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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

11 May 2014

11/05/2014 - Women's Class at Artemis BJJ (Upa Escape from Mount)

Teaching #152
Artemis BJJ (Longwell Green), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 11/05/2014

Encouraging more women into BJJ has been a major goal of mine for many years, but today could be the start of my first real chance to do something direct about it, as opposed to just talking about it a lot online. That's because today is the first women's class at Artemis BJJ: the plan is to run this every Sunday from 11:00-12:00, completely free [Update May 2014: Unfortunately that plan hit a hiccup, as the venue isn't able to provide space for the women's class going forward. However, I'm in the process of finding an alternative, as I'm determined to keep these classes going :)!]. My goal is to remove as many barriers as possible for women interested in BJJ, which should hopefully mean more women are able to try out the sport and see if it's something they'd like to investigate further.

The two biggest barriers are probably close body contact and cost. I'm hoping that by making it free and women-only , that deals with the first problem and helps with the second. Of course, the class isn't truly women-only yet because I'm the one teaching it. I'd like to rectify that in future, once there is a woman at the club who is interested in teaching, but I'm happy to head up the classes until that happens.

I thought carefully about what to teach, eventually deciding that a basic mount escape would be the way to go. That's the first lesson in the Gracie Combatives syllabus (a course which has its flaws, mainly the online grading, but as a curriculum it is well structured) and it's the first lesson Rorion would teach back in the beginnings of international BJJ. I also went for that same technique when I taught what is essentially my first women's class, over at Aro Ling almost exactly two years ago. Handily, that means I can copy and paste chunks from my previous entry on the topic. ;)

So like last time, I'll start this post by discussing Rorion Gracie's seminal intro lesson in a little more detail. Rorion is largely responsible for expanding Brazilian jiu jitsu outside of his native Brazil. In 1979, he travelled to the US for a second time, with the intention of establishing BJJ in North America.

Initially he found work as an extra in Hollywood, while teaching BJJ out of his garage. Thanks to those connections, over the years Rorion was able to encourage actors, directors and writers to come train with him. Around 1990, Ed O'Neill had a part in a popular sitcome, Married With Children: his acting friends had been pestering him to give the Gracie Academy a go. To shut them up, O’Neill reluctantly agreed to try it out. Rorion, who has always had a knack for marketing, offered O'Neill a simple challenge. If Rorion sat on top of him, could O'Neill throw the small Brazilian off?

O'Neill decided to accept: as a fairly large man, it should be easy enough. However, try as he might, O'Neill couldn't budge Rorion from his position. Smiling, Rorion then suggested that perhaps O'Neill might find it easier to hold Rorion down. After the demonstration O'Neill had just felt, he felt that surely he would be able to use his size advantage to stay in place for at least a few seconds. However, again Rorion surprised him, with a quick reversal. O'Neill was hooked, and over a decade later, he earned his black belt. He tells the story himself in this video.

For the upa escape from the mount, a typical starting point would be when they try to establish their first grip on your collar (or your neck, if you aren't wearing a gi) for a choke. That provides you with a chance to trap their arm. The usual grip would be to grab their wrist with your opposite hand, then just above their elbow with your other hand. This is the preferred grip on Gracie Combatives. The reasoning is that this grip prevents your opponent from drawing back their arm for a punch.

There are various other possibilities, such as the option I first learned, which was gripping their wrist with your same side hand, then grabbing the crook of their elbow with your opposite hand. That has the advantage of helping you wedge your elbow and arm into their chest, which provides additional leverage when rolling them over. Having said that, you can still use your elbow with the Gracie Combatives grip, it's just slightly less effective as your arm starts further away from their torso.

Whatever grip you choose, you then need to trap their leg on that same side. Otherwise, they will be able to use that for base as you attempt to roll them. In order to prevent that, step your same side foot over their lower leg, hooking it in tightly to your bum. This means they are now like a chair with two of its legs missing. If you feel your control is too loose, slide your foot further across towards the other side of your bum, which should eat up some more space.

Even if they can't post with their leg, they might be able to use their knee, so you want to have their leg as tightly locked to your body as possible. Also, be careful that you don't end up hooking both their feet, or leave your other leg in range of their hook. It is possible for the person on top to defend the escape by securing their free leg by your non-trapping leg. Therefore, try to keep it out of range.

A common problem is that you're having trouble trapping their foot, because it is too high up. If that happens, try using your elbow (or even your hand, if you need more reach, but that could leave your neck vulnerable) to shove their knee backwards, until their lower leg is in range. This is an advantage of the Gracie Combatives grip, as putting a hand behind their triceps puts your elbow in a good position for shoving back their knee.

Yet another option, if their arm is not in range, is to bridge enough to bump them forward. That should mean they are forced to post out their hands for balance, a difficult instinct to ignore. That puts their arm within reach. You can then wrap both of your arms around one of theirs, gable gripping your hands (palm to palm). Suck that arm into your chest, clamping it at the elbow.

To finish, you're going to bridge towards that trapped side. As with basic side control escapes, get your heels close to your bum first for maximum leverage. Bridge up and over your shoulder, turning to knees: this puts you inside their guard. Make sure that you're bridging over your shoulder and not simply rolling over to your side. If you don't raise your hips properly, you may merely give up your back. Also remember to posture up once you are in their guard, as otherwise you might find you put yourself immediately stuck inside a submission. Should they try to base with their other arm, you can attempt to dislodge that by pushing their arm off the ground.

You can still trap and and roll if they bring an arm under your head: simply reach back as if you were combing your hair to trap their arm, then progress as before. Generally when I do this, I like to be able to drive my elbow into their hip and stomach, as I find that helps with leverage. Rener prefers to put his hand right into their hip, at least when he teaches this technique on Gracie Combatives.

Teaching Notes: I'm still working out the structure for this class, but today gave me plenty of ideas. I spent much longer on the warm-up, as naturally there was a need to explain the typical drills: I stuck to shrimping and bridging. Putting them in context seemed to be helpful, so I'll keep doing that. E.g., rather than just shrimping, do the drill where your partner walks up into your armpits, then shrimp back in front of them. Showing it under mount gives even more context (I'm not sure if I should demonstrate how it works it practice first, or the drill first? I'll keep playing with it).

After going through the technique and having the class drill it, we did a sort of progressive resistance, but lighter. So, just putting in a bit more resistance as you drill. That appeared to work well. I will leave sparring until later: it depends on who attends the class. If there are a number of experienced women there, sparring makes sense, but if not, progressive resistance will probably be enough (though I will make sure to ask the students, if any of them are especially keen to give sparring a go).

It was really, really helpful to have Geraldine in the class today. That meant I had somebody experienced to be my demonstration partner, which makes the technique much easier for students to understand. It also meant she could drill with beginners, offering more tips as well as being a fellow woman. I'm a fairly small guy, but there are still differences between training with a small guy and training with a woman. So, thanks Geraldine! :D


  1. Awesome. What a good move to begin with, too. I really hope this class gains momentum. It's great to see more women taking up Jiu-jitsu.

  2. Thanks! I hope so too: the key will be building up numbers to help encourage the venue to get behind it. :)