Welcome to a new, occasional, series looking at the basics of BJJ. This is BJJ 101.
Now that I’ve got to brown belt in BJJ I find myself wanting to refocus on the basics and get them really tight. By basics, I mean the fundamental moves that you use most of the time, rather than the spectacular spinning back takes or flying triangles that get all the attention. I mean the boring stuff. The bread and butter of BJJ, if you will.
The first thing I’d like to focus on is defending the guard pass. I’ve noticed that when I get my guard passed it’s always because I didn’t do something quite basic correctly. Everybody knows that when somebody’s weight is bearing down on you, you are meant to make space and hip escape to get your guard back. And that’s ok against a white belt who hasn’t learned how to put a lot of pressure on you through their structure yet, but against an higher belt, simply making space and hip escaping can become next to impossible… unless you do it absolutely correctly.
When you feel the weight and pressure of a higher belt coming down on you, you tend to freeze up and try and hold them off. Well, I do anyway. Inevitably that leads to you getting your guard passed because gravity is on their side and you have stopped moving. The problem is that to do the correct response you often have to give up the perceived safety of your position and open up, and all your instincts are telling you not to do that.
Frame and hip escape
The guard pass defence we’re going to look at today is a particularly fundamental skill in Jiujitsu because it uses the most basic of all movement, the hip escape, but because its so fundamental, I find that there is rarely time spent on teaching it in detail. Here I want to looking at exactly how and when to use a hip escape to defend the guard pass, because there are some details you need to know which can make all the difference – like which way to face, how to use your hand as a frame against your opponent’s ‘leading edge’. Against high level opposition all these little details matter.
As a frame of reference for this article I’m going to use this YouTube video, which is produced by Stephan Kesting and Rob Biernacki on the Frame and Hip Escape. The video is taken from a longer DVD, which I own the smartphone version of. I’d really recommend you buy it because the guard maintenance concepts he shows are excellent, containing over 2 hours of essential BJJ information, although I have one minor grumble… Rob deals almost exclusively in ‘conceptual jiujitsu’, which means that he’d rather spend time teaching you concepts and principles than teach you specific techniques. So, in a way you’re often left to you work out the fine details for yourself. That’s all well and good, but my problem with the conceptual approach is that there are some fine technical details that do matter, and these often get brushed over in favour of imparting a higher principle to the audience. I tend to think that in order to get the concept to work you need to have a technique broken down in a technical way so you can understand everything, which is what I’m going to try to do here.
Here’s the full video:
Defending the knee cut pass
Because we don’t start on our feet in rolling most of the time, the knee cut, or knee slide, pass is one of the most common passes in jiujitsu, so it’s important that you have an answer to it, because you’re going to come up against it time and time again.
Usually the way we start rolling in jiujitsu is that we both start on our knees then one person usually sits back and starts playing guard. He’s on the ‘bottom’ and the other person in on the ‘top’. The top player then usually stands to pass because this minimises the number of submissions and sweeps available to the guy on bottom. It also reduces the risk of being pulled into the closed guard. When you are standing and the other person is on their back, the knee cut pass and the x pass/step pass/torreando variations are the two main passes you’ll have to deal with.
There are various videos online showing the knee cut pass, all with slight variations.
Here’s Rob’s defence again, as a GIF:
The frame and hip escape defence is very basic, but it works. Things to note:
- The ‘thumb down’ grip on the collar, with the stiff arm is acting as a frame.
- He gets to his elbow with the other arm immediately.
- Once frame and elbow are in place, you can hip escape and get your guard back.
- Don’t wait – if you wait for them to settle in with their knee on the ground, you’re going to get passed.
But perhaps the biggest thing to note is that he is using the hip escape in conjunction with a frame. You need the frame to stop their weight from landing on you. But Rob always has his other elbow on the mat when he does this. If you frame while you are lying flat then you’re not going to be able to hip escape out of there. So, the main thing is – move! Get up, don’t stay there.
Defending the X pass/step around pass
This one is left to last in the instructional, and Rob doesn’t spend much time on it, so you can easily miss out the fine details because it only gets one run through. That’s a shame as it’s of equal importance to me as the knee cut defence.
The X pass is a common pass in jiujitsu.
X pass by Saulo:
The defence Rob shows also relates to any kind of pass where the attacker steps around your leg and puts a shin in just past your hip, looking for a knee on belly. As I said, I find the standing step pass is just as common as the knee cut, so should be been given equal attention.
Standing step pass, demonstrated by Peter Robson:
Rob’s defence to both would be the same:
Rob is using the same concept of frame and hip escape here, but notice the key detail that he’s facing in an entirely different direction to the way he used it to defend the previous knee cut pass. When that knee comes in towards you, you need to get the habit of blocking it with your hand to frame and then turning away before recovering guard with a hip escape. This is often difficult for BJJ students, since we are usually taught to never turn away from the attacker because you give your back. Here’s there’s no danger of getting your back taken as your frame is between your back and them.
If that knee comes in deep you need to use your elbow as a frame sometimes. Which Rob also shows:
Defending the folding pass
This one is mentioned second in the video, but I don’t think it’s as common, so I’ve mentioned it last here. This time the wrestling collar tie is used as an option to make the frame, then the hip escape happens:
It’s worth practicing both these defences a lot – the knee slide and the step around pass particularly, as they require quite different mind and body responses, even if the concepts are the same. Get somebody to drill it with you, so they repeat the pass and you repeat the frame and hip escape to get your guard back. Try both sides. That’s important too.
There are other guard passes to deal with in Jiujitsu, and different defences, of course, but I feel that if you can get the basics of framing and turning in and framing and turning away to hip escape, and knowing when to use each one, you have the fundamental pattern ingrained to deal with most problems.
I’ll see you next time in BJJ Basics 101 where I’ll be looking at escaping Side Control.