Smash Crackle Pop

Smash Crackle Pop

Part 3 Fundamentals of Pressure Passing: Smash, Crackle and Pop

In this article we will take a deeper look into the final phase of any passing sequence: securing the pin. Much of the principles discussed in the previous articles are still applicable during this phase, but there are some important distinctions between the control from inside the guard and controlling from passed the legs.

Let’s first look at some of the key concepts that are in play when controlling from the top position.

1. Connection

Connection is a root concept of Jiu Jitsu. Without it, it is impossible to control your opponent or to form any attacks or defence. When we talk about connection we are referring to two scenarios: the connection with your partner (inside space control) or the connection with the floor.

1.1 Connection to the inside space

The inside space can be understood as 3 distinct areas of the body: Hips, armpit and head.

Image 1: 3 main areas of control: Head, armpit and hip

These 3 areas are the full potential of control of your opponent. The fight between you and your opponent is always for the control of the inside space. The key to remaining ahead of your opponent is to have a greater aggregate of connection to the inside space than they have. The practical application of this allows you to assess whether you are ahead or behind in any given scenario, by simply making a tally of how many of the 3 main areas you are connected to and how much coverage you have of each of these areas.

Now although this knowledge is essential, not everyone has Rain-man levels of ability to tally up the surface area coverage aggregate mid-roll. In reality the understanding of whether you are ahead or behind in any given situation will be indicated by certain physical cues - when you are passed the legs, these cues come in the form of your opponent’s arms and how they frame on you.

For this article, we will be covering how the connection to the inside space relates to the side control position. Following on from the above definition of the concept of connection we have separated the side control position into two distinct categories: open side control and closed side control.

1.2 Open side control

In this position, your opponent’s nearside elbow is open and away from their body (see image below which shows the opponents arm propped up on the attackers hip). In this scenario you have maximum connection with the inside space (because you can connect to their armpit) and as a result, total control. The open side control is the most dominant top position we can achieve when passed the legs and on your opponents’ side.


Image 2: Open side control

1.3 Closed side control

In this position, your opponent’s nearside elbow is closed to their body and we don't have control of the nearside armpit. Closed side control will be the most common situation you will encounter when competing against a competent opponent. Unlike the open side control, closed side control can be more varied. The key thing to recognise is that the cross-side position itself isn’t implicitly dominant and that if the position is closed you still have a fight on your hands.


Image 3: closed side control

So, what is the difference between these two positions? Why is one more dominant than the other?

When the side control is open, your connection to the inside space is 100%. Your opponent has no frames to protect their head, armpit or hip. Conversely you have full coverage connection to their head, armpit and hip.

When the side control is closed, your connection can never be 100%. This is because your opponent has a frame between you and them. Their closed elbow allows them to protect their inside space, while also giving them ability to create space.

But why is this important? So what if they have a frame with their arms? You are in side control, it’s your whole body against their arms! 

The reason it’s important to understand the difference between open and closed side control (and the root concept of connection to the inside space) is that the defensive frames are not a threat on their own; they are a threat because of the second scenario of the connection concept: the connection with the floor.

1.4 Connection with the floor

Consider two situations:

Firstly, imagine yourself lying on your back with a medicine ball placed on top of your hips. How far do you think you could throw the medicine ball using your hips and the bridging motion?

In the second scenario, consider the same starting position, medicine ball and all, but this time your feet cannot touch the floor. How far could you throw the ball using your hips?

Depending on your athleticism your results in the first scenario will vary. In the second scenario the result will be consistent - the medicine ball will not move. The difference between the two situations is easy to see; without connection to the floor with the soles of your feet, it is impossible to generate any movement with the hips. Now replace the medicine ball with a resisting opponent and you have a very effective pin. Of course, this is an idealised situation, because unless you are adept in mind control it is going to be difficult to elevate your opponent’s feet off the floor without relinquishing your existing control of the inside space. The next best thing to having jedi-like abilities is to use a technique we call collapsing the bridge.

2. Collapsing the bridge

Image above: Collapsing the bridge

Collapsing the bridge allows us to take away your opponent’s connection to the floor by knocking their legs over and forcing their knees towards the floor. Simple.

So, any time your opponent has a closed side control your first protocol is to collapse the bridge. Collapsing the bridge also reinforces one of the most important principles that has underlined this whole series: the 45 degree principle (45).

The 45 has been covered in lots of detail in parts 1 and 2, so I won’t go too deeply into it again here; I’ll just cover the footnotes. The 45 is your road map for how to position your body and it works using two key components: create an anchor on the nearest joint to you and apply the 45 on the next joint up and across from the anchor. The creation of an anchor point on your partner is more straight forward when you are in a guard than when you are passed the legs. This has led to a further categorisation for the anchor point.

2.1 Anchor point - True / False / Tethered

There are 3 sub categories for how the anchor point is applied:

True anchor                         False anchor                    Tethered anchor

The tethered anchor was covered in detail in part 2, so it wont get covered again here.

2.1.1 True anchor - image below

The true anchor is the most secure anchor point. It is defined by having connection on all sides of the controlled joint. It nearly always occurs from inside the guard in the close range (the invisible half guard is a special exception to this).

Example 1: True anchor, knee slide/side saddle

Example 2: True anchor, invisible half guard (special case)

2.1.2 False anchor - image below

The false anchor is defined by the connection to the sides of the controlled joint only. The key point of control missing is that across the top of the joint. The false anchor occurs when you are collapsing the bridge, once passed the legs. Although you are passed the legs, your connection to the anchor point is one that constantly needs to be reinforced as your opponent attempts to recover the position.

Example 1: False anchor, collapsing the bridge

Understanding the dynamics between the true and false anchor enables you to develop an awareness around the transition between passing the guard and securing the pin. Understanding that the true anchor has more control than the false anchor will allow you to secure the pin when you feel your control slipping away from you.

2.2 When control is slip, slip, sliding away

Understanding when you are not in control of a position is as important as understanding when you are. Knowing when to adjust or change your approach has value and will be the difference between maintaining a strong position or fighting from a weak one. As described above, an anchor point requires 2 or more connections on the controlled joint. If the connection tally drops below 2, then your control can now be considered ineffective. In this situation you would need to recover an anchor point or transition to another pin.

3. Rinsing the spine

So far, we have introduced the ideas of connection and proper body positioning (45 degree principle) and of course both are extremely important to understand but they are useless if they have no effect on your opponent. To understand the resultant effect we are aiming to achieve when controlling with pressure we must understand posture.

In jiu jitsu we follow the archetypal understanding of posture as the alignment of one’s spine. An analogy we often use to describe this idea is to imagine that we are in the weights room attempting to lift heavy objects. Regardless of how we intend to move the objects (think bench press, dead lift and squat) we always need our hips, shoulders and head to be facing the same direction. Without this proper posture it would be difficult (and dangerous) to attempt to move any heavy static object; this difficulty (and danger) is magnified in jiu jitsu when you consider that the object you are attempting to move (and control) can fight back. 

Having proper posture means there is potential for maximum power generation through the body: it is also the position from which all good technique must stem. The goal when pressure passing is to beat your opponent’s lines of defence; posture is what makes these lines of defence effective. In order to beat the lines of defence you must first weaken your opponent’s ability to gain and maintain proper spine alignment – we call this process rinsing the spine.

In order to disrupt your opponent’s posture, and create a rinse in the spine, you need to effect 3 areas of their body: hips, shoulders and head (as shown in image 1). The control of each of these areas will be dealt with in the order in which they are met, as you are levelling up through the ranges of your opponent’s guard.

It is important to understand that it is not possible to rinse the spine with control on each of these areas in isolation. The rinse needs to involve control of at least 2 of the 3 areas to be effective. Rinsing the spine can be achieved in many ways: torsional rinse, lateral rinse and flexion rinse. Below we define each of these and how they are achieved.

3.1 Torsional Rinse

Image above: torsional rinse (collapsing the bridge)

The torsional rinse is the most common and most well-known examples of the rinsing concept. The goal of this rinse is to rotate the head and hips around the axis of the spine, while keeping the shoulders pinned flat to the mat. The below steps give a more general breakdown of rinsing each of the 3 areas (as this is the most common example of the rinse) and outline the key goals for controlling each area.

  1. Hips - Hip Deflection

Hip deflection achieves two main goals when passing your opponent’s guard. The first goal was introduced in the Part 2 Climbing Concept article. This first goal is that of hip deflection, which is used to prevent your opponent’s hips from gaining vision of your own hips – a term we call hip vision. Without hip vision your opponent cannot form a guard.

The second goal of hip deflection is to prevent your opponent from making a connection to the floor with their feet. Without the ability to connect their feet to the floor your opponent cannot reposition themselves to gain hip vision and they cannot generate any power in their core to bridge and shrimp.

  1. Shoulders – 45-Degree Principle

The key goal of the control of this area is to keep your opponent’s shoulders flat on the floor. It’s important to understand that keeping your opponent’s shoulders flat is an oversimplification of what’s required for maximum effectiveness when controlling your opponent.

Keeping your opponent’s shoulders flat is only effective if it is combined with a rinse in the spine. Consider the second goal of hip deflection – to prevent your opponent’s connection to the floor with their feet. If we keep your opponents’  shoulders flat but do not deflect their hips, then there is nothing preventing your opponent’s from bridging, shrimping and subsequently recovering their guard.

  1. Head – Profile View

One of the first aspects of rinsing the spine taught to novice practitioners is applying shoulder pressure to turn your opponent’s head. Again, it is an oversimplification to say that applying shoulder pressure is the principle at play when using the head to rinse the spine.

The goal when controlling the head is to force your opponents head into the ‘profile view’ position (to visualise imagine your opponent taking a profile view/side view mug shot photo); this can be achieved using any part of your body: typically this will be done using your shoulder, hence the often oversimplified description of the goal of head control. This head turn is only truly effective if your opponent’s shoulders are kept flat to the floor, as mentioned above.

3.2 Lateral Rinsing

Image above: lateral rinse at shoulders

The lateral rinse is used to prevent the alignment of your opponent’s spine by forcing movement in the lateral range. This is achieved by moving the hips or head laterally from their relative position with the shoulders. This posture break is typically used in the Middle Game (when you are still in your opponent’s guard) and can be an extremely effective additional detail for any guard passing sequence.

  1. Hips and Shoulders

This lateral rinse is achieved when you ‘open’ your opponent’s defences by repositioning their upper body away from their hips. During many of the close range, smash-type passes, your opponent will take their shoulders towards their hips in the lateral range of motion in attempt to close the inside space. The goal of the lateral rinse is to keep the inside space open by moving your opponent’s shoulders away from their hips.

  1. Shoulders and Head

This lateral rinse is achieved when you force your opponents head towards their shoulders. If done correctly, the lateral rinse of the head should also accompany the torsional rinse when applying shoulder pressure.

3.3 Special Case – Flexion Rinse

Image above: Flexion rinse

There is a special case of posture break when pressure passing that occurs when the spine is put into flexion. This situation typically comes about when the lapel of the gi is used to pull the shoulders off the floor. This forced disconnection of the shoulders causes the spine to flex forward, taking all the leverage out of the guard player's hips. It is extremely difficult to use your guard or be mobile with your hips when the shoulders are elevated above your hips in this way.

3.4 Rinse and repeat

All of the above modes of rinsing are highly effective in isolation, but the real, brutal, game-changing control comes from the combination of the different modes. Constantly aiming to rinse adjust and repeat, will increase one’s success rate in all aspects of control.

4. Summary

The goal for writing this series was to give you, the reader, a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental principles and concepts of pressure passing as we understand them at CF24 Jiu Jitsu. The combination of what has been presented in all 3 parts of this article and sufficient mat time should stand you in good stead to be a knowledgeable, effective grappler with bone-crunching top pressure.

The video below is a great example of the effectiveness of the pressure passing approach. Watch the G.O.A.T Roger Gracie using the principles outlined in this article to pressure his way to victory:

The Climbing Concept – Fundamentals of Pressure Passing Part 2

The Climbing Concept – Fundamentals of Pressure Passing Part 2

In part 1 of the Fundamentals of Pressure Passing series we introduced the definition of principles and concepts – with principles being the fundamental truths in Jiu Jitsu; and concepts being the simple to follow rule sets that inform a practitioners’ intentions during sparring. Essentially, this translates as:

“a concept is a framework on which the principles of jiu jitsu can be applied”.

The Climbing Concept is one such framework that informs your intentions while pressure passing and uses a number of key principles including the 45-degree principle, hip deflection and the transference of force.

The Climbing Concept enables you to achieve two key goals within any pressure passing sequence:

  1. Controlling In Range – Controlling the range you are in
  2. Levelling Up – Transitioning from one range to the next

Before we work through the details of the two steps above, we first need to introduce an important rule set on which the Climbing Concept is based – the 3-Points of Contact Rule.

3-Points of Contact Rule

The 3-Points of Contact rule is a concept taught to climbers to ensure safe and efficient movements during a climb. The 3-Points of Contact Rule requires that climbers always have at least 3 points of contact with the wall at any one time as they move from one climbing hold to the next.

This rule mirrors the approach we will be using when controlling our opponent in each range of their guard. If we consider our opponents’ joints as climbing holds, then every range of our opponents’ guard will have 4 ‘holds’ available to us (these 4 ‘holds’ are the four corners of the ‘box’ in each range of the guard – following box theory).

Our goal is to always have contact with at least 3 of these holds, as this will give us maximum control of the inside space. It is important to remember that unlike the analogy of climbing, where all contact with these ‘holds’ are made with the hands and feet, in Jiu Jitsu the connection to the ‘holds’ can be made with any part of the body – as long they enact some level of control at each point.

1. Controlling In Range

We introduced the Box theory in part 1 of the series, and detailed how it can be used to control the inside space. When we consider the 3-points of contact rule it is important that we remain ‘in range’ of the ‘box’ relevant to the range we are in.

To visualise this, consider the human body as a ladder, with each joint/level of joints as a rung. To stay ‘in range’ you always need to control rungs that are neighbours – So, the box for the long range is the feet and knees; medium range is knees and hips; and close range is hips and shoulders.

L1-Long Range Box

L2-Medium Range Box

L3-Close Range Box

The above diagrams help to illustrate In Range control. The 45-degree principle gives us our first two points of contact – the anchor point (yellow point) and the ‘application of the 45’ (red point). To follow the 3-Points of Contact Rule we always need at least one more point of contact in addition to the anchor and the 45. For maximum effectiveness this 3rd point of contact (orange point) must be made within the ‘box’ of the range you are in. For the highest percentage success rate, any grip/point of contact that is placed outside of the range is best utilised as a 4th point of contact

Controlling Out of  Range

Controlling In Range

Controlling Out of Range

 One common mistake is to apply the 45-degree principle and/or the 3rd point of contact, out of range of the box. Controlling ‘out of range’ means that you skip the next rung up from the anchor, leaving an uncontrolled rung. The diagram above shows an example of In Range control and Out of Range control. The distinction between a 3rd, 4th and out of range point of control is an important one to be able to make, and the identification of when you are controlling out of range should act as a red flag for your gripping strategies and body positioning.

Let’s look at some examples of controlling out of range in practice

Top player controlling out of range

Guard player taking advantage of uncontrolled rung

Our first example above shows an example of controlling ‘out of range’. The image on the left shows the top player, in the closed guard, attempting to control the guard player at the shoulders. In this situation the top player has no control on the hips, so by attempting to control the shoulders he has skipped a rung and subsequently is ‘out of range’. Being out of range, exposes the inside space and creates an open elbow, which the guard player is free to attack as his hips are uncontrolled. This example is a common mistake made by novices and shows the importance of controlling in range

Sao Paulo Pass from Closed Guard

The image above shows an example of an ‘in range’ pass from the closed guard – the Sao Paulo pass. This pass seemingly breaks all the rules for opening the closed guard (posturing up); so why does it work?

The reason this pass works is because the points of the control are all ‘in range’. The anchor point (yellow arrow) is applied at the near side hip and the 45 (red arrow) is applied at the far side shoulder (next joint up). Without the anchor on the hip, the control of the shoulder would be ‘out of range’ as the hip would be a free, uncontrolled joint/rung.

Controlling out of range

Controlling in range

The next example is less obvious than the closed guard situation. The images above show the top player in the Side Saddle position. The image on the left shows an example of Out of Range control. The anchor point in this position is at the guard players knee, which means that to be In Range the 45 should be applied at the far side hip. The top player has skipped controlling at this point, instead applying the 45 at the far side shoulder. As a consequence, the guard player has been able to form a line of defence, creating a frame at the top players hip and controlling the inside space.

The image on the right shows an example of the same position with In Range control. The anchor point is again at the knee but this time the 45 is being applied to the far side hip. This control follows the Climbing Concept and is In Range, ensuring that the top player has full control of the inside space. There is still a grip on the far side shoulder but this is being utilised as the 4th point of control, which is acceptable because the 3-points of contact rule has been established In Range (with the top players elbow and shoulder controlling the far side hip and far side knee, respectively).

Special Case – Tethering the Anchor

Tethered Anchor

Smash Pass

 There is one situation where you are seemingly breaking the In Range rule in order to successfully control and pass your opponents guard, and that’s during the smash pass, leg drags or their variants. As a rule of thumb we never want to apply the 45 to the line of defence/range beyond the next joint up from the anchor, as this would usually be out of range. The reason for this is that making the jump beyond the range we are currently in gives our opponent a chance to form a line of defence between the overly separated anchor and 45. There is an exception to that rule which occurs when we have managed to fully deflect our opponents’ hips and narrow the scope of their guard. The images above show an example of this situation with the guard players’ hips fully deflected and the scope of their guard narrowed.  In this position the guard player has essentially had their hip joints stacked on top of each other, and ditto with the knee joints. By stacking the joints on top of each other you concentrate two joints into one single point of control. Having organised the hips into a single point and the knees into a single point you have turned the hips and knees into the two bottom corners of the ‘box’. We call this Tethering the Anchor, as we have created a situation where we have an anchor point on the knee (yellow point) that also pins the next joint up (the hip). Having created this new ‘box’ with a tethered anchor (yellow point), we can now follow the rules for the 45-degree principle and apply the 45 to the farside shoulder (red point).

2. Levelling Up

The term we use for progressing through the lines of defence/ranges is to ‘Level Up’. Levelling up is categorised as the movement of the anchor point from one line of defence to the next, each time you Level Up your hips get closer to your opponents’ hips and the range goes from long to medium and finally close.

Levelling Up Through the Ranges

As you climb and transition between the ranges, your 3 points of contact will move dynamically. The diagram above shows the points of contact at each of the ranges. The example shown is for all situations where you are passing your opponent to your left hand side. The yellow circle indicates the anchor point and the red circle indicates the application of the 45. As you level up between the ranges and the anchor climbs, it is imperative that you re-establish the 45 to its new position. You will see examples of this later on in the article in the ‘In Action’ section. One of the most common mistakes when levelling up is not re-establishing the 45 on the next joint up; inversely one of the most common mistake when being forced to Level down (due to your opponents’ defences), is not realising that the anchor could be re-positioned down a joint to reinforce the application of the 45.

Additional Principles

In order to Level up effectively we also need to consider the additional principles at play during any pressure passing sequence – Hip deflection and transference of force.

Hip Deflection

Rodolfo Vieira showing a technique which utilises Hip Deflection

 Hip deflection is a root level principle used for passing our opponents’ guard (we introduced briefly when discussing the tethered anchor above). We have many methods of achieving hip deflection but ultimately the goal is to prevent our opponents’ hips from gaining vision of our own hips – a term we call ‘Hip Vision’. To understand Hip Vision, you need to use the analogy of your opponents’ hips having eyes on the front plane. Whenever your opponents’ hips can ‘see’ you, your opponent has a chance to form a guard. When we climb through our opponents’ guard, we use this concept in conjunction with the 45-degree principle to ensure that we are always ‘rinsing’ our opponents’ spine and maintaining a break in their posture. We will cover this principle in more detail in the next article but essentially the goal is to always encourage your opponents’ hips to face away from you. Hip Deflection is the reason why we use the ‘sidewinder’ in the Ground Zero System and why we ‘wind the clock’ in the Over/Under System.

Transference of Force

Roger Gracie aka ‘The Blanket’ utilising Transference of Force

This concept will be the overriding experience for your opponent. The 45-degree principle allows you to position yourself perfectly so that your opponent is unable to control the inside space; the Transference of Force is how you turn your positioning into an experience of immense pressure. There are two things you are looking to utilise to maximise the force you apply – your body weight and your connection with the floor. The first step to maximising pressure is to force your opponent to carry your weight. This is achieved by minimising the amount of contact points you have with the floor; this will mainly be in the form of keeping your knees off the floor. By lifting your knees off the floor, you localise your lower body’s connection with the floor to your toes. This enables you to ‘load’ your body weight onto your opponent, forcing them to carry you. This put lots of pressure on their lines of defence and you will literally fall through guard as their defences fail. Roger Gracie famously has the nickname ‘the blanket’ for this very reason, as he would drape himself over his opponent and use his bodyweight to pressure their guard.

The second step to maximising the transference of force into your opponent is related to what you do with the connection you have to the floor with your toes. By having your toes in contact with the mat you create a lot of traction on the floor. This allows you to use your legs to drive your weight forward into your opponent. You can use this connection with the floor as a multiplier to the force you are creating when applying the 45-degree principle; as you Level up, this connection with the floor allows you to drive your weight forward through each range.

Climbing Concept In Action

Let’s look at some real scenarios to see the Climbing Concept in practice and the two key steps of Controlling In Range and Levelling Up.

  1. Murilo Santana

Murilo is engaged in the medium range fight. He already has his head in position to apply the 45 but still hasn’t fully established the anchor point on his opponents’ knee, so he is currently out of range. He has good transference of force into his opponent.

Murilo has managed to ‘beat’ his opponents’ knee and is now in range having secured the anchor point. His opponents right leg position means that Murilo has established the anchor (nearside knee), 45 (farside hip) and 3rd point of contact (farside knee) in range. This allows Murilo to make the 4th point of control grip at his opponents’ elbow joint.

Murilo drops his hips on his opponents’ knee to further secure the anchor point. His 4th point of control grip is being used to break his opponents’ posture by ‘rinsing’ the spine (rotating the shoulders out of alignment from the hips).

Murilo is using this ‘rinse’ to set up the transition into the close range. He will use his connection with the floor through his feet to drive his weight forward as he Levels Up.

Murilo has initiated the ‘climb’ and is in the transition to the close range. This process involves moving the anchor point up to the next joint (from knee to nearside hip in this situation) and moving up the point at which the 45 is applied (from farside hip to farside shoulder). He is driving his weight forward, through his feet to maximise the control during the transition.

Murilos’ opponent has retracted the nearside arm in an attempt to defend the inside space. This has opened up his head to be controlled.

Murilos’ opponent has yielded under the pressure. Murilo has levelled up from the medium range to the close range and is now in the ‘Advantage’ position in the Ground Zero System. In this new position Murilo has established the anchor point on the near side hip and the 45 applied to the farside shoulder; and is still maintaining good pressure through his connection with the floor.


  1. Roger Gracie

Roger is in the long range with his opponent (Romulo Barral). Roger is using the transference of force principle to pressure Romulos’ lines of defence. The anchor point is currently at Romulos’ foot and Roger is applying the 45 with the underhook on the far leg.

Rogers’ pressure has allowed him to climb the anchor point from Romulos’ foot to his knee. Having Levelled Up to the medium range Roger can no increase the force applied at the 45.

Here we can see the 45-principle being applied with the transference of force in full effect.

Romulo is starting to yield under the pressure but has managed to place his anchored leg between Rogers’ legs, in an attempt to create a line of defence. Romulos’ ‘hook’ has allowed Roger to further secure the anchor point.

Roger has managed to secure his pressure in the medium range and will now look to deflect Romulos’ hip so that he can ‘rinse’ the spine and Level Up to the close range.

Roger achieves the hip deflection by using his right hand to pass Romulos’ leg from Rogers left shoulder into Rogers’ right hip.

Having deflected the hips and Levelled Up to the close range Roger has created a new anchor point on Romulos’ hips. Using the climbing concept Roger now applies the 45 over Romulos’ farside shoulder, preventing rotation of the shoulders towards the anchor point and ‘rinsing’ the spine.

Controlling with the 45-degree principle from the close range through to the guard pass, Roger ensures to maintain the posture break/rinse in Romulos’ spine by preventing rotation of the shoulders towards the deflected hips.

Summary and Further Learning

Following these rules ensures that regardless of what ‘problems’ your opponent puts in front of you, you are always able to ‘problem solve’ the situation. The Climbing Concept is an extremely important tool in your guard passing arsenal. It allows you to make informed decisions when faced with any problem your opponent my present to you, as it informs your body positioning and your gripping strategy. The Climbing Concept also enables you to identify when there is an opportunity to Level Up through the ranges of your opponents’ guard and ensures that you also maintain the core fundamentals of the 45-degree principle, hip deflection and the transference of force.

The following match is the 2009 Mundials Absolute Final between Roger Gracie and Romulo Barral. Roger shows some great examples of the Climbing Concept and its underlying principles in this match.

Without pressure, there are no diamonds – The Fundamentals of Pressure Passing

Without pressure, there are no diamonds – The Fundamentals of Pressure Passing

In the realm of guard passing, pressure is king. The use of pressure to pass the guard is extremely effective and is seen at the highest level of competition, across all weight categories. The variety of body types across the weight classes means that the pressure approach comes in a variety of styles, but all are underpinned with a succinct number of key concepts and principles that tie them all together.

L1 – Long Range

L2 – Medium Range

L3 – Close Range

At CF24 Jiu Jitsu we categorise the different styles into 3 ranges and we have Systems to address all 3. The table above illustrates the 3 ranges with the red line indicating the position of the guard passers hips in each range:

L1 – Long range – Headquarters System

  • Top player is within the guard players’ long range/first lines of defence (shins and feet).

L 2 – Medium range – Over / Under System and Side Saddle System

  • Top player is within the guard players’ medium range/second line of defence (knees).

L3 – Close range – Ground Zero System

  • Top player is within the guard players’ close range/last lines of defence (hips and hands).

All the ranges outlined above follow a fundamental overarching concept – control of the inside space. The game plan is straight forward – you are aiming to unlock your opponents guard by overwhelming their lines of defence so that you can occupy the inside space. Each of the systems mentioned above are built around this strategy to break through your opponents’ defence, pitch your tent behind enemy lines and then shut down your opponents’ defences one by one. Each step you make forward, through the lines of defence, you claim more territory, bit by bit, until your opponent has no option other than to yield under the pressure. It is this enforced claustrophobia that makes pressure passing so effective, the experience for the guard player should feel like you (the guard passer) are an avalanche, unstoppably flowing from one system to the next as you pass through their lines of defence. For that avalanche effect you need to be able to seamlessly connect the systems in each of the 3 ranges, and for that an understanding of the underlying concepts and principles that tie each together is required.

Key Principles and Concepts

To understand the concepts and principles at play when pressure passing we first need to understand what we define as a concept and what we define as a principle. A concept is a simple to follow rule set/plan that enables the practitioner to understand key aspects of Jiu Jitsu. The concepts of Jiu Jitsu form the structure for the practitioners’ intentions during sparring. A principle is a fundamental truth that forms the foundation for any position, technique or system in Jiu Jitsu.

Box Theory

When discussing ‘inside space’ it is hard to find a better concept than the Box Theory.

Box Theory

Box Theory and the 45 degree principle

Damien Maia introduced the Box Theory in his excellent instructional series ‘Science of Jiu Jitsu’. This theory considers your opponents’ torso as a box (illustrated above with the green lines), with the shoulders and hips forming the 4 corners. Box theory dictates that in order to enact complete control of your opponent you need to control each of these four corners. The goal is to ensure that the four corners of the box remain immobile, whether that be through pinning them to the floor, elevating them off the floor or by any other means.  The Box Theory has a deeper underlying principle for effective retention of inside space control – The 45 Degree Principle. When considering the control of the inside space via the Box Theory, maximum control is realised when focussing the control to opposing corners of the ‘box’ (the diagram above illustrates an example of this with the red line connecting two opposing corners of the green box). If control is lost from these two corners, then your opponent can start to escape and even initiate their own attacks. So how can we use this in practice?

45-Degree Principle

 The 45-degree principle is accessible and easy to understand and is utilised by elite guard passers in all weight divisions. The steps required to enact the 45-degree principle are as follows:

Create an anchor (yellow arrow– The anchor is the first step to making the 45-degree principle work. For simplicity we can use the example in the image above with Marcelo Garcia playing the Ground Zero system (L3 – Close range). When in the Ground Zero you are pinning the near-side hip of your opponent with your knees and hip. By pinning their hip you essentially anchor one corner of your opponents ‘box’. This anchor point creates a very obvious and readable response from the guard player.  For the guard player to put up any semblance of an offence they will look to rotate their shoulders towards the side of the anchor point.  This follows the concept of posture – with shoulders and hip alignment required to enable efficient and powerful movements. Elite guard passers use this easy to predict reaction to ensure that the guard player can never achieve good posture, allowing them to pressure the position and pass.

Creating the anchor can come in many forms and its application is required through all phases of a passing sequence. Essentially to create the anchor you are looking to position your body in such a way that you immobilise one of your opponents’ joints.

Apply the 45 (red arrow) – Applying the 45 refers to the act of preventing rotation in your opponents’ hips or shoulders. As a rule, we always look to control our opponent at their joints. Using the datum of your opponents’ feet as the lowest point on their body, the area that you will be looking to prevent from rotating is located on the next joint up from the anchor point and on the opposing side to the anchor point. This can be seen in the image above with Marcelo applying the 45 (red arrow) to the farside shoulder, as he has created an anchor point (yellow arrow) on the nearside hip. This rotation prevention does two things depending on which range the anchor point has been created.

Applying the 45 in the different ranges

As you progress through the ranges it is important to recognise how the application of this step changes as the anchor point moves.

In the long and medium range, where the anchor point is on your opponents’ foot or knee, the goal is to prevent your opponent from gaining hip vision (hip vision is defined as the moment your opponents’ hips can ‘see’ you or the front of their hips are facing you). In this range you are utilising the principle of hip deflection. By preventing rotation of the hips towards the anchor point you simultaneously prevent hip vision and deflect the hip away from you. This process ensures that your opponent never gets an opportunity to form any sort of offence.

In the close range, the goal is to prevent the shoulder from turning towards the anchor point. Preventing rotation of the shoulders towards the anchored side ultimately keeps your opponents’ shoulders flat. This essentially creates a posture break as the shoulders and hips are out of alignment, and a ‘rinse’ in the spine is created. This ‘rinse’ weakens the movements of the guard player and nullifies their effective offensive options, allowing you to dominate the inside space and work your own attacks.

Applying the 45 to prevent rotation is the often overlooked element of pressure passing and is the real game changer for many people’s understanding of Jiu Jitsu as a whole. One of the most well-known applications of the rotation prevention within the 45-degree principle is the far side underhook. Something that all practitioners will have been taught as an important aspect of many techniques but not necessarily something that’s truly understood. So, it is true that underhooks are important but it’s just as important to understand why they are effective, that’s where the 45-degree principle comes in. The far side underhook is effective because it prevents rotation of your opponents’ shoulders, which ultimatley allows you to control your opponents posture and the inside space. There are many other options to achieve the rotation prevention such as: Invisible underhooks, Head Positioning, Arm pins, Mantis hooks, the pit hook, or any other action that abides by the 45 degree principle.

45-degree principle In Action

Let’s look at a couple of examples of the 45-degree principle in action

1 – Pablo Popovitch

Close range application of the 45-degree principle

The images above show multiple time ADCC Champion Pablo Popovitch using the Ground Zero system (Close Range) to pressure pass his opponent. Pablo is in the ‘Advantage’ position in both of these scenarios and has created an anchor point on the near side hip of his opponent. Having successfully created the anchor point he is applying the 45 to the farside shoulder of his opponent (the opposite corner of the ‘box’ / the corner at 45 degrees from the anchor point). Pablo uses this control to prevent his opponents’ shoulders from rotating towards the anchor point, allowing him to maintain inside space control.

2 – Gui Mendes 

Close range application of the 45 degree principle

Medium range transition to close range application of the 45 degree principle

Gui Mendes, was one of the best pressure passers in the game. The 4-time World Champion dominated his division for many years utilising the key concepts and principles of pressure passing. In the two scenarios shown above, Gui is creating the anchor using his shin across his opponents’ thigh with his knee in contact with his opponents’ hip. To prevent rotation in the shoulders he is utilising the invisible underhook (farside lapel passed behind opponents’ shoulders to his nearside hand). This posture break of his opponent allows him to control the inside space and pass the guard (or in Gui’s case set up the Baseball bat/brabo choke). During his competitive career Gui favoured the medium range Side Saddle System and used it to transition into the close range Ground Zero system predominantly with the knee-slide technique.

3 – Murilo Santana

Medium range application of the 45 degree principle

Here you can see Murilo Santana implementing his infamous over/under pass. This medium range system has the anchor point at his opponents’ knee. Murilo creates the anchor by controlling the knee with his legs. The rotation to control in this range is that of the next joint up from the anchor, the hips. Murilo applies the 45 by Tipping the Hip away from him using his over under grips and driving his weight at a 45-degree angle between the anchor point and rotation point. In this particular example Murilos’ opponent has connecting their feet together in an attempt to prevent Murilo from passing to the near side with the wind shield wiper step. This ‘defence’ opens up the guard players farside hip, Murilo can make use of this to Level Up to the next system, the Ground Zero. This levelling up will be covered in Part 2 where we cover the Climbing Concept but essentially the goal when progressing through the ranges is to create the anchor point on the next line of defence and apply the 45-degree principle accordingly from there.

 Summary and Further Learning

We deem this to be an area of extreme importance for everyone’s progression in Jiu Jitsu. Using the concepts approach to learning Jiu Jitsu is one method of accelerating your development. Concepts expose you to the threshold learning idea that once a student develops an understanding in one area, all proceeding understanding is more easily obtained and retained.

Now that you are armed with a new insight into the underlying principles at play during a guard passing exchange, it is time to delve into your own research. If used correctly YouTube can be a great resource for this. Concentrate your research on high level matches with the following athletes – Roger Gracie, Marcelo Garcia, Rodlfo Viera, Lucas Lepri, Murilo Santana and Gui Mendes. The athletes mentioned cover nearly all weight categories and a good mix of body types. These athletes are all elite guard passers, that all favour pressure passing. Look for the moments when the 45-degree principle is in play and see how that correlates to successfully passing the guard. Here is one of our favourite examples to get you started – This match is between Marcelo Garcia and Leo Viera in the final of the 2011 ADCC. Marcelo uses the Ground Zero system and the 45-degree principle to dominate top position before passing and eventually finishing with a triangle.

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In our next post we will go into detail about the Climbing Concept. The Climbing Concept binds the 3 ranges together and sets out the rule set to follow to seamlessly transition from one layer of your opponents’ guard to the next.