BJJ Side Control Survive & Escape: The Running Man Defense

Last updated on 30.08.2022 by

Stuck in side control? Don’t worry, everyone else is too! If you’re looking for a solution to this problem I will offer a foolproof solution, even though you may find the answer somewhat confusing. 

Here it goes: Stay stuck! I’ll even take it a bit further – stay stuck in bottom BJJ side control by doing the running man defense. This new(ish) position completely redefines what it means to be on the bottom and will turn side control from a place of suffering to a safe space that frustrates your opponents!

Defining Side Control in Jiu Jitsu

Side control is somewhat confusing for people doing Jiu Jitsu, especially those just beginning their grappling journey. This is mostly due to the fact that quite a few distinct positions get called “side control” and none of them are awarded any points in competition, despite generally being dominant top control positions.

In conventional naming, bottom side control is any position that has the opponent’s upper body pressing on yours from the top, with their body oriented perpendicular to yours.

There are plenty of positional variations that fall under the BJJ side control umbrella: wrestling side control, 100 kilos, kesa-gatame (Judo side control), twister side control, even north-south! The latter is a common source of confusion for many people. 

This proximity of side control and passing is where the point confusion stems from, A pass gets you 3 points in IBJJF rules, while side control itself scores none. However, since BJJ side control is the first position most people get to after passing, it is often thought that it is worth 3 points when in reality, it earns you nothing!

How to Escape BJJ Side Control?

How to escape BJJ side control?

The way I see it, there are old school and new school approaches to dealing with BJJ side control. The old-school one is to lie on your back and attempt to frame and shrimp. 

The new school one requires you to do very little – simply assume a defensive posture, and yet, offers your opponent much less than you would by trying to frame, bridge, and shrimp. 

Ground Zero

The first thing to do when caught at the bottom of side control is to actually acknowledge that you’ve conceded the position. It doesn’t mean you should give it away, but you should also know when your guard is past the point of no return and have to play defense. 

That means accepting that your opponent has passed, and making sure they can’t take anything more from you than they already have, which is usually 3 points for a pass. The running man defense I am about to go over offers a “ground zero” position of safety. 

Damage Control

After conceding points and ending up in bottom side control, the first order of business is to stop the top person from earning any more points against you or submitting you. Once again, the focus here should be on preventing them from making any progress whatsoever rather than trying to get out of their side control quickly. 

Remember, after they’ve scored their points for maintaining top position for 3 seconds, there are no further points awarded for top control time. Once points have been conceded you are no longer in a rush!

In that sense, turning to defensive postures like the running man ensures that you don’t have to move for the sake of moving, but rather only when you are certain where that movement will place you and your opponent upon its completion. 

The Running Man Defense 

The running man is another defensive BJJ postures developed by Priit Mihkelson. I caught wind of a variation of it from Stephen Whittier, before really getting into the gist of it with Priit. 

Head and Shoulders Placement 

The shoulder rule with all of the defensive BJJ postures is the same – do not allow both shoulders to be on the ground at the same time. That means going out of your way to ensure that one of your shoulders is off the ground, first and foremost when accepting bottom side control. 

For the running man posture, it is best if you turn your back towards the opponent. Yeah, you read that right, but don’t worry, they won’t be able to do anything. In fact, you want to be turned to one side as much as possible when getting into the running man defense. 

Both shoulder blades should be hunched, and the top shoulder should be tilted forward, as near to the mats as possible. 

Your head needs to be turned with your face towards the mats, keeping your forehead firmly on the ground. This is a detail many people forget, and it is a crucial one – keep your face towards the mats! 

Arm Placement

Your top arm’s elbow should be touching your hip bone on the same side. In order to achieve that you need to have your body crunched, aiming for your knees to be near your chest. It will allow you to place the elbow in a “click” position, much like being in turtle or panda

The bottom arm is another sticking point for most people. You should actually have the weight of your torso on top of it, with your elbow poking behind you, usually much more than you think is enough. This arm provides a base for the posture, making it harder for you to be pulled to your back. 

Your hands should be looking to actively engage in wrist-fighting the moment your opponent’s arm starts to appear near your neck or tries to get an underhook on the top side arm.

Denying the seatbelt grip from this position is essential.

Leg Placement

The leg placement is where the position gets its name. The bottom leg should be bent at the knee, with the goal of trying to get that knee as close as possible to your chest. 

The top leg should be straight, but the knees of the top and bottom leg should be firmly in contact with each other. Straightening the top leg makes leg lock entries very difficult for your opponent, and it completely kills rolling truck transitions as well. It is another very important detail often overlooked by people. 

Putting It All Together

The running man defensive posture has your entire body working in unison to achieve a common goal – protect your inside space. By placing all your extremities near the inside space, it helps you reinforce any one point by using the power of the entire body against common attacks. 

Being on your side, with your elbows protecting the inside space means people can’t get into knee on belly or mount to further score points. Moreover, when they attempt to tilt you or take the back, they run into a very strong base, courtesy of the bottom arm and leg. 

Most submission attempts a top person is bound to try will also prove futile, as long as you remember to keep facing the mats with your head, and actively grip fighting to clear all grips from your neck and inside space. 

Escaping Side Control

Last but not least, the moment you’re able to keep somebody in a position without them being able to do anything to you, you’ve got the upper hand to completely get out of BJJ side control without spending much energy. Getting to guard, panda or the turtle is just a whiff away from the running man posture.

As your opponent tries in vain to advance their position or secure a submission they will be forced to make space or overcommit to a push or pull. In these moments you’ll have opportunities to recompose guard, sit on your butt to get panda position, or roll to turtle.

In Conclusion

The running man defense is a forward-thinking, logical, and very effective way to defend, and ultimately escape BJJ side control. It provides a position of great safety, it prevents the top person from going further up the hierarchy of BJJ positions, and it opens up the option for you to escape or counter-attack at will!

It runs counter to old-school theories, but once you try it you’ll see how incredibly effective this new position can be!