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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

14 June 2012

14/06/2012 - Teaching (Running Escape from Side Control)

Teaching #059
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 14/06/2012

Last time I taught escaping side control, I covered the basic options. I added another reminder in the warm-up, by again including that continuous side control escape drill. The technique for tonight takes the same principle of bridging and turning, but in the other direction.

This is what I would refer to as the running escape, as I first saw it on Saulo's DVD. He touches on it briefly in that first series, then in much more detail on his follow up set. As always with BJJ terminology, there are plenty of other names for the same thing. For example, when I mentioned the running escape to Kev at RGA Bucks, he knew it as the 'coffee grinder' (Jean Jacques Machado's name for the running escape).

Rather than gripping under your head and far arm as in orthodox side control, for tonight's scenario your opponent is using near side grips (i.e., an arm under your head and by the same side hip). That means that it is very difficult to bridge towards them and shrimp, because they've trapped that side. However, you can still bridge away from them, as that side is completely open.

A simplified version of the running escape starts in much the same way as an orthodox escape: bridge to make some initial space. Your aim is to create a gap so that you can turn on your side, getting your hand past their near shoulder. Use that hand as a block, then step out with your bottom leg. Be careful you don't elbow your partner in the face as you do that, especially if you're pushing off their shoulder with your hand.

You can either try and quickly turn from there, or walk your legs around towards their head. When you've walked far enough, turn to your knees by bringing your top leg over. That means you are now facing them. Braulio prefers to stay close, immediately bringing his arm up into their armpit. His reasoning is that they will often try to take your back as you turn. If as Braulio suggests you stick your arm up, you can then take their back instead. You could alternatively stay facing them on your knees, working from that position, or turn and drop into an open guard.

After the class had drilled that version, I went into a bit more detail on the running escape. The defensive position you're looking to reach is turned away from them, with one leg over the other, foot based out. Your top elbow is clamped to that stepping leg (your forearm should be glued to your upper leg), while your other hand goes behind your head for defence. This can be a handy place to catch your breath, although it can also be tempting to stall.

I've been prone to doing that a lot in the past, but you need to move on to the actual escape. Push off the floor with your back foot, using that to move your body forward, your hips raised. Base on your head and shoulder, then turn your top knee inwards. Continue the rotation until you can recover open or half guard.

You need to keep five things in mind while in your defensive posture. First, don't let them sneak an arm around your waist. If they get an arm in, you aren't going to be able to turn away and free yourself. Should they get an arm inside, you'll have to either wriggle your elbow and knee back underneath, or shift to a different escape. It's possible you may be able to roll them, as when somebody reaches too deeply in turtle, but most likely they will start making space to insert their leg.

That leads into the second point: be careful they don't take your back. This is the most common attack people have done to me when I've tried it. If they can lift you up enough to slide their bottom leg through (if they have an arm around your waist, this becomes much more likely), you're in trouble. If it does happen, stay tight and don't let them get that second hook in. Your elbow is already by your hip and knee to block the first hook, which means you can use the hand of that same arm to help protect your other hip from their second hook. You might also be able to move into turtle and roll them, but that needs good timing and control of their arm.

Third, watch for chokes. Saulo confidently states that they are never going to be able to choke you if you duck your head, bringing it next to your arm to block their entry. However, you can't just lie there and assume you're immune to being choked: you still need to take care they aren't able to set anything up. Should they get hold of a collar, you can try yanking that same collar outwards to remove their grip, but it may be too late if they've already got a solid grasp and started cinching the collar tight against your neck.

Fourth, time your escape, staying sensitive to their weight distribution. If they are driving into you with lots of pressure, it will be hard to make space and turn. A good moment to attempt the escape is when they are looking to attack or transition to another position. Often, there will be a brief moment before they start when they take their weight off you. That is the time to spring the escape.

Finally, as you turn towards them, you need to make sure you secure the position. If you aren't careful, they can just keep moving round and put you back in side control. That's where I tend to get caught. If you're having trouble, you could instead try going to turtle, or perhaps use the principles of guard recovery: block their shoulder and bicep, get your legs in the way, hook their leg into half guard, etc.

It is possible that the person you are training with won't often use near side grips from side control. Speaking personally, I tend to go for the orthodox grip under the head and the far arm. That doesn't mean you can't use the running escape, it simply means you have to put yourself into position, forcing them to use near grips. All you need to do is make enough space that you can turn away and curl into a ball.


  1. Sir, I must say, I just happened to stumble upon your bbj tracker and blogs. I'm AMAZED at how thorough you are! I've read through a few of your blogs and am impressed with how humble you are. It even motivated me to start my own bjj tracker (though I doubt I'll do any blogging). I train under Leandro Nyza out of Honolulu. Your threads have humbled me a bit, as I only have 10 hours in formal bjj, but felt I deserved a blue belt. Only because I've been teaching the Army Combatives level 1 and 2 classes (40 and 80 hour blocks of instruction, respectively) for several years. The level 1 and 2 courses were developed by the Gracies and is virtually identical to their blue belt curriculum. I am a level 4 instructor (highest the Army offers). The main difference is we train with an Army uniform rather than a gi. Not surprisingly, I'm an even match for mid level blue belts and spanking low level blue belts, all while wearing a white belt with no stripes. Like most, I have been wanting that blue belt, but reading through your posts has made me take a another look at my own limitations. It also reminded me of why I'm doing this, because of love it and not to get more color around my waste (which I'm sure is still a nice consequence). I've submitted to what I think I deserve and have chosen to trust and respect Leandro's way. Besides, how much better is it that this lowly (however misleading) white belt makes the blue belts look silly? Purple belt is my (realistic) goal. Not so much the belt itself but rather the ability to perform at that level. Thanks for your dedication. It is extremely motivating, and a fantastic resource!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Aaron: I'm glad the blog has been of some use to you. :)

      For those eager to receive their next belt, I think it is worth considering why they are so keen. What do they think will change when they get that belt? They aren't going to be suddenly more skilled than the day before. If they were having trouble with a white belt yesterday, that same white belt is probably going to cause them the same trouble today.

      There are only two good reasons I can think of to want your next belt. Firstly, you're destroying everybody in competition at your current belt and want a new challenge. The simple solution in that situation is to keep competing at bigger tournaments until you either meet your match or get promoted. 'Winning' in a class setting means nothing, as that is just training.

      The second reason is that you might be an awesome teacher, but don't feel your current belt gives you the authority to teach. The solution there is to ask if you can teach the kids class. When you've proven yourself there, hopefully you can teach beginners, or ask to help out the main instructor in their classes. That way, you'll have lots of relevant teaching experience for when you do get a belt rank that allows you to teach (or you discover teaching is harder than it looks).

  2. Once again you nailed it. Most of the time I have been training has been instructing beginners and level 2's who are somewhat more versed. It is said (and I have to agree from a technical perspective) that graduates of our level 2 course perform at a low blue belt level. As your tracker depicts, it took you 131.5 hours of mat time to achieve blue belt. Now imagine that 131.5 hours condensed into 3 weeks. It's 120 hours but since it's condensed require a little less time for warm-up and review.

    But correct, I have felt wearing that white belt has resulted in a little bitterness from the low blue belts. As we're rolling, I enter instructor mode, and forget about the color of our belts. I see only my technique in contrast to his/hers. It's habit (and rather unselfish I think) to start giving them hints, as well as physical opportunities to capitalize on something. Trying to help, then realize they see me as a white belt, I can't help but assume they may think I'm being condescending or even cocky. I have trained hundreds of Soldiers to have the confidence to engage the enemy in close combat, and feel relieved when a couple of students have finally tapped me; thinking those are two less Soldiers I need to worry about in combat and feeling I have succeeded as an instructor. I could be wrong, but I don't sense the same appreciation for advice from these blue belts. Is that their problem or am I overstepping my grade?

    Agreed instructing is a different ball game. It took me a while to get it down, an have the confidence not only that I know what I'm talking about, but being able to also teach in a practical setting to demonstrate what I'm teaming really works, and being able to reach all te students knowing they all learn differently. It took an additional 160 hours at the level 3 course and 160 hours at the level 4 course to fine tune not only my teaching but my technical application. Additionally, an 80 hour total Army instructor course and 40 hour small group instructor course really helped with delivery and pointing out my teaching "crutches" and ignorance for different personalities. But what helped the most, was my mentor (level 4 but also purple belt BJJ) throwing me in as lead instructor in a class of 73 Soldiers! Knowing how to effectively communicate to students is key, and my years of doing that has given me the confidence to at the very least teach low blue belts. Mid blue belts, I think my attitude would change more to sharing knowledge than teaching.

    Here's the thing, on the mat, I don't think the blues appreciate my intent. Off the mat in the locker room, once I've explained my background, they have that expression of "ahhhhh, now it makes sense." I still think they feel a wee bit embarrassed on the mat though.

    My dilemma, do I horde my knowledge and have them learn the hard way, which may either humble them or increase their competitiveness, or even possibly foster resentment, or continue to risk them thinking I'm a "know-it-all?" I feel I'm doing the responsible thing, but it's starting to make me feel a little uncomfortable as I don't want them to feel "discouraged."

    Any further input is much appreciated. Please take your time. I know you're a busy guy. Shootz!

  3. It is worth keeping in mind that BJJ does not have a standardised system of promotion. At present, it is very much down to the instructor. Also, individuals vary in terms of how quickly they progress. I was judged a blue belt after about a year and a half, in which I trained 131.5 hours. Other people might train far less or far more to get their blue: there is no hard and fast rule.

    Your experience as an instructor in the military is clearly both valuable and relevant, but I'd recommend you don't start seeing it as a direct equivalent to BJJ rank. Judo black belts, good wrestlers and experienced SAMBO players are all nevertheless BJJ white belts. They'll probably progress faster in BJJ due to their background, but they have to meet their BJJ instructor's criteria first.

    So, despite all your experience, you are a BJJ white belt. Until your instructor decides you are ready for your blue belt, it would therefore be sensible to be respectful of the higher ranks at your school. Even if you know you can outgrapple a higher rank, they aren't generally going to appreciate being given advice by a white belt. As you say, people are going to think you're a know-it-all, even though you most probably could teach them something useful given your experience.

    So, my recommendation would be asking your instructor if you could help teach the kids class. That establishes you as among the teaching staff. From there, probably when you get your blue belt, you could ask if you could help out teaching the beginners, perhaps as an assistant to a purple/brown/black belt instructor. Humility will serve you well.

    I'm a purple, but I have often been in classes taught by blues. I respect them as the instructor, so I don't say anything unless I'm asked. I've also had the privilege of brown and black belts attending my classes: they've extended me the same courtesy, even though I'm sure they could teach the same techniques much better than me.

    I'll finish off with a few links, which will give you an idea of the general consensus on the topic around the web:

    Sherdog: Is it ok to teach?
    How do I know if?

    Jiu Jitsu Forums: What belt do you need for teaching?
    When should you teach

    The Underground:I miss teaching BJJ
    Get rid of the belt system?

    Hope that helps! :)