Lean slightly towards their hips while keeping your knees pinched tight. That will shift your weight off of the leg closest to their head, making it light enough to easily move.
  • Slowly slide the leg that was pressed against their ear over the head and pinch your knees tight.
  • Fall back into the finish position, and then disengage to reset back to mount.

Second Drill

This armbar drill is less common, but it really complements the first drill extremely well. Add it to your arsenal, if it’s not already there.

  • Your partner is going to defend the armbar by clasping their hands in some fashion.
  • Grab the sleeve or elbow of their far arm and pull it towards you with the hand that is closest to their hips. Your goal is to make that arm immobile.
  • Plant your other hand on the mat. That’s your post. It’ll help you keep balance as you make your next transition.
  • Rotate your hips across their chest. If done right, it should place you in S Mount on the other side of their body.
  • From there, lean towards their hips, and bring your top leg (the one pressed against their ear) over their head, before falling back into the finish position.
  • Release and let them defend again.

Third Drill

The armbar from closed guard is fundamental in Jiu-jitsu, but the transition to the arm can be difficult to learn. I’ve seen so many students struggle with it, but once you simplify it by taking out the hand grips, it becomes easier to learn. That’s the purpose of this drill.

  • The key to the drill is tight transition. At all times, you must keep control of their arm using only your legs.
  • That starts with the first step. Place one foot on their hip, and immediately pinch that knee against the back of their arm.
  • Bridge off their hip, which will elevate your hips and increase your control of their arm.
  • Straight your other leg and rotate it high into their armpit, before clamping down to immobilize their upper body.
  • Slide your first leg in front of their face, pinch your knees, and lift your hips for the imaginary finish.
  • Reset back to closed guard.

So with that, you’re able to see the drills in action, listen to an explanation, and read a written breakdown. Whew, that’s a lot, right.

Now it’s all up to you. Go out, grab someone and master the movements.

Sep 20

The fundamental laws of the triangle choke

One of the biggest issues beginners face when learning the triangle choke is locking their legs in the proper way.That’s especially true when physical attributes hinder the process like when you have shorter legs. There are ways to work around that issue though, and when you learn how, the fundamental laws of the choke will be revealed.

First of all, some assumptions have to be thrown away:

  • You do not have to properly triangle your legs to finish the choke.
  • And you do not have to pull their trapped arm across your body.

Instead, your focus must always remain on the fact that your intent is to choke someone out, and to accomplish that, the only thing that you must do is cut off blood flow to the brain.

Old School Choking Mechanics

The old school method focused on the position of the arm because of how force was generated with the legs. It was either squeezing the knees tight (adduction) or pulling the head down and elevating with the hip.

Both methods work, and they were chokes, but they required significant amounts of force which easily led to muscle strain.

If you increase the amount of force that can be generated without effort though, the arm position becomes irrelevant.

The Four Stages of a Triangle

An early philosophy that I was exposed to was the four stages of a triangle. It’s a conceptual framework for understanding the triangle both offensively and defensively, and it’s been a part of my thought process ever since white belt.

The Stages:

  • Threaten – The first moment when the legs going over the shoulder, trapping one arm inside and one arm outside.
  • Lock – When the legs are triangled, strengthening the stability of the position and the threat of the choke.
  • Angle – When the ideal angle for the finish has been found.
  • Tap – All hope is lost, and there’s no escape in sight.

There are exceptions to this progression, but overall, it’s solid framework to work with.

The wiggle room lies in the middle two stages. How you configure your legs and the angle you use to finish can be changed without losing the effectiveness of the choke.

What Must Happen

There are many triangle variations but even among them all, there are some things that must happen in order for the choke to work:

  • You must control posture. (Because otherwise your opponent will be able to posture hard and escape easy.)
  • You must control distance. (Because otherwise you will be stacked hard and that will make generating force harder.)
  • You must apply pressure as soon as possible. (Because otherwise you will leave openings for escape setups.)
  • You must effectively block the carotid arteries on both sides of the neck. (Because that’s only way to choke someone out.)

Those laws are simple and irrefutable, but how you accomplish them will depend on your knowledge and imagination.

Jun 21

Technique Brainstorms – Armbar, Triangle and Canto Strangle

Technique Brainstorms - Armbar, Triangle and Canto Strangle

Last week at Randori, we set a drilling challenge for the students. They had to perform at least 100 armbars from closed guard outside of class. It’s a high goal but interesting things happen when you aim high.

That was true in my case.

I joined in on the challenge, and to make it more fun for me, I started playing with variables of the submission. I modified grips, I cycled through variations, and I landed on an interesting possibility. That was the start of the innovation.

The Armbar

As I played with different armbar variations, one of the setups used was a cross sleeve and tricep grip. It was initiated by using hip movement to pass the arm across your belly button to the position where the armbar can be threatened.

There were two issues though.

  1. Once the arm was passed, the arm had to be attacked immediately or a grip had to transfer for posture control. It left a wide probability of escape.
  2. The establishment of the two on one grip was a clear trigger. As soon as you grip, they’ll know that you want the arm and they’ll be able to make it difficult.

With those issues identified, the question became: Is there a way to address them? And an answer occurred.

All that was required was the change of a grip and a movement. The hand that was controlling the tricep switched to the collar (palm down). That gave a lot of control over posture, and the sleeve grip by itself is a weaker call for action. That switch though meant that it was no longer possible to easily control their threatened arm. It had become an even battle, arm against arm.

So the solution was to bring the legs into the fight and make it unfair again. Putting both feet on the hips and pushing as you pull with your hands off balances their body, isolates their arm, and makes it easy to transition into the attack.

The Triangle

For every attack, there is a counter, and understanding the counter opens the door to recounters.

This triangle specifically geared for when someone tried their absolute best to keep their elbow tight to their side. In that case, you exaggerate the pull then release. Their arm will fly back and there will be an opportunity for the triangle.

The Canto Strangle

The canto strangle is an awesome submission. It was only shown to me once, but I’ve wanted it since. For that reason, one of my projects is to figure out a way to make it work for me. This is the current attempt at that goal using the foot on hips to create the required space.

May 03

Interview with Julius Park on inspiring excellence within your gym

Julius Park is the owner of Crazy 88 in Maryland, and he has built an extraordinary program. The proof of that lies in his students. Too many to count have become forces to be reckoned with and among their ranks are several World Champions.

I’ve also personally spent many hours training at his gym, and I have a lot of respect for the focus and vision he brings to Jiu-jitsu instruction. That’s why this interview is focused on gym leadership.

How do you inspire excellence with your gym? This interview approaches that question from a captain’s point of view but philosophy isn’t something that always must come from the top. That’s why this is an important topic. What we tell ourselves and what we tell others matters, and it can affect the culture and the growth of a gym.

When one of your students loses a match, what’s the most important thing that must be communicated to them and what must never be said?

There should be an honest assessment of the match. Sometimes this occurs right after the match and other times when the athlete is in a better state of mind and more receptive. The athlete can only get better with feedback and its up to the coach to provide feedback beyond WIN = GOOD and LOSS = BAD.

I think its very dangerous for coaches to put the locus of control outside of the athlete or allow excuses. Sometimes the excuses are real, like the referee really could have made a bad call. But because you don’t have any control over that, you want your athletes focusing on what they can control, rather than what they can’t.

The one thing you never do and that is NEVER put the opponent on a pedestal. I often hear athletes say stuff like “Oh, he’s been a Blue Belt for a long time” or “He won the World Championship” or even worse “He trains at XYZ”. You should never put the opponent on some sort of fundamentally superior position to your athlete. After all, you’ll eventually have to fight them again and hopefully win!

What ideas and philosophies should be reinforced over and over again to build an environment that inspires excellence within a gym?

World class effort. Give recognition to individuals who are working hard towards their goals.

Actions > Words. Self-explanatory.

Be a person others can depend on and look up to. Character of the student base will play a larger role in the long term development of the school than technique or skill.

Pick a lofty goal and hold people accountable to it. I’ve noticed this a lot recently where schools will purposely choose goals that are easily attainable or not quantifiable. Once this goal has been set, its important to make sure people are all working towards it. For example, if you say you want to have a competitive school, but everyone is only training 2x a week – there is obviously a disconnect between reality and the goal.

What do you consider the best methodologies for drilling and practice?

This is a very broad question so I’m not sure how to answer it.

I would say that the purpose of practice is to make people better. Sometimes, the student needs to work on technique. Other times, strategy. Maybe the students need more conditioning. And sometimes the students even need to work on their mental toughness. A practice emphasizing mental toughness is much different than one focusing on technique. So the best methodology is always changing based on what the student base needs. This requires the instructor to always keep an eye on whats occurring on the mats.

I think there should be emphasis on particular systems and these systems should be developed in the right order. For example, I have a White Belt student right now who is focusing on Worm Guard. It actually works pretty well on the other White Belts who are dumbfounded by this. But as soon as he faces non-White Belts, he gets passed easily because his De La Riva and Spider Guard aren’t there.

There should always be an emphasis on Fundamentals (Fundamentals meaning Fundamentals… not Fundamentals meaning everything that was taught before 1996).

I know that you’ve often recommended that your students read specific books, so what are your five best books for inspiring excellence?

Talent Is Overrated, Outliers (I personally found this boring but other people really like it and its a great introduction to the idea of dedicated practice), Mindset, Turning Pro, and The Inner Game of Tennis

I’d also recommend the first 2 chapters of The First 20 Hours

Have you noticed any specific benefits when your students have read those books and others that you’ve recommended?

The benefit of the books for the people who have read them is that it helps students realize that a lot of the patterns and frustrations that they face are commonplace across different fields. It also helps that put their goals and training into context. For example, if you read Outliers, you should understand that you won’t be UFC champion or a BJJ Black Belt in 4 years if you’re training 2x a week.

From a coaching perspective its good too b/c it allows the coach to identify students who are willing to listen to the coach’s advice.

Is there anything that you would like to add on the topic?

I think that everyone should try to pursue excellence. Of course, not everyone is going to become a world champion but everyone can reach the next level of their own development – whether its becoming more fit, more technical, more perceptive, etc. Its the active pursuit of self-improvement that is the most important. It will keep you motivated even though it will take time and be uncomfortable. Its worth it.

Apr 18

Triangles, triangles oh boy

Earlier today, I taught a seminar at Randori on how to improve your finish rate with triangles, and this post is about what was covered.


The seed of innovation lies in the deep understanding of fundamentals. That’s why we looked at the triangle from a variety of angles in order to create that seed.

It started off with a review of the push pull entry to the triangle because it emphasizes how the hips should be used to attack. I’ve always likened it to how a crocodile treads the water right before it shoots out of the depths, clamps onto its prey, and then drags it down to its demise.

Then we switched gears and went over posturing up to neutralize the effectiveness of the triangle. It was important because posture is the first thing that must be addressed whenever the triangle threatened.  If you’re on top, posturing up is an easy way to kill the threat, and if you’re on bottom, killing posture is an easy way to keep the threat alive. So after going over it from the perspective of the top person, we went over methods of controlling posture once the triangle is threatened.

That format of teaching a counter and then teaching the counter to the counter was the focus of the first portion of the seminar. Also in those recounters, there was a recurring theme in a few of them because the creation of frames against the hip in order to suspend movement occurred more than once.

After that, we concluded with  triangle entries from various positions and the micro adjustments that can make the submission more lethal.

Triangle Elements

(This is something I wrote awhile ago on the topic of triangles to focus my mind on the essentials.)


  • Arm In / Arm Out
    • Whenever the one arm is inside of the legs and one is outside, the triangle is possible.
  • Posture Control
    • Whenever a triangle is initiated, posture must be controlled.
  • Choke Theory
    • The choke works by cutting off one side of the neck with your leg and the other side with your opponent’s shoulder.
  • Angled Leverage
    • Changing the angle of your hips will apply greater force to the opponent’s arm, driving it deeper into their neck.
Common Problems
  • Stacking
    • Opponents will stack you on your head which kills the strength of your hips and reduces your comfort in the position.
  • Hard Posture
    • Opponents will look up and push their hips forward to create separation between their neck and your hip.
  • Enforcing Space
    • Opponents will attempt to brace their trapped arm against their knee or wrap it under your body to enforce space in the triangle.


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