Every fundamentals student wants to learn how to submit people, or how to escape from submissions. After all, submissions end the fight, match, or sparring. You are also told that you should be a submission oriented grappler. At every turn, we are introduced to classes and technique videos that revolve around submissions and escapes from those submissions. What if I told you that it’s not submissions and escapes you should be focusing on?
“These are not the submissions you are looking for.” -Obi-Wan BJJ
How To Submit
Let’s look at submissions. Most students have heard the phrase “position before submission.” This is meant as a reminder that you shouldn’t look for a submission from an inferior position, like under side control or inside closed guard. If we go a bit deeper, this phrase should also be interpreted to mean that submissions are built from good control, because if you can’t control your opponent for very long, you won’t have the time to do any but the fastest submissions, and speed is not a fundamentals student’s friend.
Our real goal for the jiu-jitsu submission is to focus carefully on the control aspect of the position, so that your opponent can’t escape while you work to lock in the submission. One place this is illustrated is when you have top mount on your opponent and you want to do a cross collar choke. You reach your hand in, and your opponent tries to upa you. Instead of accepting the upa and hoping to finish the cross collar choke from the guard, your reaction should be to let go of the choke and post out so that you remain on top of your opponent. If you stay on top, you’ll get more opportunities to attack from the more dominant position, whereas a reversal may lead to your guard getting passed or worse.
How To Escape
What about escapes? Surely they are important, aren’t they? Of course, but a proper escape is done at the right time. If your opponent’s only goal is to control you, your escape attempts are much harder, and it’s a waste of energy to try to escape very strong control. Looking at the mount like we did above, your ideal time to escape is either before your opponent has fully established the position, or when your opponent has committed to an attack. This means you have a few seconds to escape before the energy expenditure is not worth it. This applies to both competition where points are involved, as well as self defense where you may be up against a physically stronger opponent.
After the initial few seconds, it is obvious that your opponent is in control of the situation. Your best avenue now is to become defensive. Wasting energy or attempting difficult escapes will only give your opponent what they want, which is opportunity for submissions. Every motion you make is going to be used against you, especially when you are up against someone who is stronger or more technically skilled than you. So when you are mounted, assume a defensive posture where you are protecting your arms and protecting your neck.
Unless you are down on points in a competition, there is little incentive to do anything but maintain your defensive position and wait for your opponent to commit to a particular attack. Even with superior control, almost all attacks involve numerous motions to finish the attack. From mount, armbars require quite a bit of motion to get into place. Americanas require separating the arm from the body while maintaining proper weight distribution. Chokes require both arms to be committed to the neck, leaving less ability to post out to maintain position. In all of these attacks, the person on top must open up opportunities for the person on the bottom to escape. There is no perfect attack. Your goal is to maintain a solid defense that slows down your attacker and gives you more chances to find the right timing and the right escape.
As A Whole
All of these angles of thinking about jiu-jitsu can be summed up like this:
Defense before escape
Escape before control
Control before submission
Your primary mode of thinking should be to keep yourself safe at all times, using proper defense to guard even against unlikely scenarios, such as attempted submissions from bad positions. Ideally, good defense will allow you to go straight to control, like when starting a jiu-jitsu match where you are both standing, which is a neutral position against your opponent. You still need a good defense against your opponents takedowns, but if you can initiate your own desired progression, you’ll go from takedown to control to submission without any need for escaping.
Things don’t always go according to plan and you will find yourself in an inferior position. Now you must implement a good defense before you can think about escape. Once you have escaped, you can attempt to get control of your opponent and get a dominant position, which leads to controlling that position. After fighting to a position you can control, your goal is to avoid going backwards to someplace you have to go back to defense and escape. Ensure that all aspects of control are in place, then and only then can you start to think about submissions.
Tactics And Benefits
This style of thinking will serve you well for both competition and self-defense. Don’t be in a rush to get escapes and submissions. If you focus instead on defense and control, you’ll not only give yourself time to come up with a good plan, you’ll also demoralize and frustrate your opponent. That frustration often leads to opportunities for you to advance your goals.
Another advantage to this is that you are far less likely to injure yourself or others. For example, heel hooks are widely considered dangerous because they can result in serious knee injury. If you treat a heel hook as a position you must control before you ever think about the submission, there is very little chance of hurting your opponent. When you think of heel hooks as something you must catch before your opponent can slither out of the position, you are going to go fast and hard, which is far more likely to injure your opponent.
When you demonstrate the kind of control required to immobilize your opponent and prevent all of their escape attempts, the submissions are very easy, require very little force, and are so controlled that there is very little risk of injuring your opponent. When your defense is so good that even a more technically skilled opponent has trouble attacking you, your escapes are done on your terms and with minimized chance of submission or worse position.
Focus first on defense, then focus on control. Escapes and submissions will flow naturally and easily when you do.