In an unarmed fight, offense and defense are equally important and must be mastered. In Jiu-Jitsu, being able to escape dire positions is a crucial part of the defense factor, and when someone neglects their escaping abilities, they are neglecting half of the game. But what are BJJ escapes, and what makes them so important?
A BJJ escape is the action of getting out of a pin or a bad position and ending in a better one. The most common escapes are from mount, back control, and side control positions everyone finds themselves in. Being able to effectively and reliably get out of them and counterattack is one of the essential skills in jiu-jitsu.
Being on top of a partner you can’t consolidate a position on is one of the most frustrating things to happen in a roll. While it’s good to learn how to control even those people, isn’t it better to learn how to become masterful escape artists ourselves?
3 Fundamental BJJ Escapes
Escapes From Mount
Mount is a challenging position to be in and a common point point for all beginners. There are many ways to get out of there, but the three fundamental ones are widely used across all levels and leave you in a different position.
The first and most advantageous is the bridge and roll, which will completely reverse the position if successful. You need to trap one arm and one leg on the same side to do it. From there, a simple diagonal bridge will take you in the opponent’s guard.
The bridge and roll is great, but it’s difficult to pull off on experienced opponents, which is why the knee-elbow escape is the most reliable one you can do and my personal favorite.
It’s also the best against bigger guys. The point is to connect your knee and elbow and put the opponent in half-guard.
The kipping escape may look the most unrealistic when taught, but it is something you can often see at high-level competition. Below is an excellent video from Brandon Mccaghren detailing all three escapes.
Escapes From Side Control
We will again use Brandon’s explanation of the basic side control escape. The escape starts with placing your frames; without them, it won’t work. One arm should go to their hips and, ideally, the other across their neck, but even the shoulder will work in most cases.
With the frames in place, bridge and shrimp to insert the knee between you and the opponent. With another shrimping motion, the guard will be reestablished.
Escapes From Back
Escaping back control is difficult as it’s the most dominant position in jiu-jitsu. There are a few things to address here. The first and most immediate is the choking arm, which must always be controlled. Then, the thing that prevents you from escaping the most is the bottom hook of the opponent.
You aim to remove this hook so you can have some contact with the mats with your hips and then your shoulder. When this happens, the opponent can no longer effectively control you, and you can turn towards them and reverse the position.
An escape in jiu-jitsu is the act of getting out of inferior positions like bottom mount and back control into a better one and escaping submission attempts.
The art of escaping is a fundamental part of jiu-jitsu and a crucial building block of a complete game. Having the ability to get out of bad spots is an invaluable skill.
The fundamental movements we use for escapes are bridging, shrimping, rolling in all directions, and sprawling.
Having good escapes is not only a defensive skill. It’s what makes attacks possible. If you are not confident you can reverse a bad position, chances are you will be passive in your offense out of fear you will be stuck until the end of the round if the attack fails.
The same goes for takedown attempts. If you are afraid you will end up on the bottom, you will unlikely risk shooting in the first place.
In general, the entire game of jiu-jitsu consists of bouts where one player is attacking and the other is defending. Escapes take up a large chunk of the defense part of the game, meaning they are critical skills everyone needs to have.
Gordon Ryan says most training for white and blue belts should consist of escaping bad positions. By the time they are purple belts, they are comfortable in every position and willing to attack, knowing they can escape regardless of where they find themselves.
Escaping from bad positions is perhaps the more important kind, but escaping from common submissions like the triangle and guillotine is also something everyone must be able to do.
BJJ Escapes Fundamentals
There are too many variables in each position and stages of submissions to memorize each one step by step. You will inevitably find yourself in an unfamiliar position from time to time, and knowing and being able to apply the fundamental principles of escaping will help you out of every situation.
Submissions need more specific answers, so we will instead focus on universal positional escape fundamentals that can be applied to any position.
Relax And Breathe
The important principle in every single escape is to stay calm. Especially suffocating positions like bottom mount, triangles, and guillotines elicit a panicky response in the body, and most people try as hard as they can to escape immediately.
Unfortunately, this natural response is not correct in the context of jiu-jitsu, where the opponent knows how to attack effectively.
Nothing will sap your power quicker than spazzy attempts to bench-press someone off of you. The more explosive the movement, the more energy it requires and the fewer times you can perform it.
Breathing is key to staying relaxed and not overspending energy. The control of the breath is essential in life in general, but in BJJ, the effects are immediately noticeable. Unsurprisingly, masters of the art like Rickson Gracie have been vocal about the importance of proper breathing.
To escape a position, you need space; the best way to open it is by using your frames. Frames are the most important defensive concept in jiu-jitsu, and the basic explanation of a frame is a body part you use to create and maintain distance from the opponent. For example, a forearm across the neck of the opponent when he is in side control is a strong frame.
A solid frame relies more on bone structure than on muscle strength. Creating a structurally strong frame based on skeletal alignment will go much further in keeping distance than using muscle power. A good frame also involves few or no joints because they can collapse.
Extended limbs are in danger of getting caught in submission or collapsed due to the multiple joints involved, so the stronger frames that can support the most weight are the hard and bony parts like the shins, knees, and forearms.
If you hold your breath or breathe shallowly when trying to escape, your body will quickly tire, and you will feel even more panicked, but this time, even without the strength to do the explosive movements.
Even in the worst spots, you should remain relatively calm, find ways to breathe rhythmically, and do longer exhales.
When you are in a submission, there is little time to act, and the response must be quick, but for positions, there is usually no need to hurry, and this is a mistake all beginners make. Instead, wait or force an opening before making big movements.
Following a simple escape formula will make you much better at it and spend much less energy.
Create Space and Move
Doing jerky explosive movements before putting in some frames is useless, so the first step is placing them. Once you have some frames, it’s time to create more space by using the frames and the body. The essential movements we use for creating space are shrimping, bridging, and rolling.
For example, the classic side control escape involves placing one arm on the opponent’s hip line, then the other forearm on his neck, and doing a bridge, which opens up space.
A hip escape movement (shrimping) follows almost immediately, so you can put one knee in front of the opponent, which is an additional frame.
Each position requires a slightly different approach, but as long as you use frames to create space to put even more frames, you can escape. The goal for the one on top is the opposite: completely control the space.
How To Make Your Escapes Better
The simple tip to improve your escapes is to do more of them. Easy, right? The most uncomfortable thing in jiu-jitsu is being smashed in a terrible position where your natural instincts kick in, and you are having trouble breathing.
This is something we must all battle on the mats. So, we must practice being in these positions and escaping them.
Open mats or garage sessions with a friend are the best times to do positional sparring, where the goal is to escape a certain position you are struggling with.
Most gyms usually have positional sparring of this kind in the curriculum, but if yours doesn’t, it’s a sound idea to find a way to do it.
Chewie from Chewjitsu has an even better idea of not how to escape but how to feel comfortable in bad spots. The point of the kind of training he proposes is not to be allowed to escape, and all effort should go into not getting submitted. Knowing you will stay in the position, you have no option but to learn to tolerate it.
To mention Rickson Gracie again, he has an interesting story of when he was a teenager and tapped to pressure.
He then decided to resolve this issue and asked to be wrapped in a blanket and for people to sit on top of him. This may sound like a radical approach, but it will surely go a long way toward making you resilient.
If you still wonder how not escaping makes you better than escaping, I will clear it out. If you are comfortable in the bottom positions and can keep calm and breathe, it’s much easier to follow the correct sequence of moves and escape with little effort instead of exerting all your force in futile movements.
Having good BJJ escapes should be the first thing any BJJ practitioner develops. Being in bottom mount, side control, north-south, or having your back taken is inevitable, but it shouldn’t mean this is the last place you will be for the remainder of a round.
By becoming good at escaping, you will feel more confident to attack by knowing you always have a good chance of wiggling back into a good position if you find yourself on bottom.