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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

12 May 2011

12/05/2011 - Teaching (Escaping Side Control)

Teaching #001
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 12/05/2011

I've been asked to teach one class a week, which at the moment will be Thursdays. Naturally I've got lots of ideas on what I'd like to cover, so we'll see how it goes. I'm also hoping that posting up the lessons on the blog will help with feedback, either from people I'm teaching or from experienced BJJ instructors.

I'm not completely new to instruction, as I've been teaching undergraduate seminars at university since 2007 (e.g., like this). However, that's poetry, which is obviously quite different to showing somebody a physical skill set: at university, it's more about developing critical thinking and introducing students to writers they may not have encountered before (or alternatively, deepening their understanding and appreciation of poets they may already know well, like Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell).

I found myself teaching the Zhuan Shu Kuan class back in the day, which is a bit closer to what I'm going to be doing at GB Bristol, but ZSK is a striking martial art, which involves a whole other set of drills and techniques. That means the main experience I can draw upon is informal teaching, at things like the Warwick BJJ group, along with helping out beginners at various throwdowns.

If you've read my blog before, then it won't surprise you that I've considered how I would structure a class for quite some time (yep, there is a spreadsheet). For GB Bristol, I knew there were certain things that needed to be in place: Geeza wanted to retain some of the formality at the start of class, like lining up and bowing to the pictures on the wall, along with the standardised Gracie Barra warm-up (which Geeza said took about six minutes). As an instructor, I'll also be wearing an official GB gi, though that isn't expected of the students (unlike some GB schools in the US).

That set up gives me plenty of room to try out different things in terms of specific drills, techniques and how to run sparring. I like specific sparring, especially the way you can set parameters to focus in on particular components of a technique: e.g., when passing the guard, one person purely concerned with opening the guard, the other just looking to break posture and keep their guard closed.

For my first taught class, I thought it would be best to stick with the techniques I'm most familiar with and use all the time in sparring. In my case, that means side control escapes. I couldn't think of many drills for side control escapes, so just added one legged bridging, as that would prove relevant later. I knew I wanted to cover the absolute basics, but I also wanted to try and come up with a way of both refining the details and making them stick. At the same time, I didn't want to bore people, particularly as even beginners will probably have seen these escapes a few times before.

I'll be experimenting with various ways of teaching. I thought about breaking the technique down, drilling it in sections, then putting it back together. Preparing for that also meant I needed to try and work out the component parts of each technique, which was a useful exercise for me too. Initially I considered just teaching one technique, but I don't think I can stretch that out long enough (though perhaps I can with enough drills: again, will see what people think).

However, I decided that drilling in sections may have been too boring and disjointed, so stuck with teaching it all at once. There are definitely some techniques which I can easily split into chunks for drilling, but I don't think the fundamental escapes I planned to teach are among them. I could be wrong, so when I come to teach a lesson on side control escapes again, I'll have another look at how people have taught it in the past.

There were only six people, including Geeza, but that's unsurprising. People don't know who I am yet, as I've only been to a few classes at GB Bristol over the last few months. A small class also has the advantage of being less intimidating, which is good if like me it's your first time teaching BJJ.

To begin the basic side control escape where you shrimp to guard, I started by focusing on your hand and arm positioning. First thing to note is that they 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.

So, you need to get your arm inside, the forearm pressing against their hip. That will help block their movement, and initiate your attempts to create some space. This is also the first part of your frame, so once you have that first arm through, you're going to add your other arm. I should have emphasised that this defends against the cross-face, which I didn't do enough. I also could have noted that there are many other options for hand positioning, but that may have been somewhat overwhelming. Something to spread across later classes.

Anyway, to get that grip: grab the gi material by their shoulder, close to their neck, then pull down. Twist that arm up into their neck, keeping the elbow in: you need to be tight here, as otherwise they will go for a figure four on that arm. Once you've got the forearm into their neck, they can't press down into you, as they'll essentially be choking themselves.

Next I moved on to the legs. Your legs have two main purposes here: first, blocking your opponent 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. Personally, I like to keep my knee floating, glued to their side. This is where the one leg bridging from earlier comes in.

That makes it easier to slip my knee under as soon as they give me any space, which is something I learned from Roger. 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.

The second use for your legs is bridging. Marcelo Garcia has a handy tip for this (although the escape he is doing there is slightly different), related to increasing the power of your bridge. To do that, bring your foot right to your bum, up on your toes. That increases your range of motion, so you can really drive up into them.

Make sure you turn into 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, then you've wasted the opportunity. As soon as you shrimp out, slip the knee pressing into their side underneath. I could have added another thing here, noting that you aren't trying to lift them with your arms. Instead, you want to push off them, moving your body rather than theirs.

Once your knee is through, you need to be careful they don't immediately pass by pushing down and moving around that knee, ruining all your hard work. To prevent that, keep your hand by their shoulder. Straighten it, then add further support by bracing your other hand into their bicep (same side as the 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. That will also stop them pushing down on your knee, as their arm is trapped. It is worth trying both and seeing which you prefer, or which one the situation demands. I definitely don't want to give people the impression that there is only one way of doing things, particularly as I'm a mere noobie purple belt: I'm very much still a student myself, so teaching is helping me learn too.

Prior to the lesson, I tried to work out my timings, and estimated that demonstration would probably take around five to six minutes. I then wanted to have everyone drill it for four minutes each: I wasn't sure if that was going to be too long, so wandered around seeing if anybody was getting bored and chatting, or something like that. As it turned out, that seemed to work ok: there is a round timer on the wall, which makes it simple.

I also wanted to encourage people to let their partner know if they were making any errors, like hand positioning was off, pressure not quite right, bridging not powerful enough, etc. I didn't want people to go into autopilot while drilling.

I followed that up with a bit more drilling, for a further three minutes each. This time, I wanted to incorporate something from SBG I really like, which is progressive resistance (from 'aliveness', a term SBG founder Matt Thornton popularised). I expected it might take a bit of getting used to, especially as beginners can find it hard to dial the level of their resistance up and down. I tried explaining it by saying that you're still going to let your partner get the technique, but make them work for it: if they make any mistakes, capitalise. I hoped that would result in around 50% resistance, maybe less.

The second side control escape was the other basic one, where you go to your knees. It begins in much the same way, again establishing that frame with your arms, knee into the side and bridging. As an instructor, that meant I could review what we'd just done once again, which is useful: whenever possible, I also want to closely link whatever techniques I'm teaching.

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, then reach for their legs, bringing your leg and head up on one side. Grip the gi by their legs, then drive towards them while pulling their legs in the other direction. That should enable you to move through into side control.

Roy Dean has a modification on that, as he moves around to the side, puts his hand by the far knee, then drives forward to take them down. William Vandry, a Machado black belt, shows how you can stay straight in front of them and flat, pushing into their hips to keep them away. Vandry also puts both arms around the leg on your non-raised leg side, with his head inside, rather than trying to encircle both: looks sensible, as they have a lot more power in both of their legs than you do in both of your arms.

Once again, we did four minutes of drilling each, then another three of progressive resistance. That flowed nicely into specific sparring. For this, I wanted to use something I'd liked about how Gracie Barra Birmingham do things. Most clubs will have everyone line up against the wall and a few people go to the floor, after which everybody spars, winner staying on. That's a great workout if you're high on the club food chain, but not so great if you aren't, as you can then spend a few seconds getting passed, swept or submitted, followed by a long wait in line before you spar again.

So, I prefer the GB Brum method, which is to split people into groups. You go along the line, counting people off in groups of three. Everybody who is a number one then goes to the mat: whether or not they reach their sparring objective, they stay there for the whole round. They are then replaced by the number twos, followed by the number threes. That means everybody gets a chance to work the specific sparring.

However, a disadvantage of this is that you're mixing up weights, which is potentially dangerous. I need to consider that next time, and perhaps split people into two weight groups as well. There's also the fact that the GB Bristol mat space is enormous, so there is plenty of room for everybody to spar at the same time. Personally, I quite like the rest that the waiting-in-line type sparring offers, but then I'm lazy. ;)

Another formality Geeza uses, practiced by Roy Dean too, is having everyone line up against the wall when demonstrating a technique. Other clubs just have everyone gather round in a circle, meaning each student can pick their own best angle for seeing the technique. If class is lined up against the wall, the instructor picks the angle, so you have to make sure to demonstrate from enough angles that everyone can see (depending how big the class is, of course).

I need to remember those formalities, like lining up in belt order at the end of class, and things like doing stretches under the picture of Carlos Sr. Although I'm not personally used to formality at my previous clubs, it makes sense for continuity, as otherwise my Thursday class would stand out. I'm sure it will come with practice.

Cane Prevost's blog has long been a favourite of mine, but it is going to become especially valuable now that I'm doing some teaching. I'll also be looking over instructionals and YouTube, to see how other people demonstrate stuff I'm intending to show in class (with a particular focus on the instructional material I really like: Saulo's Jiu Jitsu Revolution and his book Jiu Jitsu University, Roy Dean's Blue Belt Requirements and the Ed Beneville books). Galvao's Drill to Win should also be handy for specific drills: that will also feed into a later review.


  1. Haha... as I read this, I was totally thinking "I need to blab about Cane's blog!" and then of course you mention it :)

    I was also intrigued that you referenced William Vandry, who teaches here in Austin (I happened to train at his school for my first 5-6 weeks or so of BJJ.)

    Congrats on being picked to teach. And thanks for the lovely rundown on basic side control escapes, which I have been flailing at lately (always).... :)


  2. Thanks!

    Main reason I'm aware of Vandry is because jnp from Bullshido, who has an awesome training log in the members section, is a Vandry brown belt.

    I need to use that basic escape more myself: I've been relying way too much on Saulo's running escape for the last few months.

  3. Nicely done, as usual, Can. A little something I picked along the way (that has nothing to do with teaching) about escaping side control:

    In part II where you go to your knees, I've gotten into the habit of grabbing their hand that was formerly nearest your legs with both your hands and backing away. Grabbing his hand prevents any controls on you (specifically, setting up D'Arce, Anaconda, Peruvian Necktie chokes, and the like) and backing away prevents them from getting top turtle control.

    I find this especially useful against bigger guys.

    Just food for thought.

  4. "I'll be experimenting with various ways of teaching. I thought about breaking the technique down, drilling it in sections, then putting it back together."

    I love this approach.

  5. Well done on the teaching slot. Says a lot about Geeza the he is open to letting new blood run a class. Good luck though I'm sure you need it.

  6. @Megan: That was my original plan. I thought I could start with freeing the near arm, then move on to positioning the second arm, then go into blocking the mount and finally discuss bridging.

    I decided against it as I thought it could get dull for the class, though I guess I could have still done it, but just cut the drilling time down for each bit. Might well give it a go next time I teach those escapes, and see what reaction I get.

    @Seymour: Thanks! Yeah, I thought that was pretty cool of him, considering he's only met me six times before. Open-minded guy, as he's also given me a fairly free rein on what I teach.

  7. Congrats on being asked to teach - - - I'll be interested to see how teaching changes your perception and understanding of bjj techniques.

  8. Thanks! Me too, Dolph: it will be especially interesting when I get to areas where I'm a lot less confident, like guard passing.

  9. Congrats! I started teaching at blue belt. I had the luxury of having my class right after Matt Thorntons so I mostly just built on his stuff for the first year. You'll be surprised at how much you learn from coaching. I think most purple belts should be actively coaching. You'll be a great coach I'm sure.

  10. Thanks Cane! Your awesome coaching blog has been really helpful, especially this. My dream would be to do what you do and video every class, then put it online with some textual context and commentary.

  11. @Jim: Oops, thought I'd already published your comment, so only just hit 'publish' now. Got confused as I'm relying on phone internet at the mo. ;)

    Thanks for the tip: I'll add that in next time. I'm planning to build up some kind of lesson cycle, but I'm not yet sure how long it will be or what exactly it will include (though my vague plan is to cover off basic positions, leaning towards my favourites, discussing defence, maintenance and offence over three weeks).