You got to side control. What’s next? Staging in side control is one of the trickiest things to do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but there is a way to ensure you can stay on top. Side control submissions are a great way of not only ensuring your opponent is thinking about survival rather than escaping, but also a means to finish the fight quickly.
The Main Top Side Control Issue
What is the central problem you’re facing when you’re trying to hold someone down in side control? Mobility.
No matter how much you try or how many different side control variations you use, you will face the problem of mobility from the side control top, whether it is the opponent’s ability to move or the lack of your own mobility.
Namely, when we hold people in side control, we usually focus our entire body on their upper body. This leaves a lot of mobility in their hips and lower body, which opponents often used to create space in the upper body region and escape or reverse side control.
In the cases where you decide to utilize a full body side control mechanism, for example, a cradle, you will be successful at pinning the bottom person for an extended period of time. I.e., severely limiting their mobility.
However, when you do this, you also completely take away your mobility as well, making side control submissions or transition to better pinning positions within the positional Jiu Jitsu hierarchy impossible. The reason is that you’ve dedicated so much of your body to pining the opponent that in order to move, you will have to give up some area of control, which brings us back to the first problem – the mobility of the partner.
The answer here is more tactical than technical. If you want to solve the mobility problem, you need to present your opponent with their own problem. When the only problem they are facing is that you are on top, and they have the means to move, they will find a way out – I can outright guarantee that!
However, when you provide them with more immediate problems to address, like the threats of side control submissions, for example, keeping someone in side control and/or moving to a better controlling position becomes effortless.
Cross Side Control Submissions
Since there are too many side control variations to cover in a single article (cross side control, Judo side control, twister side control, cradle side control, north-south, etc.). I will focus on the “classic” cross side control position and attacks you can launch from there.
You can do various side control submissions from the cross side control position, involving bent and straight armlocks, gi and no-gi chokes and strangles, and leg locks.
Armlocks are something of a gold standard in terms of side control submissions. Both bent and straight armlock submissions on both the near and far side are easily available from side control.
The Americana is one of these side control submissions people learn early on and then proceed to abandon it as ineffective and a move that works “at white belt only.” It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Braulio Estima has a very interesting variation on the classic Americana, which transforms the armlock into one of the most potent top side control submissions in existence.
Namely, you want to ensure that the arm underneath the opponent’s arm, usually under the upper arm, actually goes underneath their shoulder instead. The other arm goes on top of the inner part of the opponent’s wrist, as usual.
The way you grip your arms is different, though, in that you’ll be looking to grab the triceps of your top arm with the one that is under the opponent’s shoulder, rather than looking for the figure-four- wrist grip.
This version of the side control Americana elevates the shoulder from the mats, making the braking pressure much more intense and powerful.
The Kimura lock is arguably the most utilized armlock submission from side control. As long as you remember that you need the control of two neighboring joints in regard to the joint you are attacking, you’ll be able to pull it off every time you go for it.
In terms of the Kimura, people usually have no trouble controlling the elbow (as one neighboring joint to the shoulder joint) via the figure four grip configuration. However, people forget about the neck, which is the neighboring joint on the other side.
So, if you want to add the Kimura to your list of go-to side control submissions, make sure you control both these joints. Throwing a leg over the head and breaking the posture by bending the neck is going to do the trick.
From side control, I like going for the near side arm when attacking straight armbars simply because it requires less transitioning and, as a result, has less chance of failure due to too many steps.
Anytime the opponent has their arm in between you and them, that is an opportunity for a straight armbar from side control. The trick is to grab the back of the collar like you would for a paper cutter, choke with the near arm. You also grab the far collar like for a paper cutter, but you use the grip to sit back and sink in an armpit armbar.
Choke submissions from side control are tricky in that they are plentiful. There is real paralysis by choice here, with so many attacks available, especially with a Gi on. The following chokes represent the highest percentage of strangle side control submissions with eh Gi, without it, and regardless.
An absolute favorite of mine, this choke works best when you make sure you block the near arm at shoulder level. Placing a knee there usually does the trick. From there, it is all about baiting the opponent to turn into you, which opens their neck up.
The north-south choke is basically an inverted guillotine, so all you can do is get your arm over the opponent’s throat. Once you reach north-south, subtle movement backward (away from the opponent) will make them tap like a drummer in a metal band.
Paper Cutter Choke
I prefer the paper cutter choke over the baseball bat choke from side control simply because it does not leave as much space and requires fewer steps to finish while delivering the same, if not superior, choking pressure.
For the paper cutter, you want to have the near-side arm of the opponent in between you and them, with a grip going under their armpit and holding the back of the collar in the midway point behind their neck.
The other arm goes thumb-in inside the collar on the opposite side. Finishing begins with pulling the elbow of the arm, gripping the collar towards you, dropping the elbow of the other arm to the mats, and opening it toward the opponent’s ear.
Arguably the most easily utilized side control submission in dynamic situations, the moment the opponent gives you a glimpse of the elbow on their far-side arm, you should pounce. Once you overhook the elbow and thread in the choking arm, there;’s not much they can do to prevent a Darce, necktie, or any of the other arm-in front headlock chokes available.
While leg locks might not be your first-choice side control submissions, several of them are readily available from the cross side control position.
Very often, the bottom person tries to sneak their near side leg in between you and them in order to recover guard. Whenever they attempt this, they leave space you can explain to set up an easy leg lock.
Your goal is to place the leg that is near their hips behind the hamstring of the leg they are trying to get in between you. Basically, you are trying to shelf their leg, so they can’t use it to escape but can’t get it back.
You can easily transition into a bunch of leg locks from there, with a kneebar being readily available. If the kneebar doesn’t pay off, you can start working from the Inside Snekaku Ashi Garami position.
Side control submissions will help you defeat your opponent through fear and panic. First of all, they will cause them to focus so much on defending submissions that even if you can’t tap them out, you’ll gain a superior controlling position. Of course, the alternative is making the choke arm lock or leg lock you’re setting up work and be done and dusted quickly, without going through all the tedious motions of trying to maintain top side control.
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.