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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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: