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.