Side control is one of the most dominant positions in jiu-jitsu, and despite being considered inferior to full mount, many people prefer side control. Especially if the person on top is heavier and knows how to exert pressure, it’s easier for them to sit and rest, while it also allows more submission options.
Knowing how to escape side control is among the top priorities of white and blue belts, and for good reason. While there are numerous ways to improve your position and even threaten with a submission, you should first get a good grasp of the classic side control escapes and principles, and this is precisely what we will cover in this article.
First, it’s important to know that side control is not a single position like closed guard is. There are many variations, depending on the opponent’s body position and the grips both of you have.
You have the classic side control or the wrestler’s side control, in which the top person has a cross face and is belly down, with the knees controlling the bottom player’s body. Then there is the heavy pressure side control, also known as the 100 kg side control, with the top person having his legs sprawled back.
The third option is the Kesa Gatame and reverse Kesa Gatame variations, where you are on your side and facing the opponent’s head or legs, respectively. These two are used more as transitions in BJJ than as constant positions.
Finally, there are north-south and knee-on-belly, but for me, these are positions on their own and not exactly side control, so I won’t deal with escapes from them in this article.
Before we get to the specific escapes, understand what problem points you must answer to get out of the dreaded side control.
The key mechanic for the person on top to control you is the cross face. To recover your guard, you need to turn towards them, but turning is impossible with their shoulder smashing your face in the opposite direction.
The best solution is to not allow tight head control in the first place and place frames with your hands as they are passing your guard. But more often than not, they will get the cross face.
Do not panic when they control your head in side control; it’s undoubtedly uncomfortable, but you will not get choked out. Just alleviate some of the pressure and give yourself room to breathe. Do not panic; start moving aimlessly and expend precious energy in futile movements.
Then, it’s time for the next step.
As with all bottom-position escapes, you need strong frames. The best frame in side control is to use the forearm and place it underneath the neck or on the chin of the opponent. This will allow you to push their head up and release the pressure on your head. The other arm should ideally go to their hips.
Remember to push with the sides of your palms or forearms, or you risk a wrist break.
Getting your arms in a position to frame is the most critical element of side control escapes because if the player on top has strong pressure, this can be a very tough task.
In addition to the hands, you should always aim to get your legs between you and the opponent. Sometimes, the upper body control can be super strong, but this leaves some gaps in the lower part where you can insert your knee and shin, giving you much more power to control space.
Once placed, the structurally solid frames create space and recover a better position. There are two general options when escaping side control: establishing a guard or reversing the positions and getting the back of the opponent. The third and much more advanced option is to counterattack with a submission.
So, with these principles in mind, let’s look at some common BJJ side control escapes.
The Classic Side Control Escapes
The first escape everyone is taught involves the steps already covered. You get one arm underneath the opponent’s neck and the other on their hip.
From there, you use the power of your hips to bridge up and shrimp out as soon as there is enough space. Immediately insert your shin between you and the opponent; he no longer has side control.
With another side hip escape movement, you free your other leg and enter into closed guard.
The second classic side control escape also uses the same frames, but you are not entering guard but escaping the positions altogether this time.
You must free your head and get it on the outside of the opponent’s shoulder to do this. Then you can hip escape or try to control them with an underhook and get on their back.
Side Control Escape Against Tight Top Pressure
The classic escapes work great, but the problem is that some people have tremendous top pressure from side control, and especially if they are significantly heavier than you, getting the frames in position becomes impossible.
This is where the method shown by Stephen Kesting comes into play. Instead of bridging towards the opponent, you will do the motion in the opposite direction, similar to what you would do if you wanted to roll them over.
While this type of reversal won’t happen past the white belt stage, the movement will still create enough space to insert the frames so you can start working on your other escapes.
Side Control Escape Against A Bigger Opponent
Escaping a big guy is a common problem in BJJ, not only for beginners and white belts. The opponent will often look to control your head, but if they want to control the hips, they will go into the Kesa Gatame side control, which will present a new escape option, as Fabio Gurgel shows.
The solution is surprisingly straightforward but can be done only in a gi.
For no-gi, another possible escape can be done even against heavier opponents. Once you get your arms in position (which can be done by Kesting’s method from above), instead of pushing in two different spots like in the classic escape, create a wedge with both hands and push against the opponent’s shoulder to create space to scramble.
Then, instead of going towards them and recovering guard, roll to the other side and quickly reroll into guard with a Grandby roll. As Denis Kang explains in the video, the key is constant motion.
There are a lot more possible escapes from side control. The position is very dynamic and presents many opportunities for both players. More often than not, a side control escape ends in guard, but as you’ve seen from the examples, you can end up in different positions, like back control.
With time, you can even begin threatening submissions during the transitions, leading to a tap or an easier escape. The possibilities are endless. More important are the principles of escaping side control, which include using frames with the hands to open up space and using movements to escape the dreaded position.