The Side Control Position
by: Daniel Frank
The side control position is one of the first positions that a practitioner learns about in jiu jitsu. Usually that learning process begins with the practitioner getting crushed under a partner’s all-to-eager side control. Can you relive, in your mind, the first time it happened to you? It is not a lovely moment to recall, is it? Side control can be a very dominating position if used correctly by the practitioner. It also isn’t the dungeon that you thought it was the first time that you were put there. A savvy jiu jitsu player can be comfortable while stuck under side control. They can look for opportunities to move to other positions, as long as they remain defensive and safe, and seize those opportunities when they present themselves.
You don’t just wake up in side control. There are many things that have to go right for you(or wrong for your opponent) in order for you to gain that position. Once you get there, you need to be able to keep it in order for you to do anything with it. One good way to get to side control is by tackling or throwing your opponent to the mat and landing in side control. It sounds great, doesn’t it? There are some tackles or throws that can get the job done, there are some that don’t. If you don’t get to side control immediately on a take down, then a little bit of intelligent hustle could turn an ordinary take down into a take down to a dominant side control position.
At times, you cannot immediately move into the side control position. You have to do some work to get to where you want to go. Practicing and establishing a good guard opening and passing game will get you to side control and allow you to dominate from there. If caught in your opponent’s closed guard, then find ways to open that guard as quickly and as safely as possible. Knee cut passing, knee drive passing, over/under, double under, torreando, leg drag passing, the possibilities of passing are endless. Find your go-to passes and drill them until you can do those techniques in your sleep. If you can start almost all of your matches with you in a dominant side control position, then you are going to be one tough competitor to defeat.
Don’t forget that take downs into side control and guard passes into side control are not your only routes to that position. You can also sweep into side control from the bottom position. If you are guard player, work on those sweeps that will move you to this dominant position quickly and easily so that you can finish the match. Stop looking at your guard as just a way to stop your opponent from passing. Look at your guard as an opportunity to get two points by sweeping into side control and finishing the match with a powerful submission.
Maintaining Side Control
Once you have gotten to side control, be patient. There is no need to rush to another dominant attacking position. Sure, other positions may feel more dominant and can lead to more opportunities to finishing your opponent but they can also lead to you getting put back into a guard, getting swept onto your back, or even getting submitted and losing the match. A consistent and controlling cross face is key to maximizing your position. If you can control your opponent’s head, their body will fall into line. It is very hard for your opponent to turn into you and use their lower body if their neck is twisted and their head is forced to turn away from you. Controlling your opponent’s hips is also key in securing the side control position. If your opponent is free to shrimp their hips away from you, then they can easily get their legs back into the match. You have worked hard to get to side control, don’t allow your opponent the space necessary to get their guard back. Pressure is also key. Keeping the feeling that a ton of bricks is on your opponent’s chest will prevent them from attempting to do anything but to wait for you to make your move.
Side Control Finishes
I will be the first to tell you that there are not a lot of finishes from side control. However, the few submissions that you can get from this position are very effective if done properly, and are set up correctly, so that a patient opponent cannot easily defend them. Your opponent still has a neck, two shoulders, two elbows, and two wrists to attack. There are a number of chokes you are able to use from here, from the most basic bread cutter choke to an advanced rolling choke with a little help from your lapel. Sticking with the basic americana/straight arm lock/kimura combination is also a very safe method of attack. There are a number of variations that will keep your opponents wary of your attacks. Finally, don’t forget that wrist attacks from this position are frequently available AND enjoyable.
Now that you have some basics to work on from this dominant position, it is time to get your practice in. There may be flashier positions in jiu jitsu and some positions may be more dominant. However, with some practice and hard work you can bring your side control up to par with those other positions. Make your side control dominant and efficient and soon you will find yourself working from this position a majority of the time.