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Side Control Steam Roll
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Side Control Steam Roll

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When it comes to bad positions, my least favorite place to be is stuck in bottom side control. 

It used to be that the bigger the opponent was the more awful it was, but as I have started to earn rank and become more and more experienced, I’m learning it’s not always weight that make the difference.  I’m sure you can relate to this. As we gain experience one of the most noticeable changes for me was my opponent’s ability to create extreme pressure when they wanted to from many positions, with side control being the worst in my opinion.  

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As you know, when we first start learning the techniques there are so many details to focus on some of them get pushed to the side while we work to understand the basic body movement required to complete the technique in a way that is somewhat similar to the way it is being taught.  One of those details tends to be the ability to put pressure on the opponent in each of these positions, that’s why when you start to get into the blue belt and especially purple belt ranks you start to feel a lot more pressure because these grapplers have had time to refine their fundamental techniques.

Obviously, the very first thing we want to do when we are stuck in a bad position is not panic.  I know that sounds basic but depending on how long you have been training you may either still be going through this on occasion, remember going through this, or at the very least, you have seen someone at your academy do this.  Panicking only makes everything more difficult, it becomes harder to breathe, it becomes harder to think of a solution to the problem, everything becomes harder.  

This is actually a good lesson that proves once again Jiu Jitsu makes us better in every aspect of life.  Day in and day out we are training our minds to stay calm when someone is pressuring their shoulder into our face and it feels like it is going to break our jaw, or they are on top of us with so much pressure we can barely breathe, regardless of the situation, the fundamental lesson is the same.  The ability to control your response in a high stress situation will help you not only in Jiu Jitsu but in business, relationships and day to day living. Continuing to make this a focus on the mats will continue to build the appropriate automatic responses in your brain, reprogramming your brain to be able to respond more positively when things get hard.  It will also build a perseverance like you have likely never seen before. 

Once we have learned to control the response, we need to start looking for a way to relieve some of the pressure.  Let’s start by taking a look “Side control to steam roller” – by Edurado Telles

To get started let’s assume the opponent has a “standard” top side control position where they have their right arm over the body blocking the hips and the left arm under the head controlling the head with a cross face.  From this position, depending on how much pressure the opponent is apply, and your flexibility, a standard shrimp from this position could be very difficult. The opponent likely knows that you want to turn into them which gives them the advantage in preventing that from happening.  The opponent may take their position to the next level by pulling the Gi out from under the belt with their right hand and passing it to their left hand essentially stapling your left shoulder to the mat. 

Rather than turn into the opponent, we are going to turn away from the opponent, however, in order to do this we must first free our right arm from the opponent’s control.  To free the arm what we need to do is make a frame against the opponent’s neck using our left arm. Using that frame we can push against the opponent’s neck pushing them away enough to sneak our right arm out to meet our left hand.  At this point we can now start to roll the other way.  

The goal in this roll as we turn away from the opponent is to essentially step our right leg over switching our hips to move us to a turtle position.  To create the space to make this happen we replace our frame on the opponent’s neck with our the same frame but using our right arm so that our left arm can be used as a base to help us build up posture to our elbow and eventually hand.  As soon as we are able to build up to our elbow we can abandon the frame and finish our transition to turtle. 

From this turtle position if the opponent is not controlling our hips the best thing to do is simply sit through to whichever guard you like to play most.  It’s a rather simple finish if the opponent is not fast enough to stay with you and control the hip, or simply does not know that they should. However, all is not lost should they decide to hold on.  If they are controlling the hip, they are likely also controlling your lapel and are rather tightly connected to you. If this is the situation we simply do not stop at turtle, As we come up to turtle we grab the arm that is over our back, ideally at the seam of the Gi above the elbow and secure it to our body and continue the roll by tucking in this case our right shoulder and rolling in that direction.  This roll will roll the opponent over your back and land you on top of them in a side control position with your back to their head. From here you can begin working whatever side control attacks or mount attempts you like, but you are out of the “high pressure” situation at this point.  

At this point, you are in the top position and now it’s your turn to apply the pressure.  Are you a pro at creating pressure from top side control? Applying pressure from side control as we know does not come naturally, it’s not necessarily difficult by any means, but it does require a certain understanding of the appropriate techniques.  Let’s get some quick tips from “Side Control Pressuring by Stephen Whittier” to see how he generates incredible pressure from top side control. 

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He states very early on in the video clip that Jiu Jitsu players as a whole typically have an overreliance on grips when in a top side control pressure.  This is less than ideal for many reasons, but the obvious reason is that it is exhausting our grip and therefore limiting our ability to use our grips when it matter later in the match. 

That being said, you need to be disciplined in not putting your knees on the mat.  At all points in time you should be on the balls of your feet. Additionally, your arms should not be bearing much weight either.  If you are using a cross face grip on the opponent’s head you will be forced to give up some of your pressure for that cross face, however Stephen deems this acceptable because of the shoulder pressure you can generate from here. 

The last step in positioning out body is to ensure we are chest to chest with the opponent, not chest to belly and create a “dive bomber” shape with our body, essentially pushing our butt up in the air so that there is an angle down towards our chest forcing more pressure onto the opponent.  Maintaining this constant connection is key in maintaining pressure and exhausting the opponent. 

Stephen uses the phrase “notch yourself into place”, what he means by this is starting from a perpendicular position, if you were to slide your chest across your opponent’s chest you can feel your chest almost “click” into place.  This position should put your chest in the center of their chest with your chin just past the opponent’s rib cage. 

Side control can be a tough position to play, it may be difficult to get the hang of the sweet spots and how to best control your opponents, but it is certainly a necessary skill to have.  Remember that the more you practice proper technique, the more likely you are to be able to hit that technique in competition. 

Check out “The Turtle Guard Revisited” – by Eduardo Telles to take a deeper dive into the quick video clip we broke down in the beginning.  This video instructional will teach you the in’s and out’s of turtle guard from one of the living legends with more than 20 years of hard training under his belt.  Eduardo is confident that learning the details packed into this video instructional will not only surprise your training partners and opponents but also take away your fears of having your back taken when using turtle guard. 

For more details on how to take your side control game to the next level check out “The Pillars Side Control Mastery” by Stephen Whittier.   There is no doubt the high level details packed into this video instructional will have your teammates asking you what you are doing differently and your opponent’s dreading each match. 

Learn the REVISITED Turtle guard with Eduardo Telles. Check it out here!

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