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The Physics of Pressure Passing

The Physics of Pressure Passing


Pressure is one of the most important concepts you must ingrain into your mind and body when you train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Whether you are attempting to maintain a specific position such as side control or mount, advance to a new position by passing the guard, or complete a submission such as the head and arm choke, the use of pressure plays a crucial roll in the execution of your goal. Without an effective grasp on the concept of pressure, your techniques may not have the overall effectiveness that you need.

Having the most complete grasp on the concepts and principles that lie beneath the surface of the array of BJJ moves we are trying to learn, can improve our execution of said techniques, while also helping to make them more applicable in more scenarios.  The deeper that we can understand the underlying concepts the easier time our brains will have making sense of all of the different moves and techniques we are exposed to.  The easier we make it on our brains to process, understand, remember and recall these techniques, the faster they will become part of our arsenal and the quicker our overall mastery of BJJ will be.

pressure passing

Let's take a look at the concept of pressure and what goes into it.  Once we understand it a little better, we will able to tweak our approach and our techniques in an effort to maximize the pressure that we apply to our opponents.

The concept of pressure can be understood via a simple formula that you may or may not have learned in school.  The degree of pressure is equal to the amount of force divided by the area that is delivering the force.  The more force we can apply in the smallest possible, most concentrated area, the more pressure we will bring to the technique.

In simpler terms related specifically to a jiu jitsu scenario, if your 200 lb training partner is pressing their chest against the side of your face, you will feel one level of pressure.  If that same 200 lb training partner is pressing their shoulder against the side of your face, you will feel an entirely different level of pressure.  By taking the same amount of force or weight and drastically shrinking the point of contact from the entire chest and torso to the shoulder, the overall pressure is drastically increased. 

pressure passing

The force or weight they are applying is divided by a much smaller, more concentrated area, therefore the overall pressure increases, making you suffer even more and ultimately make bad decisions to get out from under this pressure.  This is something you can begin applying immediately to everything you do in jiu jitsu.  Start asking yourself if you feel the heaviest you can feel and are you applying that heaviness in a way that maximizes the pressure by minimizing the contact point that you are using to apply the force.

In the video below, world champion Bernardo Faria who is well known for his use of pressure, details some very simple concepts that have helped him control and ultimately pass the guards of some of the greatest competitors in BJJ history.  Check it out below.

 For Bernardo, his well-regarded philosophy of pressure passing is built upon the idea or concept of always trying to maximize the force or weight that he brings to play into a technique.  In addition to the focus on force or weight, he is constantly striving to minimize the surface area through which he manifests that weight.  This is the secret to his pressure.  

If we are kneeling on the mats in an upright position, all of our weight is distributed and balanced between our two knees.  If we put our hands down onto the mats while our knees are on the mats, we've now divided our weight or force between four points, thereby minimizing it.

For Bernardo, it is crucial to not waste any force, so if he is putting his body against an opponent, he must not be on his knees which limits the overall force he can apply.  Instead, he will be up on his toes or making his body a tripod driving the weight and force down into the opponent.  

In addition, he is not simply holding his chest against the opponent's body and driving the force into them.  Instead, he is turning his body in a way that brings all of the force to bear through his shoulder.  By making the surface area that is connected to the opponent's body, the overall pressure is maximized and can become unbearable for them.

Let's look at some other considerations that can help us increase the pressure of our passing and of our jiu jitsu in general.  The more pressure we can apply the more we can impact our opponents and implement our chosen game plan.  Without pressure, the opponent will feel no discomfort and easily be able to survive our weak onslaught. 

As Tom DeBlass, who is also known for his pressure has said in many places, we must never let our opponents rest, not even for a moment.  No matter where we find ourselves in a grappling match, we must be working to make our opponents uncomfortable and the easiest way to do that is to maximize the pressure at all times.  What additional elements of physics can we look at that can help increase our pressure?

The Physics of Weight

We've been talking about the importance of weight as the prime force that we all have.  Does this mean that the bigger or heavier we are, the better our pressure?  Not necessarily.  It's a case that it is truly not the size of the grappler that counts, but how they use their weight.  Of course, if the larger grappler is experienced in all of the other concepts, then you'd better pack a lunch because you're probably going to be smashed their for a while.

But don't despair if you're a naturally smaller grappler or a woman who is lighter than other students in class.  No matter what your overall size, you can maximize and amplify your force.  Some very simple adjustments you can make to your weight is to always take into account where you are applying the weight you have. 

If you are a smaller practitioner, you must be judicial where you place your weight.  You don't want to place your weight over an opponent's hips where they are strongest.  Instead, you will want to strive to put your weight on the upper third of their body where they tend to be weakest.  Therefore, if you find yourself in mount on a larger, stronger opponent, it's important to seek the highest possible mount you can achieve.  You can also adjust to a modified or S mount position which focuses the weight you have on an even smaller area than high mount.  Using what you have to attack where the opponent is most vulnerable is crucial when there is a significant size or weight difference.

Another element that can impact the overall level of weight you can bring to your game is your use of basing.  Having proper bases is essentially to prevent yourself from being swept, but be careful that your base is not compromising the amount of weight you can apply to a technique.  There is a fine balance between an overly conservative base and one that does the job and allows for maximum weight and ultimately pressure during a technique.

One of the best of all time at using old school pressure and weight to his advantage is Murilo Bustamante.  Check out this mount concept video where he shares some of the same ideas we've been talking about.

For more on the old school pressure filled techniques of Murilo Bustamante check out his BJJ instructional here from BJJ Fanatics.

The Physics of Surface Area

 One of the first positions that can open our eyes to the importance of surface is pressure is the knee on belly position.  As a new BJJ practitioner, there were many times when simply being put in a strong knee on the belly position was enough to make me want to submit.  

The beauty of this position is that the majority, probably upwards of 2/3 of the aggressor's weight is being driven through the knee joint into the stomach, sternum or torso of the person on the bottom. 

As an interesting experiment, at least for you, the next time you put someone in knee on the belly, play with the distance or range of your basing leg that is off of the opponent.  The further away you base your foot, the more weight you drive through your knee into the opponent, while the closer you bring that foot, the "lighter" or less uncomfortable your knee on the belly becomes.

A word of caution, though, must be noted.  The more weight that you drive into your opponent, you must be aware, can ultimately be used against you as you will be much easier to sweep as their hips will be under you and if they are able to move, they could take you with them and end up in a better position.

Another classic position where we learn the true impact of surface area is the cross face.  By carrying the weight of our opponent's on the side of our faces, we quickly learn the importance of trying to increase the surface area that is holding that weight, by working to get frames in to help carry the load.

The Physics of Grips

The formula for pressure primarily takes into account the amount of force and the surface area applying the force.  Besides our overall bodyweight and how we are applying this weight via the smallest possible surface area, there are other factors that we can utilize quite effectively to increase that force, thereby increasing our pressure.

The role of our grips cannot be underestimated.  Proper gripping whether in Gi training or No Gi, can greatly impact the overall impact of our techniques.  A good Gi grip can create an anchor to the opponent not only to limit their ability to escape, but more importantly can create a pulling tension that when added to the push and press of our pressure passing can make the technique unbearable and impossible to stop.

The Physics of Angles

 Applying the use of proper angles is another aspect that is crucial to how we apply techniques.  Angling our hips a certain way can increase the amount of weight we force the opponent to contend with during our stack pass or over under pass.  Angling our frames properly can help us withstand and divert much more force from our opponents when they are caught in our half guard.

Think of the cross face position from side control that we mentioned above.  If I am attempting to cross face my opponent with my knees on the ground and my butt back on my heels, that will feel very different than if I have my legs in a tripod and I'm angling my weight downward into their jaw and face.  In the first case, the pressure can be annoying, but ultimately the strong-minded opponent will simply be patient and either wait for you to advance and create an opportunity for them to move or slowly work an escape with no real threat in front of them.  In the latter case, the pressure will be nearly unbearable and force them to act immediately which will open a wide variety of possible routes for you to pick from using your offensive techniques.

In the following video, we see a breakdown of Bernardo Faria's use of pressure specifically when it comes to passing.  Check it out below and we'll talk more about it after.

In this video we more of the embodiment of the concepts and principles we've been outlying up to this point.  Bernardo is constantly trying to maximize the force and weight of his body into the smallest point of contact (typically his shoulder) and applying it to where the opponent is most vulnerable.

In addition, he is using a variety of grips like the over/under control to ensure that he protects himself from the opponent catching him in half guard or being able to mobilize their hips in general and possible thwart his pass attempts.  Bernardo is also well known for his gi grips, especially in the lapel area which he uses frequently in not only his passing game, but also in his sweeping and submission games.

Now that we have explored and understand many of the physical nuances of applying pressure in our jiu jitsu, most commonly understood in the role of pressure passing, let's look at what pressure can do from a mental aspect.

The impact of pressure passing on an opponent physically cannot even measure up to the impact that the effective use of pressure can have on an opponent mentally.  Knowing that you are carrying all of the opponents pressure on your hips and feeling your breathing constricted by their shoulder on your diaphragm can be a sickening feeling that can goes as far as to make one almost want their guard to be passed to alleviate the pressure.  Once that sense of doubt and frustration begins to take hold in the opponent, their ability to mount an effective and aggressive offense will be that much more limited.  And more often than not, if someone can be broken mentally, they become much easier to overcome physically.

Bringing a strong pressure passing game to the table can make your opponent extremely uncomfortable.  Having their hips immobilized while you are driving your shoulder and tripoding your legs maximizing the weight you are bringing down upon them can do many things to them mentally.  First and foremost, you are putting them on the defense.  

The pressure that your passing game will bring to them will have them back pedaling and forced to address your shoulder and it the crushing weight it is putting on them.  It will force them to address the grips that you have on their legs or gi jacket depending on the particular pass you are using.  There will be no time for them to launch their own attacks and sweeps because they will be too busy trying to survive and do their best to minimize the onslaught right in front of them.

When you are able to adjust and constantly reapply the pressure to them as they make their small adjustments, over time you will chip away at their ability to defend and eventually with perseverance you will pass their guards.  There is a great psychological power that comes with the passing of someone's guard.  You have breached their defenses and they know that time is not on their side at all.  

The opponent who has been carrying the weight of your pressure passing attack who has just had their guard passed can be torn emotionally between relief that the onslaught is over, but distraught that their guard is now passed and the true attack is simply beginning.  Even if they are able to readjust and possibly regain guard, the momentum that has been achieved is difficult to overcome from a physical and psychological standpoint.

In the video below, Bernardo Faria uses his specialty, the over under pass to achieve side control during a competition.  From there, the opponent who has been fighting the onslaught of Bernardo's pressure passing is fatigued both mentally and physically.  Bernardo capitalizes on this fact and set sup a mounted triangle to secure the victory.

Implementing one's game plan in jiu jitsu is as much mental as it is physical.  By physically applying a dominating pressure game in our passing and in as many areas at it is applicable, we put the opponent into a defensive posture where they spend the majority of their energy trying to stop our progress or divert the pressure.

As both Bernardo Faria and Tom DeBlass preach a great deal in their interviews and seminars, it is important to keep the momentum of the match in your favor and to establish this momentum as early as possible.  Bernardo favors taking the opponent immediately into a position where he can capitalize on his strengths without letting the opponent do anything offensive.  For DeBlass, who feels that all too commonly, we trade techniques back and forth with our opponents, it's important to always be advancing, to always have our opponents back-pedaling and responding to our moves as we drive towards the dominant position and the submission.  

The longer we are able to keep them in this defensive posture, the more likely we are to tire them out and be able to safely launch our own attacks without worrying about what they can do from an offensive stand point.  Understanding more about the physics of pressure passing and pressure in general can have an impact (see what I did there) on your opponents and training partners in more ways than one.  No matter how much we weigh or how light we may be in comparison to our opponents, by utilizing the physics of pressure and focusing on the contact surface area, grips and angles when applying techniques, we can achieve almost steamroller like pressure on the opponent and force them to bend to our will.

To learn more about Bernardo Faria's patented pressure passing and also learn more about how he utilizes the physics of pressure that could apply to more areas of your BJJ game, you will want to check out his best selling "Battle Tested Pressure Passing" available here from BJJ Fanatics.  It is available in both On Demand and DVD formats that fit your lifestyle and media choices.  Get all of the secrets that put Bernardo on the top of the world championship podium five different times and have helped make him one of the most sought after black belt instructors in the world doing seminars around the world and also running his own burgeoning academy near Boston.

Also check The Head Pressure Passing System by Matt Jubera or The Tozi Pass and Pressure Passing Mechanics by Roberto Tozi.


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