Crushing Your Opponent's Turtle Defense
Picture it, you're coming at your opponent or training partner with your absolute best guard pass attacks and they're unable to stop you. Just before you lock them down into side control, they hip away and come to their knees. Their elbows retract almost inside their body like some sort of Transformer and you're left staring at this balled up human and their seemingly impenetrable turtle defense.
Whether you are a novice or advanced practitioner the defensive turtle position can be one of the most frustrating puzzles that you can face. How do you attack it? With their head down, chin tucked and hidden, chokes don't seem readily available. The arms and elbows are secured tightly against their body and reinforced by their thighs which help form a low profile, nearly perfectly balanced base that is almost impossible to tip over.
Even if you're smart and keep your hips glued to them to stay connected, you can oftentimes find yourself endlessly spinning around their fortress of turtle-dom ad nauseam because of constant adjustments. Not to mention the fact that they can actually be proactive and depending on your reaction, sit or roll out to regain a half guard or even closed guard position. You've got to remain on your toes, no pun intended.
In the video below, BJJ black belt and Olympic Judo silver medalist Travis Stevens breaks down a way to crush your opponent's turtle defense. Though in BJJ the turtle defense can generally be looked down upon as a low level or weak position to be avoided at all costs, in judo, the turtle is used quite readily to thwart an opponent's newaza or ground game. This makes Travis' experience training and competing at the highest levels all the more important because he has definitely attacked his opponent's turtle defense more frequently than the average practitioner and from a variety of perspectives.
Once the opponent is turtled up, it is important to drive your inside knee into their shoulder to foreshadow the crushing pressure that is about to come their way. Using the far side hand, you will reach inside across the waist. The space making this possible is created by the initial knee pressure. There are no wasted aspects to this technique.
Using the free hand that is not around their waist, you will pull out the lapel and pass it to the hand that is snaking across their waist. Once you have fed the gi to that hand, you will ensure that your outside thigh and knee are able to pressure against their knee to prevent it from coming up too far. You will use the free hand to control their head, but not reach all the way to their thigh.
Once the grips and the knee pressure have them secured, you will drive with the original knee at an angle taking them back over their far hip. The walls of their turtle defense are now crumbling and in this example, Travis puts his forehead to the ground and cartwheels to the opposite side while holding their head in the pseudo guillotine grip to keep their head high and prevent them from bridging and possibly escaping.
The key is that you've now got their turtle defense crushed and you can now resume your plan to control them, attack from side control or even possibly mount them. You have broken down their defenses and brought them into the light.
For another example of a dynamic submission that can be achieved when an opponent has turtled up and thinks they are safe, check out this article from BJJ Fanatics which features a cool kneebar set up from turtle.
Now the next time someone turtles up and thinks they are safe, you will have an answer and be able to crush their turtle defense and continue implementing your game plan. Slow methodical pressure, coupled with proper grips and applying force at the proper angle will topple anyone regardless of size or strength.