The Upa is your friend. One of many, for sure, but when someone is sitting on you and threatening your well being, the Upa should be your BFF.
Most fundamentals students know the mechanics of the Upa, but the biggest problem I see in practice is the timing. For a good description of the timing and why it’s important, check out the previous class I gave on the upa
Not the Upa, or Knee Push
Sometimes your upa doesn’t work out as you planned. You could keep trying, or you can go to a backup plan. In this case the plan is to get back to guard or to even take the back, which would be fitting repayment for the top mount you were forced to give up.
There are a number of different mount escapes that are related to this one. The common element is that you are escaping mount by putting your opponent back into your half guard. This setup works well against an opponent that you are having trouble completing your upa against.
First, make sure that they are not in a high mount. You need them at your hips, otherwise you won’t be able to push them into your half guard. Then, drop one of your legs flat on the mat and turn on your side towards that leg. You’ll need to be on your side completely, or near there. Use your other foot and cross it over your flattened leg and search for your opponents instep with your heel. You are trying to hook their leg with the your heel. If you can’t quite reach, it’s probably because you aren’t on your side enough.
Now that you have control of your opponent’s foot, brace against their leg with your elbow, and drive your flattened leg up as you scoop the foot over your leg. There are a couple different ways to get their knee into your half guard. You can either drive your flattened leg up high and get it over the knee, or you can push the knee with your hands. As long as you protect your neck, either method will work.
From here, you have a couple different paths to take. You can either swing your opponent to the other side to start putting them back in your guard, or you can get out from under their arm completely and start to take the back. Either way, you need to get out to the side of your opponent, basically rolling 180 degrees from the side you first tipped up on.
This particular sequence I discovered on my own. I imagine there’s somebody out there doing this, and probably 20 years ago as well, but I’ve never seen it. I like this over the standard giftwrap to back sequence because it gives me better control of my positioning, leaves me in a seated position, and sets up a rear naked choke that is hard to defend.
This gift wrap setup is similar to a armbar setup, where you are using your leg and hips to force up the arm you are attacking. As soon as you get the elbow across the midline, use your body to keep it pinned, then fish your hand under their head and grab the wrist. This will let you lock the arm in place without your body.
Now that you have control of the arm for the price of a single grip, you can start the process of taking the back. The first step is to pull on the arm to roll your opponent on their side. As you do this, transition to a technical mount and keep your heel at the hip. Also, make sure you are pulling your opponents hand back and down, as if you are trying to pull their hand down their back.. You need to keep the pressure in this direction so they don’t pop their elbow over their head and escape the gift wrap position. It helps if you use a technical mount that is lower towards the hips, but as long as you can keep the pressure on the gift wrap arm and prevent it from popping over the head, your body position is negotiable.
The next step is to further immobilize your opponent by setting up the straightjacket portion. While this isn’t necessary for the back take, it helps to further immobilize your opponent and restrict their options. It also gives you a more powerful setup for the upcoming rear naked choke, which is your number one goal any time you take someone’s back. Ideally, you want to get under your opponents free forearm, then wrap your hand on top of the triceps. If you are having trouble getting under the forearm, it’s OK to go over top of the entire arm and again wrap your hand around the triceps. The goal is to have the ability to pull one elbow across the body with the gift wrap, and the other elbow with the straightjacket. The more your opponent’s arms are restricted, the easier the rest of the process will be.
From here, you can safely dismount and start tipping your opponent up towards their legs Put a lot of pressure on the shoulders and you’ll be able to tip them up slowly and with complete control. Push them until they are leaning over their own legs. Now you should be behind them on your knees and pushing into and down on their shoulders. On the straightjacket side, step your foot in for your first hook, and lean towards that side to free up your other leg to get the second hook.
You now should be sitting behind your opponent at the perfect position to start attacking. Since you just relieved pressure on their shoulders, they are now very likely to start their attempted escape by pushing into you in an attempt to get their back to the mat. The good news is that their escape attempt doesn’t matter much at this point. You still want to get your second hook in, but everything is now focused on getting the choke. Their natural desire is to get their arms back into a defensive position, which means their elbows have to spread apart. In one motion you are going to leg go of the straightjacket elbow and punch through the gift wrap hand right across and under their chin. Neither arm will be effective at defense, especially if you are aggressive with the choking hand.
The whole setup has the familiar feel of pushing your opponent in the opposite direction of where you want things to go, then use their resistance to magnify your efforts in the direction you want. In this case you are taking the back and setting up a very effective rear naked choke at the same time.
The two escapes presented here are cornerstone escapes for the fundamentals student. Between the two of them, you should have what you need for 90% of your mount escapes. Pay particular attention to the timing for the upa, and pay attention to the various hooks for the knee push.
The gift wrap straightjacket is the only gift wrap technique I use now. There is a gift wrap choke, a figure 4 lock that commits both of your arms to maintaining the gift wrap, and many other variations, but this setup is the most immobilizing variation I know, and it allows even a white belt to take their time and be sure that everything is in place for the eventual rear naked choke. Higher level opponents will be very aggressive about getting the gift wrap arm up above their head, so make sure you keep proper pressure on that arm. Once you start to sit your opponent up, the risk of them getting their arms back is very small, and you’ve dramatically increased your ability to finish taking the back.