It’s a sad sequence of events that landed you here, and now someone is riding your back. You’re pretty sure they want to choke you unconscious. Despite your opponent’s clear display of superiority, you still have some good options for establishing a defensive base to use as a launchpad for your escape.
To start with, it’s critical that you deny access to your opponents primary goal, which is your neck. There are a number of variations that are used, each with their pros and cons. The method I prefer gives you the most options for your defense and escape.
Saulo Ribeiro labels this style “The Back Survival Position.” It’s aptly named, and is useful against all levels of opponents. As soon as you believe someone is going to take your back, start placing your hands on your jaw with your knuckles riding your jawline. Your hands should be crossed, and there shouldn’t be space between your hands and your neck. This is tighter on the neck than Ribeiro demonstrates in Jiu-Jitsu University, but I have very good success with this style against all levels of opponent.
This habit of protecting your neck while your back is towards someone is so important that every time I am on the ground by myself and I am changing position (for instance, from hands and knees to back on the floor), I place my hand at my neck as if someone is getting ready to attack me. It’s a similar habit to always getting off the mat properly and in base. Developing these habits when you don’t have to gives you the proper reactions when you do need to prevent an attack.
Once you are protecting your neck, you wait for the inevitable attacks against your neck. Each time a hand appears, you are only trying to parry the attack, not grab and control it. Keep your hands near your neck, and use a short push to deflect the attacking hand and arm. Especially take care to avoid pushing further than a short distance away from your neck. You want to always be able to return to your defensive position. This means you’ll never grab a wrist and extend it away from your body. If you do, it is very likely that your opponent will find a way to trap your arm with their leg, or otherwise take advantage of your half defense at your neck.
If at any point your opponent manages to get an overhook and secures it with a seatbelt grip, or they are grabbing your lapel with the overhook, you should treat that arm as if you are about to be choked by it. In the case of a seatbelt grip, you know the location of the other arm (under yours) and you can use both of your hands to control and drag down the overhooking arm. If they pull their arm out from under your arm, keep a grip on the overhooking arm, and use your free hand against your neck to protect against your attackers free arm from establishing a choke.
If your opponent does not have a seatbelt grip, it’s a good idea to keep one hand in defense of your neck, and slide your other hand behind the opponents overhooking arm if possible. Regardless of your controlling hand behind of or in front of your opponent’s arm, you need to use your hand as a hook, then drive your elbow down against your ribs to help lock in your opponent’s arm as far as possible from your neck.
Now that you have a good base of defense, you can move on to your escape of choice.
If you can keep strong control of your opponent’s back, eventually they might make a mistake you can capitalize on. Preventing escape, and having options to reassert control of the back if they do start an escape, is your goal here.
Seatbelt control is the best angle for taking and retaining the back. “Seatbelt” is just what it sounds like. Your arms are around your opponents body like a seatbelt, so one arm is over the shoulder, the other is under the other shoulder, and you are grabbing your own wrist and hand. There are a number of important details to be aware of before moving on to the rest of the control options.
First, the wrist grab is a common place for errors. You should always grab the wrist of the overhooking arm. That arm is the one that your opponent wants to focus on because it is the choking arm. If you grab your own wrist and hand, you deny your opponent the grip location that gives them the most leverage. This grip also facilitates the next detail
After establishing your grip, try to pull your hands into your opponent’s armpit. This tightens the loop and helps you keep your chest connected to your opponents shoulders. If you leave your hands more centered, it’s easier for your opponent to create space. As the video shows, this is because you are anchoring yourself with the distance between your elbow and shoulder, rather than your shoulder to hands. Another nice aspect of putting your hands in your opponent’s armpit is you have a very short distance to cover to get to chokes like the rear naked choke or short choke. If they lift their chin for even an instant, you can snap your choking hand up on top of their shoulder and tighten up your desired choke. Your underhooking arm is also less engaged on your opponent, making it harder for them to restrict your ability to pull that arm out to reinforce your desired choke.
Also make sure your underhooking elbow is pulled back and tight against your ribs to increase your leverage and decrease the distance between your body and your opponent’s body. You opponent will try to escape towards that direction, and staying tight will hinder that process, along with the next detail, which is head position.
Your head position is an important final component of your seatbelt control. You want to have your head in on top of your opponent’s shoulder, tight against their head. Your overhooking arm is already preventing your opponent from pushing up and out to that side, so their only option for bridge style escapes is to try to fight past your head to get their shoulders on the mat.
No matter how you are finishing your back take (against turtle, from technical mount, etc), the details of the seatbelt remain the same. The closer you can get to ideal positioning, the easier it will be to finish the rest of your back take or snap in a submission before your foot hooks are even engaged.
This brings us to the foot hooks. These hooks are necessary for competition points, and they are a good aid for maintaining position. Your goal is to have your heels digging into the inner thigh, and never crossing your ankles. If you cross your ankles, you are setting up a straight ankle lock for your partner. Set your hook on the same side as your overhooking arm, then set your second hook. If at any time during the process of getting hooks your opponent lifts their chin, take the rear naked choke. If you have good positioning and good technique, you don’t need the hooks to finish the rear naked chok, and you may not get another chance. There are a number of finer points regarding getting your overhooking side hook in first, but suffice it to say that for some attacks this is a good side to sink first. Besides, this is advice directly from Marcelo Garcia, so you can take it as an article of faith that it’s good practice.
Recovering After Attempted Escape
Let’s say your opponent beats your hooks, and is able to drive their hips and legs past your hooks. If your seatbelt control is good, all you have to do is keep it tight, then give up your hooks and go belly down. This is very uncomfortable for your opponent since your shoulder is under their head, and their back is flat on the ground. Continue to pull your choking arm into their armpit to keep your shoulders tight against your opponent’s shoulders, then crawl your knees up as you push into your opponent’s shoulders. This will elevate them while greatly restricting their movement and escape options.
As you return them to a sitting position, continue to drop your weight on their shoulders until you can drop in your overhooking side hook in. Then you can fall to that side and sink your other hook. If at any time you feel like you are losing the position, return to your belly down position and restart the back take. It’s all described very succinctly compared to describing the seatbelt control, but there really is much less going on once you realize that this is just on top of the sealtbelt control tips.
Back mount is the top of the positional food chain. Knowing how to have a strong defensive base to build your escape on is critical. Knowing how to prevent the escape attempts means that even if your opponent has a strong defense, you’ll get more than one opportunity to catch mistakes in their defense or escape plan.