If you’re involved in any type of grappling martial art, then you’ve done a variation of a movement that is referred to as bridging. There are plenty of instances out there of bridge variations, but wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tend to really lean heavily towards that type of movement. Lately, hoover, a “new” bridge variation, has emerged that is as effective defensively as it is weird-looking. I am pleased to present something I believe is a new BJJ fundamentals technique: the baby bridge.
The BJJ Bridge Conundrum
The bridge is considered to be one of the key BJJ fundamentals, along with hip escapes and technical stand-ups. I have my thoughts on why all of them done in the BJJ fashion we’re used to seeing are less than optimal, but today’s focus is purely on the bridge. In fact, I simply have to start with the fallacies of the bridge in BJJ, especially from a defensive standpoint, before going on to explore the innovative baby bridge position.
The bridge, from a BJJ perspective, is done when you’re lying supine, with your legs bent as much as possible at the knees and your feet flat on the ground. From this position, there is theoretically lots of power to be transferred to the hips via the powerful spring made by the legs. The goal would be to throw somebody off of you.
I say theoretically because this is the first aspect of bridging in BJJ that people do without giving it much thought. Trying to bridge by leading the motion from the hips equals a very weak motion. Moreover, it is slow-motion, meaning you won’t surprise or “buck” anyone off of you, which would be the end goal.
The motion of a bridge should come from the powerful muscles of the hamstring and the butt, and driving with those instead of pulling with the hips will make the bridging motion a lot more powerful. That, however, does not automatically make it effective.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all about angles when it comes to making things work. In terms of the bridge, not many people consider the angle of the bridge, but they rather try to go straight up. That means you’ll shake up the top person, but you won’t throw them off, even if you drive with your legs.
Next, the BJJ version of corkscrewing your body while bridging means you’re disconnecting your upper and lower body, making them weaker. And no, all the leg trapping you’re thinking about doing won’t help you roll the top person over if they are not a complete beginner. Bridging like this will only make you weaker, opening up space to get your elbows away from your ribs and allowing for the top person to get your head out of alignment with your spine, breaking your posture in the process.
So, bridging up won’t help, no matter how powerful someone is. Corkscrewing makes your body weak and your position vulnerable. The success of it is also based on several mistakes that the top person needs to make in a sequence to allow a leg and arm to get trapped and not react and attempt to stay on top.
Using movements like this as BJJ fundamentals and basing an entire game on them does not seem very smart, right? So there has to be a solution to make the bridge work. There is. It is called the baby bridge.
A Weird-Looking Solution
The baby bridge is one of the weirdest positions you will see in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is also not a position you can use in self-defense in any conceivable manner. However, when it comes to preventing people from doing anything to you, in sports Jiu Jitsu its value is unparalleled.
The idea of the baby bridge comes from a Belgian black belt called Wim Deputter. He recognized the motion when he saw his newborn doing a very specific movement to flip from its back to its belly. A bit of further research and collaboration with the modern defensive BJJ guru Priit Mihkelson gave birth to one of the most powerful defensive postures in grappling.
To begin with, bridging is not as one-dimensional nor simple as we are used to approaching it. As previously discussed, simply bridging upwards will not do the trick, at least if you want to mount any successful defense in BJJ.
On the other hand, corkscrewing will only get you in more trouble. But what if you approached bridging from a different standpoint? What if you see the bridge as more of a dome than a simple, straightforward motion?
The baby bridge has you bridging without ever leaving the ground. In other words, the basis of the motion is to extend your hip as far forward as you can while you are lying supine on the ground, slightly tilted to one side.
In addition to extending the hips, you also need to throw your head back as much as possible, keeping it too on the ground at all times. As I said, the position looks weird but works unbelievably when it comes to BJJ defense against everything.
Essentials of the BJJ Baby Bridge
The weird positioning of the baby bridge is not random, but rather every little detail matters. Before I explain the position in detail, I will shortly outline the defensive concepts of using postures.
Namely, instead of trying to figure out a like-for-like defense for every attack you face, it is much easier to just use your entire body in a way that will prevent opponents from submitting you and even scoring against you. The most interesting thing about this concept is that you need to do less. You need to do nothing at all for the postures to be effective.
Of course, staying passive will not help you escape, but connecting postural defense to escape motions is a subject for another day. The bottom line is that once you set yourself up in a defensive posture, you’ll be able to deny the opponent access to areas of your body that help them establish control, which, in turn, opens up scoring positions and/or submissions for them.
The positioning of your body in the baby bridge is very awkward, and you’ll never believe it will work at first. I’ll start from the legs and go up towards the head as I try and explain in writing how to position yourself correctly for this innovative posture.
First of all, your entire body should be to the side. If you have both your shoulder blades on the ground, you will not be able to establish a solid defensive posture. The way I demonstrate the position to people that encounter it for the first time is by asking them to lie supine and lift one shoulder blade and the same side buttock of the ground.
From there, the bottom leg stays glued to the ground, with a slight bend at the knee. The top leg is either posting on the ground with the foot or just the toes, depending on, well, many things. For starters, pick what is more comfortable.
A very important detail is that the knee of the top leg should not point toward the ceiling but rather in the same direction as your bottom knee.
Positioning your body in this manner means using the top leg to generate force and extend the hips forward. In this case, that means that the side of your hips touching the mats will go as far forward along those mats as it is anatomically possible for you. The bottom hip should be glued to the mats at all times.
Your top arm position is the most difficult to explain in an article, but I’ll give it my best. You will need to connect your elbow to your hip, but as you do, try and imagine you are trying to elbow strike your hip bone. This will drive your elbow in a pocket of sorts, “clicking” it into place and making it incredibly difficult to move.
The bottom arm can go in various positions, but keeping the arm straight and as close to your torso as possible is a very secure one. The elbow of this arm can come away from the body, and there are situations in which this helps, but let’s just stick to the core basics for now.
This brings us to the shoulders. With one shoulder blade off the ground, this leaves just one of your shoulders touching the mats. You should aim to have that shoulder dropped, a.k.a. Round your shoulder blades to get a sort of curve of your upper back.
Finally, you should throw your head back as far as possible, placing the side of the head that is above the ear firmly on the mats.
As much as this position looks like anything but a variation of the “good old BJJ fundamentals bridge,” it is the most potent and powerful bridging variation you can use for effective positional defense in Jiu Jitsu.
How and When to Use the Baby Bridge
The Baby bridge is the last position you can get in to deter attacks before you are flat on the ground. As I said, having both shoulder bales on the ground is a very, very bad idea. With that in mind, once you first set up in the baby bridge position, you can use precisely this approach to test it out.
After setting up the baby bridge, one of your shoulder blades will be off the mats. Get a training partner to try and put that shoulder blade down on the mats. As long as you’ve followed all the steps in setting up the baby bridge posture, this will be impossible for them to achieve, even if they try to stand on your shoulder blades with all their weight.
This, however, is just the tip of the defensive iceberg that the baby bridge brings to the table. The posture is not just useful to stop people from putting your shoulder blade on the mats.
When you are in the baby bridge position, your entire body works in unison (you have posture), and it is extremely difficult for an opponent to try and pry open an arm or a leg or gain access to the neck to set up a submission. As unbelievable as it sounds, you’re as close to unsubmittable as you can get in BJJ when you’re in this posture (or any of the other postures in Priit’s system).
In terms of positioning, yes, someone can, by definition, get into side control or mount while you are in a baby bridge. However, how you are set up makes it uncomfortable for them to hold the position, and they will have no options to submit or go to another scoring position.
Remember, the baby bridge is a defensive posture you should utilize when you’ve already messed up and let somebody past your guard. It is not a way to prevent someone from getting points, but rather to stay safe in a bad spot and prevent them from putting you in a worse one.
That said, all I’ve presented so far was the static (passive) side of the baby bridge. Set it up correctly and people will have no idea what to do with you. Literally. When they are scratching their head, you can switch to dynamic mode and move.
The one thing that the baby bridge makes extremely easy to accomplish is to turn to your belly. It is precisely why babies use this type of motion to turn over (and they’re impossible to hold when doing so).
As an alternative to the traditional corkscrew bridging, doing a baby bridge from the bottom of the mount and using it to flip over will be extremely effective and less energy-demanding.
Basically, anytime you need to create space from a bad spot, do a baby bridge. It will help you fend off all types of gi and no-gi attacks while you take your time flipping over to your belly or proceeding to another of the postures in the Priit MIhkelson defensive BJJ system.
A New Way of Thinking About BJJ Defense
Priit’s approach to defense has truly changed the way people do BJJ. Well, at least those willing to open up to new concepts and ideas.
For those that need a bit of old-school analogy to get the context of the baby bridge, I’ll share something Wim Depuuter once told me: “the baby bridge is a hip escape motion, only done with your shoulders instead of your hips.” Let that sink in for a moment.
The bottom line is that using a defensive posture like the baby bridge will end up killing a lot of the opponent’s offensive game. Tie the baby bridge to other defensive postures (I’ve already covered the turtle and the grilled chicken guard in previous articles), and you’re essentially rendering more than half of what we know as BJJ (in an offensive manner) useless.
There is a good reason why people complain that playing this type of BJJ defense annoys them – it proves it is effective.
The baby bridge (and all of the defensive postures, for that matter) are now part of what I consider to be the new BJJ fundamentals. In fact, the first exposure to defensive Jiu Jitsu new students in my gym get is through the turtle and the baby bridge. The posture will help you effectively fend off all kinds of attacks while not having to spend one iota of energy. Moreover, it allows you to move on your terms whenever you want and get out of a bad spot relatively easily.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.