Class 2014-02-26: Mount Defense

defenseOddly, many students fear mount less than side control.  I know before I was a blue belt, I often would let someone get mount on me so that I didn’t have to deal with the effort required to escape side control.  It was often easier to escape mount.  This style of thinking is caused by how easy it is to learn proper side control, and how hard it is to maintain mount when you first start exploring the two positions.  Yet we are told over and over by our instructors that mount is more dominant, so we attempt to follow instructions and then find ourselves suddenly on our back with our opponent in our guard.  That’s not what we were promised. 

However, as you progress, you realize that mount really is a superior position.  This concept was drilled into me in an instant when I attended my first seminar with Phil Migliarese and I casually said I like side control instead of mount.  He looked at me like I had two heads and asked me how many things I have to attack when I have side control.  I responded that I had an arm and sometimes a neck to attack.  Then he asked me how many things I have to attack when mount.  I realized that I have two arms to choose from as well as a variety of neck attacks, and from that day on I made it my mission to take mount much more seriously.  While Phil’s questions to me were simplified to help a mid-level white belt understand the concept of the power of mount, there’s no denying there’s a larger variety and more powerful attacks that are available from mount instead of side control.

Mount Defense

positionGoal Position

The goal for a good mount defense position is to have your elbows close to your ribs and with them inside your opponent’s legs.  Your hands should be protecting your neck and your opponents hips should be as close to your hips as possible.

This position accomplishes a number of things.  First, having your elbows tight against your body avoids scenarios where your opponent can insert a hand between your arm and body and use that to set up attacks.  Next, elbows inside the legs prevents your opponent from using their legs to separate your elbows from your body, which also sets up submissions as well as a transition to a high mount.  Finally, keeping your hands near your neck protects you from easy choke setups.

For hand position, there are several different styles.  I prefer to cross my hands primarily because that gives my opponent only one easy target.  The arm that is crossed on top will be the arm he attacks.  Knowing this, I can have my defense ready, which may be nothing more than recrossing my arms to force them to reevaluate the attack.

Another style is to have your hands placed on the same side near the jawline.  This also protects the neck, but it gives your opponent his choice of which side to attack an arm and it leaves your centerline and lapels more exposed.  The final style is to grip your own collar on the same side.  While this is very effective against choke setups, and it makes it difficult to detach the arms from the body, it also locks your hands in place and restricts your movement.

I won’t call the other styles wrong, but I find my style to be more advantageous, especially when I consider that I use the same hand positioning in virtually every choke defense scenario.  Building this hand positioning habit is tremendously handy (heh) in many different situations.


If my opponent has consolidated a mount and I am not in my goal position, one of my first tactics is to apply small bumps and use the space created to force my opponent lower on my body.  One mistake I often see is to try to apply the bump and the frame push at the same time.  It’s very important to bump, then drop, and to start your frame push as you are dropping.  If you do the bump and the push at the same time, you are just pushing your opponent into your body.  You must create space, then push your opponent while there is space between you.

Also keep in mind that your legs are an active part of the reposition.  You should be trying to push with your arms and your legs.  A good frame and rapid sideways wiggling can also work, but the bump is more effective when your opponent has a very high mount.


The biggest obstacle to an effective upa is good timing.  At lower levels, a sloppy upa will work fine.  Coincidentally, my second seminar with Phil opened up my eyes to the consequences of a bad upa.  I told him that I was escaping my typical opponent’s mount very easily and what should I tell people to do to avoid my easy escape.  Once he figured out what I was talking about, he again looked at me like I had two heads and told me to get on my back as he got top mount.  He told me to escape, and when I did the same things I did for open mat, he effortlessly transitioned to technical mount and had my arm completely exposed for an armbar.  I felt foolish, then immediately wiser.

I redoubled my efforts to understand the upa, as well as the technical mount transition and other counters to the upa.  When you know your opponent wants to upa, you are prepared for the attempt and you naturally consolidate your position to avoid the upa.  My big focus for making the upa more effective became just as much timing as positioning.

For position, you want to have your opponent down near your hips.  When you bridge up, they may absorb the motion by straightening out their body.  The closer they are to your hips, the better you are able to force them into a straight body position.  When you then add a leg into their lower back, they have no more range of motion backwards and they will be forced towards the floor.  The next sequence of events is where the timing has to be ironed out for most people, including me.

First, ignore jiu-jitsu and imagine you are falling forwards from your knees.  You will put your hands out and prepare to catch yourself.  If you don’t post your hands, obviously you are just going to face plant.  So you extend your arms and instead of stiff arming the ground, you absorb the impact by bending your elbows.  If you don’t bend your elbows, you run the risk of jarring your wrists and arms pretty badly.

View your upa timing as exploiting this sequence.  Just as their hand is about to touch the ground, they have committed to catching themselves, and their elbow is slightly bent and prepared to absorb the shock.  Your hands should be ready to help them collapse their elbow while they are still falling.  Their momentum will carry their shoulder closer to the ground if you prevent them from using that arm.  If your timing is right, their attempt to catch their fall will be fully redirected into ideal control and positioning of their body for your upa attempt.

However, if your timing is wrong, they may either withdraw their arm and post outside your reach, or they may catch their fall and stiffen their arm in anticipation of your attempt to collapse their elbow.  Either way, you have failed, and it’s unlikely that further attempts to control their arm will be successful.  Instead of fighting for the failed escape, return to your mount defense position and make sure that your opponent can’t convert your escape attempt into a transition to high mount or some submission.

Assuming your timing is right, the rest of the upa flows just like many sweeps.  You want their shoulder to the ground, their arm incapable of posting, and their same side foot/leg prevented from posting out.


Being top mounted is a terrible position to be in.  Ensure your safety by getting to this defense position, then you will be able to transition to other defense positions as well as execute a variety of escapes.  One defensive position I have been working on lately is Saulo Ribeiro’s mount defense position where you are on your side and creating a good frame against the hips and leg.  The mount defense position I present can be achieved against a variety of mount positions.  I believe it gives you the most options, especially as you are on your way to blue belt.

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