Even if you are completely new to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you’ve probably already experienced the claustrophobia induced by the powerful crossface position. The position itself is easy to learn and master, making it the first pressure position for BJJ white belts to learn. All it takes to learn this position are four crucial steps. Keep reading for an easy boost to your pressure game!
What is a Crossface In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
The crossface is considered to be a technique rather than a position by many. I tend to disagree and instead feel that if a certain configuration of your body can help you pin people in grappling for an extended period of time, it is a position rather than a move. But that is a debate for another time.
Historically speaking, the crossface has been used in wrestling to achieve a pin. A wrestling crossface is most commonly used against an opponent in the referee’s position (similar to turtle).
The top wrestler positions themselves beside their opponent and reaches across their face, aiming to grab their far-side shoulder. This allows the top person to tilt the bottom person to their back, achieving a match-winning pin.
The wrestling crossface is also known for the notorious Crippler Crossface which was popularized by pro-wrestler Chris Benoit. Benoit allegedly used it to kill his 7-year-old son. While this technique shares its name with the BJJ crossface, it is completely different in its application.
The BJJ crossface is quite different from both of the wrestling versions. For starters, the bottom person is on their back, whether it is side control, mount, or half guard. The top person then hugs the head, driving their shoulder into the bottom person’s jaw. This creates huge pressure, causes considerable discomfort, and blocks them from moving freely.
Mastering the Technique of the Crossface
In short, mastering the crossface requires getting a grip, placing your shoulder properly, adjusting your angle, and finally creating soul-crushing pressure. Keep reading to see how to properly implement each of these steps.
I’ll look at how to crossface from the top of side control first (as it’s the most common position to use a crossface from) and later elaborate on how to modify each step for other positions.
Step 1: Get A Grip
The first step is getting the grip that will actually allow you to deliver the “shoulder of justice” as the BJJ crossface is commonly called. Where you grip is hugely important because it provides the depth needed for the position to work.
Simply put, with your forearm under your opponent’s neck, reach for their armpit. There are two ways to get an armpit grip on the far side: going over the shoulder or under the shoulder. For the crossface, going under the shoulder is more reliable in both gi and no-gi. If you can’t reach the armpit, grabbing the gi as close as possible to the armpit will also do the trick.
Step 2: Shoulder Placement
The usual understanding of a crossface is that you should put the shoulder on the opponent’s jaw. While this location works, there’s a much better one – the top of the chest. By placing your shoulder towards the top of the chest while holding on to their far side armpit, you will create lots of pressure on their neck.
At the same time, their head will not be able to turn even though there’s no pressure directly against the jaw. Every attempt at turning their head will only increase the pressure on their neck, eventually resulting in a choke.
Step 3: Adjust The Angles
One of the key elements of a successful crossface is the angle at which you pull your elbow. Yes, you read that right – you need to pull in order to generate pressure.
One big mistake with a crossface is getting the grip and shoulder in place and then attempting to push the shoulder forward. This off balances you, making it easy for you to be tipped over and lose top position.
Instead, you should aim to pull your elbow towards the top of the opponent’s head. If this is difficult to visualize, imagine pulling your palm holding the armpit towards your shoulder on the same side.
Step 4: Create Pressure
The pulling motion (at an angle, of course) is a big part of the pressure puzzle in a crossface. But this is only half of what it takes to create pressure.
The second half is body positioning. First off, to be really, really heavy, nothing but your toes should touch the ground. The trick here is not to do this by raising your butt into a Yoga down dog-esque position. Instead, having your hips and knees just inches off the ground. To really dial up the pressure, turn slightly so that your chest is facing your opponent’s legs to make life even more miserable for them.
Using The BJJ Crossface as a BJJ White Belt
When should you turn to a BJJ crossface as a beginner in the sport? There are three situations where you should more or less default to the crossface: the top of half guard, side control, and the mount. Apart from helping you stay in each one of these positions by way of pressure, the crossface also will make advancing from one position to the next easier.
Crossface for Half Guard
When you’re caught in the top half guard position, a crossface is pretty much essential to have, especially if you do not have an underhook on the far side.
Getting a crossface still requires the four steps from above. You need the grip, the shoulder placement, the angle adjustments, and exerting pressure. The one difference from a side control crossface is the angle – you won’t be pulling the elbow towards the top of their head, but rather to the side (once again, the goal is to touch your palm to your shoulder).
What will a crossface from half guard accomplish? First of all, you’ll stay in position, killing off sweeps and submission from the bottom person. Next, you can pass to side control without ever releasing the crossface. There are many different ways of passing with a crossface but they are beyond the scope of today’s article.
Crossface from Side Control
Crossface from side control is a great way to establish and maintain control of side control.
Starting with a crossface from half guard top, let’s imagine you’ve used it to pass to side control. Adjusting the angle keeps the pressure on and helps you settle down into the position for the three seconds necessary to score 3 points for passing. The first goal of a crossface from side control is to prevent scrambles that could allow your opponent to recover guard.
Next, the crossface will help you to find an opening to mount your opponent. As I mentioned, you shift your weight by looking at the opponent’s legs to get more pressure, this also puts you in the perfect position to move your hips towards an opponent’s head. In turn, this motion traps the near side arm more, opening an easy transition into the mount.
Note that you still won’t let go of the crossface even once you make it to the mount.
Crossface from Mount
You should absolutely not release the BJJ crossface when getting into mount. A slight adjustment of the angle will again be necessary. This time, you think about pulling the elbow down towards your hip.
Every transition you do in BJJ will have opponents struggling to immediately get out – both to prevent you from scoring and because you are usually at your least stable immediately after transitioning to a new position. The crossface is a great tool which will help you weather this storm as your opponent does everything they can to escape.
Apart from helping you settle into position once again, the crossface opens up further attacking options from the mount. Namely, the grip under the armpit already secures a way in for you to grab an underhook on that side with your free arm, opening up several attacks including the armbar, americana, and arm triangle choke.
How to Escape the Crossface
Getting out of the crossface is quite a difficult task if your opponent knows everything outlined above. That said, difficult does not mean impossible.
One thing you may do to get out of a nasty side control BJJ crossface position is to use the trapped arm (the one in between yourself and your opponent) to grab their crossfacing shoulder and attempt to alleviate some of the pressure. The only way you’ll gain a bit of space is to pull the elbow of the arm you have gripping the shoulder towards your own hip.
From there, you can relieve pressure by raising your shoulder to protect your neck, thus taking even more pressure off. This will buy you enough space to manage to turn towards the opponent and fight out of the crossface. Your situation will have improved, but you’ll still have to get out of side control!
The BJJ crossface position is the first pressure position white belts should learn. It is easy to understand, reliable, and it can take people through the hierarchy of top position, all the way from half guard to the mount.
These four easy steps (grip, shoulder placement, angle of pull, and creating pressure) will help you master the crossface in very little time and you’ll find yourself having success with it almost immediately.
Ogi is a brown belt and very passionate about Jiu Jitsu.
He is also the head coach of Carlos Maia BJJ Macedonia and Globetrotter.