Kesa Gatame Part 2: Attacks and Defenses

Last updated on 26.05.2022 by

We’re back with Part 2 of our series on the super effective kesa gatame side-control. In our first article we went over the basics of getting into and maintaining the position, while this article will cover attacking from the top and defending from the bottom.

Whether you are looking to add some dangerous attacks to your kesa gatame or learn how to escape this frustrating position, read on!

Kesa Gatame Attacks

There’s a wide variety of different attacks that you can do from kesa gatame that are super effective. Here are some of the most popular attacks:

Scarf-Hold Armlock/Leg Americana

One of the most used attacks from the kesa gatame side-control is the leg americana, or more commonly known as the scarf-hold armlock. This is a powerful shoulder lock that goes on fast – so use care when applying it.

Arm to the mat

Just like a standard americana, you’re going to start your setup by pushing your partner’s arm towards the mat. In a strong kesa gatame position, you’ll have control of the inside arm, with their hand tucked under your armpit – you’ll need to allow them to free their arm in order to set up this attack.

Triangle your legs

For this variation of the americana, you’re going to hook your partner’s forearm with your bottom leg. Once you’ve hooked their arm, you’re going to triangle your legs together to trap the arm in place.

Hug the head & hip up

To finish this arm lock, you’re going to do two motions at the same time. First, take your free hand, wrap it behind your other arm holding your partner’s head, and lift their head up.

At the same time, you’re going to thrust your hips forward to put pressure on their shoulder. Doing both of these movements together puts immense pressure on their shoulder and will force them to tap. Many people will tap with just the head lift, so be sure to go slowly here!

Kesa Gatame Armbar 

The kesa gatame armbar or shotgun armbar is a really tight arm lock that pairs well with the leg americana.

Go for the America

This armbar is set up from a failed leg americana. An easy way for them to defend is to straighten their arm – preventing the americana. This isn’t a problem however, as this present the armbar!

Control the wrist and apply pressure

Once they straighten their arm, you’ll need to grab their wrist and begin applying pressure to hyperextend the elbow. You can assist your arm with your foot, stepping on their wrist. Your thigh is the fulcrum for this submission, so be aware of where their elbow is in relation to your thigh – you may need to adjust slightly.

Head & Arm Choke 

There’s a nasty variation of the head and arm choke that is done from the kesa gatame side-control. Famously this choke was used by Josh Barnett to submit Dean Lister.

Cup your inner thigh

The first step in this setup is to take your hand holding your partner’s head and cup your inner thigh. Doing this prevents your partner from putting their elbow on the mat when you let the overhook go.

Push the arm over

After cupping your thigh, you’re going to take your partner’s arm, and push it across their neck. A very important detail that you cannot forget if you want to finish this choke.

Lift your leg up

You could just lock up your grip after pushing your opponent’s arm over. But there’s an extra step that you can do, which will make getting your grips easier, and make the choke tighter.

Take your bottom leg and walk up to your foot. Lifting your leg up like this brings your opponent’s head up, and makes getting your grip easier.

It also makes it harder for your partner to bump and roll to escape the position.

Lock your hands together

Once your partner is in place, you can start to lock in your grip. You can either use a Gable grip or S grip. A Gable grip is probably the best option, but an S grip can also be used.

The finish

After you lock your hands together, you can go for the finish. To finish this head and arm choke variation, you’re going to pull your opponent’s head to your chest as you squeeze.

This head and arm choke variation can tire out your arms, but is effective when done correctly.

Traditional Arm Triangle Choke

If you prefer doing the traditional arm triangle choke, that is also an option from kesa gatame. You can do the exact same setup described in the previous head and arm choke, but with a different finish.

Transition to your stomach

After going through the setup and getting your grips, you’re going to transition to your stomach. Turn out of kesa gatame to your stomach and place your forehead on the ground.

Squeeze with your body

Remember to finish the arm triangle, you need to take a deep breath and squeeze with your entire body. Your opponent will submit in a few seconds, so get into your choke, set up your squeeze, and just wait for the tap.

Escaping Kesa Gatame 

Being on bottom in a kesa gatame side-control is no fun. It will be hard to breathe and your opponent can set up a number of attacks. You’ll need to know more than one of these escapes in order to have the best chance to make it to freedom.

Uphill Turn 

Tuck the elbow

The first thing you’ll need to do is quickly tuck your elbow and get it to the mat. If your partner is able to control your elbow and establish an overhook, you’re in trouble.

Cup the shoulder

Next, your free hand is going to cup your partner’s should to establish a grip. If you’re training in the Gi, you can grab onto the material.

Turn up

Now with your elbow on the mat, you’re going to use it to frame on the mat. Then you’re going to use that frame to turn up onto your knees.

Pull the shoulder

To finish the escape, you’re going to pull back on their shoulder, and walk into side-control.

Bridge & Roll

You actually do two bridges in the bridge and roll escape out of kesa gatame. The first bridge is to get your hips closer to your opponent’s hips and get them in place for the roll.

After you get your hips in position, you’re going to do your second bridge straight up, and take your opponent over. Putting you on top and ready to attack.

Legs Across Face


The first step to do the leg across the face kesa gatame escape is to frame. You need to frame with both arms to make space to bring your leg in.

Bring leg over

Once you make the space, bring your leg over to hook across your partner’s face, and pull them over.


This escape generally only works on people who don’t have a good kesa gatame. If you try this on someone that does know how to hold kesa-gatame, they will make you suffer!

All three of these escapes are detailed in this video from Stephan Kesting.

Go try the Kesa Gatame!

The kesa gatame is an incredibly effective position with a variety of different attacks. If you add the kesa gatame to your game, it will take your ability to hold side-control to a different level. Be sure to also go back and read through part one to know the finer points of holding kesa gatame!