Never Lose BJJ Back Control: How To Be A Human Backpack

16.08.2021 by

The back mount position is one of the few positions everyone in BJJ universally strives to be. However, if you can’t stay there, no matter how good your submissions are, there’s not much you can accomplish. Put simply, this is why back control is the most important aspect of your back attack game! Keep reading to learn how to take the back and stay put!

Mechanics of Back Control

There are two positions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that score four points in most competition rulesets: One of them is the full mount, and the other is back mount, often referred to as back control. 

In terms of BJJ back control, getting behind someone during grappling exchanges is far easier than staying there for a prolonged period of time. That said, by gaining a basic understanding of WHAT your goals are from back control and HOW to attain them, you’ll become nearly impossible to shake off – making you essentially a human backpack!

Maintaining back control boils down to understanding how some key aspects like the seat belt grip and hooks work, as well as removing some unsubstantiated dogmas from the picture, for example the notion of falling to the “strong” or “weak” side. 

The Seat Belt Grip

The seat belt grip is the one control element everyone immediately associates with attacking the back. You definitely must master this grip if you have any hope of becoming a human backpack full of submission threats.  

The seat belt grip works when you place one arm over an opponent’s shoulder and the other one underneath the opposite side armpit, while you are positioned behind them. Once both arms have been positioned in front of your opponent, your next goal is to connect them securely. The position is referred to as a seat belt grip because it hugs the body like a car’s seat belt does.

Whenever possible you’ll want to ensure that the bottom hand’s grip (connected to the arm that goes under the armpit) covers the top hand (the one going over the shoulder). Making your grip this way ensures that the top hand is harder to grip fight.

There are two main ways of controlling with a seat belt grip. One is to make sure that both your elbows are withdrawn as far back as possible, making the loop created by the seat belt configuration as small as possible. This is great for maintaining BJJ back control for an extended period of time. 

Another option is to have your elbows involved. This means both your arms are so threaded so deep, that they go over the shoulder/under the armpit past the point of the elbows. This allows you to control the shoulders with your elbows, occasionally releasing the grip so that you can set up submission attacks. 

The Hooks

The hooks refer to how you position your legs when holding back control. If we think of the seat belt grip configuration as a “shoulder strap” of a backpack, then the hooks are equivalent to a waist strap. That said, this is one strap that you should aim to keep unbuckled under certain circumstances. 

When you’re behind someone, with a seat belt grip in place, place both of your legs around their waist so that your heels end up touching the inside of the opponent’s thighs. 

There are several different configurations of the hooks that offer different types of back control, and they will be covered in more detail further in this article. For now, remember not to cross your feet in front of your opponent’s hips when attacking the back; this will allow them to execute a sneaky and legal ankle lock counter. 

The Myth of the “Strong” and “Weak” Sides

I will just briefly touch on the old myth of “strong” and “weak” sides when it comes to BJJ back attacks. 

The old-school perspective s is that if you fall to the side of the choking arm (that is the arm that goes over the shoulder when in a seat belt grip) during BJJ back control, then you’re falling to the side that is better positioned for submission attacks. 

Accordingly, people saw falling to the underhook side (the side where your arm goes under the armpit in a seat belt) as the weaker, or less ideal, choice in terms of executing most submission attacks from the back. 

Given the constant evolution of Jiu Jitsu, this is now an outdated approach to the back mount game, as you will see further in this article. All you need to know is that both sides are equally potent for launching attacks. 

You might think to ask “why fall to your side at all?” Never fear! This question and more will be answered in the following section.

How do you Maintain Back Control in BJJ?

There are two key stages of holding back control. The first one is achieving points, which under generally requires you to remain in a position with both hooks in for 3 seconds.  

The second stage is staying in control for as long as possible after acquiring points. The reason for this is that you can take your time setting up submissions, as there is no other position that will offer you more points than back control and you are essentially safe from counter attacks.

Controlling the Head and Shoulders

The main principle that will help you retain back control is preventing your opponent from being able to rotate. The shoulders and the hips are the two planes of your opponent’s body that you want to be facing in the same direction as yours. 

Out of those two, controlling the shoulders (and subsequently, the head) is a very obvious battle you will have to learn how to win if you want to become a human backpack. 

The configuration of the seat belt grip, whether shallow or deep (as discussed above) is what allows you to control the shoulders. Rotating requires that your opponent turn right or left –  prevent this by blocking the shoulder that initiates the motion with your seat belt grip. 

The tricky thing to keep in mind is that if your opponent can free their head from the seat belt loop, they will be able to rotate more easily and begin escape your BJJ back control. That is where your own head position comes into play. 

Always aim to keep your head on the side of your low/underhook arm. Resting your chin or even forehead on top of that shoulder will prevent their head from slipping out of the seat belt loop.

A guy is holding a back control with BJJ

Body Locks

As long as you prevent the shoulders from rotating, you’ll be able to keep most people under your control since most people’s first instinct is to try and get their shoulders and head free. However, people who know what they are doing will try to rotate their hips first, which brings us to the importance of hooks. 

The best way to initiate back escapes is actually by rotating the hips before the shoulders. The regular placement of the hooks, with your heels on the inside of the thighs, will help but is not optimal for retaining back control long-term. 

In short, you need the hooks to get your points, but then it is wise to switch to a configuration that locks the hips in place. This is based on using the bottom leg (the one that’s closer to the mats) to go across both hips and locking it on top with the other leg. 

You can secure this lock in several different ways – with a body triangle, a foot-on-foot lock, or behind the hip. The end goal is the same – prevent hip rotation. 

Isolating the Arms

We finally arrive at the reason why you should aim to fall on one side when having someone’s back – falling to a side helps you isolate your opponent’s arms. 

To effectively attack from the back you’ll need to isolate at least one (and preferably both) of your opponent’s arms. This both helps you maintain your position by further preventing their torso from rotating while also allowing you to submit people with less of a struggle.

Falling to one side blocks the opponent’s shoulder and arm on that side since they are forced to the mats. Using the bottom leg to place a hook over both hips releases your top leg to trap the top arm, regardless of which side you’ve fallen to. 

The end result is a now helpless opponent who you can submit at will, regardless of how experienced they are. 

Back Control Drills

Understanding BJJ back control is not difficult when you know WHAT you are after (preventing rotation) and HOW you’re going to accomplish it (seat belt grip, hooks, and arm isolation). Becoming a menace from the back will require lots of drilling though. However, more than many other positions, back control will require patience – you can’t rush this position!

The only way to stay in back control is to make sure all your control boxes are checked before you even begin to look at submissions. That means a seat belt grip, proper head positioning, a deep bottom hook, and at least one isolated arm. Unless you have all of the above, you should not attempt submissions.

Drilling back control means first trying to obtain all aspects of control, and stay there as long as you can. Forget about submissions for the time being, and make sure that the moment you lose one or more aspects of control, you get them back ASAP. 

Once you get good with them, let people escape one or more of your control points and drill recovering them. Only when you’re comfortable with this should you think about progressing to finishes from the back mount. 

Submission attacks from the back

Rear-naked choke

The rear-naked choke is a staple of Jiu Jitsu which most people (even many people who have never trained BJJ!) are aware of. It just so happens to be one of the most effective attacks from the back, and can be performed regardless of which side you fall to. 

The rear naked-choke is also the number one attack you should go for, gi or no-gi. Why? Because it requires you to place your choking arm further forward than any other choke. This means that even if you fail with the rear-naked choke, your attacking arm will already be deep enough to immediately set up another choke, like the bow and arrow.

Getting the rear naked choke after securing a deep seat belt grip, a body triangle around the hips, and an isolated top arm is as close to a piece of cake as you can get in Jiu Jitsu. 

Bow and Arrow Choke

The bow and arrow choke is, according to John Danaher, the best choke in all of BJJ. It allows you to get as deep as possible around the neck with the help of the gi while having an angle that makes it near impossible for the opponent to escape. 

For the bow and arrow, you want to be lying to the choking arm side, which you use to grab the collar. You will have to modify your back control to finish it, though, by sitting up to your butt, while keeping the opponent lying in the same spot as your initial back control.

Grabbing the pants on the leg that is nearest to you when you sit up helps you add a twist to the strangling motion, which is exactly why this choke is so notoriously efficient. 

Rear Triangle Choke

The rear triangle choke has gotten really popular lately, mostly because of its use by the now-defunct DDS squad. To set it up, it is preferable to have your underhook arm down toward the mats. 

Provided you have all aspects of BJJ back control discussed above, you can easily swing your free leg so that it goes over the opponent’s shoulder on the same side. You will need to tilt to the other side at this point so that you end up locking the triangle configuration with your legs under the opponent’s armpit. 

The position can provide you with a direct choke option, a couple of nasty shoulder locks, as well as a route to a straight armbar. 

Armbar

Going for the armbar from the back is in essence a continuation of the rear triangle. To get to it, you can either go for the triangle first, and progress to an armbar, or go directly into the submission by swinging the leg that you initially place over the opponent’s shoulder over their head. 

How do you escape back control?

The best way to learn how to escape the back mount is to learn how to hold it in the first place. Reverse engineering from there, you can see how to maximize your chances of getting out.

Stop the Submissions

The first order of business, provided that someone has complete BJJ back control over you, is preventing them from getting to a submission, which means winning the grip fight. If you try to wiggle your body out without first preventing chokes or armlocks, you’re setting yourself up to fail. 

Clear the Hook(s)

As I mentioned earlier, people who have experience escaping the back will try to rotate towards their attacker by initiating the rotation from their hips. In short, as long as you can beat the bottom hook, you can rotate your torso, shoulders, and head to finally get out.

If you can control the grips while you beat the crucial bottom hook, you’ll be able to deal with the seat belt with relative ease. 

Slide & Turn

The final part of the escape sequence is to turn your body. In most cases, you won’t be required to rotate 180 degrees in order to face your opponent. What you want to accomplish is getting your butt away from the opponent once you beat the bottom hook, which will give you the direction to rotate to. This motion of creating space between your hips and the opponent’s is the “slide”. 

The turn that follows is pretty easy to understand – try to face your opponent. In most cases, opponents will react by trying to come to mount, which opens up plenty of opportunities for you to get to half guard or other guard variation.    

In Conclusion

Becoming proficient with back control can be easy when you have clear goals in mind. As long as you know what you’re trying to accomplish (stopping rotation) and how you’re going to accomplish it (seat belt, hooks, and arm isolation) you’re all set to become a human backpack full of submission surprises.