With the virtually infinite number of BJJ techniques available, you can easily feel overwhelmed when deciding where to focus your efforts. Despite the rush to learn the flashiest submissions, most old school wisdom in BJJ recommends focusing on survival and escapes during the early phases of BJJ training.
Even for intermediate and advanced BJJ players, sharpening up and maintaining your escape arsenal is vital to overall BJJ performance.
Well, continue reading for the break down on why a solid base of escapes should be your primary foundation in BJJ.
BJJ survival and escapes: what the masters have to say
Survival in BJJ
In the timeless book Jiu-Jitsu University by multiple time black belt world champion Saulo Ribeiro, he makes the case for survival and escapes being the first primary focus in BJJ.
“Survival is the aspect that brings us closest to the founder of jiu-jitsu, Helio Gracie. Due to his smaller statues, Helio was forced to learn how to survive against much larger and stronger opponents… his goal was simple, he may not win the fight, but he would not die.”
Survival, as Ribeiro defines it, ‘is about putting yourself into a position where you do not need to use muscle to protect yourself’ (15).
In terms of practical survival in BJJ, Saulo has the following advice (16):
- Always close your elbows. An open elbow is a pathway for armbars, upper body control, and poor posture.
- Always prevent cross-face control. If your opponent controls the direction of your head, he controls the direction of your entire body.
- Never stay flat. A flat body is an immobile body.
- Don’t push. Pushing as a defense anchors you to your opponent and immobilizes your necessary hip movement.
- Use your hips and body pendulum to generate power, not your hands. Your body is a much stronger weapon than your arms alone.
Escapes in BJJ
When it comes to escapes, Saulo has this to say (50),
“Escapes and survival are the foundations of an attacking jiu-jitsu game. If you know your opponent cannot keep you in an inferior position or finish the fight, you will be more confident in attacking him.”
In essence, if you know you can escape from a bad position, you are more confident in risking a lost position to attack a submission.
Of course, at the end of the day, the goal of BJJ is to submit a skilled opponent.
Escapes do not just facilitate your survival. They allow you to attack more relentlessly.
Practical reasons for learning survival and escapes in BJJ
Escapes for self-defense
Self-defense 101 teaches your that your first defense should be escaping and running away.
Too often, a self-defense instructor will make this claim and then focus an entire seminar on brutal techniques for maximally damaging your opponent.
In self-defense, there is always the chance that you will need offensive techniques.
Nevertheless, you must be able to escape worst case scenarios if you want any chance at reliably surviving real-world fights.
With a well-honed base of escapes, you can ensure you are prepared for some of the worst situations in which you may find yourself.
Survival and escapes in BJJ improve your attacks as well
As Saulo discusses, learning escapes in BJJ allows you to be more confident in attacks.
Many traditional upper body submissions from top and bottom as well as leg locks require you to risk a dominant position to make a committed submission attempt.
Imagine that any time you lost position, you get trapped in a brutal bottom position and are unable to escape.
While this is technically OK when practicing with safe partners, over time, you will undoubtedly become less willing to attempt submissions. The claustrophobia and discomfort of constantly getting stuck on bottom will wear on your confidence to take the risk of attacking.
Compare this to having the confidence to attempt submissions knowing full-well that can escape any bad position. Worst case, you won’t be forced to tap from side control pressure.
Survival and escapes allow you more options against experienced players
Submissions are difficult to pull-off in BJJ once your opponent knows basic defense and understands the mechanics they can use to prevent getting tapped-out.
To submit a black belt, you must get an incredible number of details right.
On the other hand, learning to survive and escape from advanced players’ control and submission will allow you to learn more during rolls against better people.
Additionally, upper belts will be impressed by the effort it takes to control and submit you. Without this foundational ability to be a pain-in-the-ass, your chance of ever pressuring back against skilled players decreases substantially.
High-percentage BJJ escapes from bad positions
The important positions you need to learn to survive and escape are the major control positions in BJJ. Specifically:
- Back mount
- Side control
Escaping mount in BJJ relies on several foundational BJJ skills. These are the bridge and the hip escape. When it comes to mount, utilizing some combination of hip escapes and bridges makes you insanely difficult to control.
Generally, its best to master the bridge-to-roll escape and the hip escape separately before integrating them into a full-fledged mount escape system.
For the top details on escaping via the bridge and roll, we highly recommend Henry Akins’s ‘The Fundamentals Seminar.’
For a great breakdown on Danaher’s method of mount escape, check out the following video:
Back control is an incredibly difficult position to escape against a seasoned opponent. Nevertheless, there are a few tried-and-true methods of escaping back control.
The first goal of back control is avoiding getting choked out. This requires constant hand fighting to ensure your opponent cannot get under your chin to secure the choke.
Once you have a good defensive position, you must aim to get your back on the floor, as opposed to having your back against your opponent’s chest. Ideally, you want to get your back to the floor on your opponent’s underhook side, assuming they are using a classic seat belt grip.
From there, you can sit up and turn to come to a top position and end up in your opponent’s guard. Worst-case, your opponent takes mount, and you work your escape from there.
Side control escapes
Fundamental side control escapes rely on a combination of framing and hip escapes. You will use frames against your opponent’s hip and neck, among other possible locations, to keep them from re-smashing you as your shrimp away to establish a guard.
Your goal is to get your bottom knee, shin, or leg between you and your opponent. Even the end of your knee in the opponent’s side allows enough leverage to work back to a butterfly guard.
Knee-on-belly is a dynamic control position that gives the top player great mobility and an arsenal of attacks.
Furthermore, the top player can exert tremendous pressure on sensitive areas to the bottom player which make escaping the position quickly an urgent matter.
It’s not uncommon for pressure-heavy players to submit you by simply applying pressure via a brutal knee-on-belly.
The first step, in line with Saulo’s survival principles, is to get on your side as opposed to being flat. Whether you turn slightly away from your opponent or slightly into them, this shift redirects the worst of their pressure through the structure of your hip as opposed to your solar plexus or gut.
From there, shrimping and getting your knee or shin between you and your opponent is the top priority.
Be aware that turning into your opponent gives them the opportunity to transition to the other side or attack an arm.
Turning away from the opponent can expose your back.
If you understand what your opponent is likely to do to maintain control, you can predict when you need to create space so that by the time they transition, you already have a knee in place to defend the attack.
You also have the option to bump your opponent and transition to a single-leg sweep to come on top.
Knee-on-belly escapes vary widely and there are many details to be aware of.
Here is a great escape from Renzo Gracie for dealing with the knee-on-belly via attacking a single-leg sweep.
Regardless of your long-term goal for training BJJ, surviving and escaping bad positions should be the foundation of your game.
Whether you plan to compete in BJJ or need to learn self-defense, a system for escaping the worst-case scenarios is vital if you want to be successful.