5 Proven Ways To Supercharge Your BJJ Escapes At ANY Age

bjj escapes

You’ve finally found it…

If you’ve been looking for a strategy for improving your escapes – especially against younger and/or more athletic opponents – then read on, because I’m here to help you.

Nothing inspires greater confidence and freedom in your Jiu-Jitsu game than your ability to defend and escape.

Here’s a very common scenario today… A lot of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners have really tricky guards, solid passing, and a number of go to attacks, but when it comes to the ideal of “invincibility” in Jiu-Jitsu – the technical ability to survive and escape – their skill sets are often inferior in comparison to these other areas of their games.

The evolution of sport BJJ has a lot to do with this of course, but this isn’t one of those “old school vs. modern sport Jiu-Jitsu” rants….

The point I want to emphasize is this: developing great defense – all the way from early prevention, such as guard retention and sweep prevention, to being able to defend submissions and escapes from pins – should be the number one technical priority in your long-term BJJ development.


First, as I mentioned above, there is nothing that inspires your ability to “open up your game,” try new things, and get better as a result, than having excellent defense.

It’s analogous to a great striker in MMA who also has impeccable takedown defense… he has the confidence to let his strikes go because he has the counter wrestling skills and ability to defend the takedown. In Jiu-Jitsu, you’ll be more willing to problem solve and test new possibilities with your guard when you know that even if your guard is passed you can protect yourself on bottom.

Second, let’s face it… for an activity known as “the gentle art,” BJJ sure doesn’t feel gentle at times. I’ve joked before that 95% of grapplers have bad necks – and the other 5% will.Skull Ride

As you age, the wear and tear on your body becomes more of a factor; it limits you more and demands longer recovery, and those temporary aches and pains when your younger can become increasingly chronic. Physical limitations and extended recovery time are among the biggest frustrations of grapplers over 40 in particular…. sometimes the mind is willing but the body has other plans.

But the good news is that a lot of the abuse we take on our joints can be mitigated through intelligent training methods. Smarter training leads to improved skill development, greater efficiency, and less reliance on physical attributes like strength and explosive power, and these benefits in turn lead to lower incidence of injury.

Which brings me to the third point, and this one involves your long-term perspective as it related to training….

As I have said many times in my 40 Plus BJJ series:

No matter what age you are or where your current personal goals for training are at the moment, everyone should share one overarching goal for Jiu-Jitsu: to keep doing it!

To quote my buddy, one of the BJJ “Dirty Dozen” (first 12 Americans to earn their black belts), Chris Hauteur:

“It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left.”

A couple takeaways from this line. One, of course, is that if you have a healthy long-term perspective about learning BJJ and you put in the time, regardless of your natural athletic ability you will eventually become proficient. And by developing great defense and escapes, you will be able to stay healthier physically and less frustrated mentally during all the time that you’re coming up through the ranks. It’s all part of the process.

Another takeaway is that some of those who are “best” – who are the most skilled at their respective belt level or have the most innate athletic ability – aren’t always the ones who wind up with black belts. They could have been great, but they quit somewhere along the way. In fact, some even fade out once they’ve achieved black belt.

Case in point: a good friend of mine, an excellent male black belt (who has been a black belt for over 13 years) trained with a very high ranked female black belt not long ago. His game is marked by his technical finesse and fluidity, and he came away from the experience disheartened….

“It was really a bummer,” he said. “She’s a champion grappler, but I could tell that there was absolutely no enjoyment in it for her. She rolled frantically, like she was trying to fend off a physical assault, even when I was trying to just flow and move with her. It was so weird and negative I got the vibe that she’ll probably never do Jiu-Jitsu again once her competitive career is over.”

This happens more than one would think, and again it comes down to a flawed, near-sighted perspective. It’s not wrong to have competitive goals, but when your entire relationship to Jiu-Jitsu is based on how you perform in your physical prime, it’s very easy to feel that the game has “passed you by” once you can longer perform at that level. It’s no different than a professional baseball player who retires and never grabs a ball or bat again.

This is very unfortunate to say the least. But this is where the value of building a great defensive game extends beyond the physical; when you become comfortable with making mistakes and losing in training over the course of years you have a greater opportunity to learn from them and correct them. Notice I wrote “comfortable” – not just accepting.

The “sweet spot” occurs when you value your love for Jiu-Jitsu over the fleeting desires of your ego… when you care enough about your technical performance to learn from and quickly correct your mistakes in training, but not so much that you avoid making those mistakes because you can’t handle losing.

This is a recipe for a lifetime of learning, and enjoying, the art rather than an intense but temporary fling.

Now that we’ve discussed a healthy perspective that values long-term learning over short-term winning, let’s examine how to actually translate this into training. So without further adieu, let’s turn to those 5 Steps To Supercharge Your Escapes:

1. Shelf Your Attributes

The first step is to put your physical attributes on the back-burner. Which attributes specifically? The big ones are strength and explosiveness. I don’t count using your weight because that is something you typically have no matter what. But strength and athleticism? Those eventually decline with age… even “old man strength.”

There is a reason why a lot of lightweight BJJ athletes get props for being so technical… they never had the luxury of falling back on muscle or power!

The trouble is, it’s very easy for strong people to use strength and explosive people to use explosiveness to compensate for technical inefficiencies because they get away with it. At least, they get away with it most of the time, until they don’t – then what?

To get really good, you must have that willingness I described to be vulnerable, to be in positions where you can (and will) be pinned and tapped, but you won’t use your physicality to cash checks that your technique can’t. By focusing on protecting yourself and surviving with technique first… and then more and more, escaping using that technique, you will become a much better grappler much more quickly. Not to mention a much healthier one.

(This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use physical attributes to your advantage in a competition or a self-defense situation… in those scenarios you use whatever you’ve got. But at least you will have them layered on top of a solid technical foundation, allowing you to perform at your best.)

2. Prioritize Positional Structure and Pressures

bjj escapesWhile an individual’s peak muscular strength is temporary, strength through structure is permanent.

Regardless of your age and physical condition, you will always be to support much more weight using your natural frames (your bone structure) than you can press, or move through space.

That’s why structure, or posture, is always the first consideration in every position. Before we look at the entire sequence of movements that comprise an escape from a pin, for example, we must first determine the answer to this question:

“What is the most optimal, mechanically efficient posture for me to be able to defend and escape based on my opponent’s position?”

The answer to this question can change moment to moment as your opponent adjusts position, but in terms of physics there is a best answer at any given moment, and Jiu-Jitsu is all about developing the tactile awareness to find this answer while defending in real time.

From every posture, there are a certain limited number of pressures, or lines of force, available to you. From cross-sides bottom, for example, these would include:

  • Straight hip bridge
  • Angular hip bridge
  • Hip escape without rotation
  • Hip escape with rotation (shrimp)
  • Rock (or seesaw) the legs
  • Pendulum the legs

(Not all of these will be available all the time when you’re on bottom; which are available at any given time will depend on where your opponent’s weight is distributed, his grips or arm position, etc.)

The key points to take away from this are:

– There are a finite number of pressures you can use from a particular posture; and…
– That by focusing on attaining optimal posture/body structure and utilizing the available pressures rather than full sequences of movements that would comprise an escape, you can dramatically speed up your learning curve.

Defensive skills often take a long time to develop because they are acquired through an accumulation model – i.e., when your opponent holds you this way, you follow this series of movements to escape; when they hold you another way, you follow another series of movements to escape, and so on. This approach doesn’t just slow the learning process, it can lead to “analysis paralysis”… trying to focus on too many variables and details is a common reason students feel stuck and hit plateaus in their games.

As an alternative, focusing your core skill set around attaining an optimal posture (as early as possible) and then using the correct pressures available from the posture to create the space to improve your frames and escape. Using the 80/20 principle as an analogy, this would be the 20% of the work that provides you with 80% of the results – in other words, it will give you the most “bang for your buck” in the least amount of time.

3. Drill Smarter

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the notion of drilling in the BJJ community: what does the term “drilling” mean, and what is the best way to do it?

For many years in SBG (Straight Blast Gym) we have differentiated between:

  • Static repetitions of a technique performed with no resistance, and
  • Drilling with progressive resistance.

The former, static reps, we refer to an introductory stage: the rote learning and understanding of the mechanics of a technique; the latter we refer to as isolation stage, which always contains the elements of aliveness – some level of realistic resistance, motion, and timing. In fact, when we use the term drilling, we are always referring to alive drilling.


Although the introductory stage is necessary for perfecting form and body mechanics, isolation stage is in many ways the most valuable stage in the skill acquisition process because it’s the logical bridge between executing a certain skill with no resistance and attempting to implement that skill under competitive rolling (sparring) against full resistance.

Remembering that we want to prioritize training proper positional structures and pressures, the best way to apply this in our training progression is to briefly introduce the posture and pressures for a given position such as side control bottom, then drill those elements against the energy of a live partner with progressive levels of resistance.

In simple terms, this often starts off with partners doing rounds where the top and bottom partners just fight for posture. For example, the partner in cross-sides top may to flatten out and pin the bottom player, while the bottom player’s job is just to maintain proper posture – or recover it if lost.

In each round, top player will start off with light resistance and gradually increase the resistance based on how well the bottom partner is doing. If the bottom player completely loses posture and can’t recover it at any point, then both partners will reset and start again.

The next stage of drilling would involve the partner on bottom to add in the appropriate pressures listed above (based on the top player’s position). And finally, the partners would finish by drilling rounds all the way to escape or submission, again with progressive resistance.

The advantages of this method of drilling over doing high reps of static techniques or full positional sparring are clear…. It allows you to focus your training around one specific area of the game – in this case, escapes from side bottom – and get far more flight time in that situation than if you relied on getting there during free rolling alone.

Also, by incrementally adding elements to the drilling process – first fighting for posture, then adding pressures, then finding the appropriate escape – you will be developing a much stronger technical foundation than if you attempted to applying resistance against the full escape sequence right off the bat.

4. Proper Training Time Allocation

Now that you have a system for more productive drilling, let’s complete the picture with some guidelines for an optimal training ratio.

This can vary of course, but for now let’s assume we’re talking about the average student who participates in a one class per day, 2-4 times a week. For the purposes of this example, let’s say each class is an hour in length.

After allowing 5 minutes for a warmup, here’s a typical breakdown of that hour:

15 minutes: demonstration and introduction stage reps
30 minutes: isolation drilling (progressive resistance)
10 minutes: free rolling (sparring)

Notice that the majority of the class made up of alive isolation rounds rather than static repetitions or rolling. Again, the common tendency to jump right from static reps performed with no resistance and competitive rolling misses the most important aspect of skill development!

Moral of the story: if you want to make faster gains in your Jiu-Jitsu game, don’t skimp on quality isolation training!

5. Rolling “Advanced”

You’ve heard the phrase, “The ayes have it”? Well, when it comes to sparring for skill acquisition, you can just as easily say, “The Thais have it!”

I’m referring to Muay Thai fighters in Thailand. Due to the rules set of the sport, this is arguably the most devastating of all the combat sports, yet the Thais have evolved their training methods over time to become expert at developing exceptional timing and body mechanics while minimizing physical trauma. The reason is simple: the athletes usually fight frequently and the fights are very hard on the body, so it only makes sense to stay away from hard contact in training and save it for the ring.

The Thais aren’t the only ones who do this, but I draw the comparison because it shows that non-attribute based methods can be applied to sparring, and can work even at high levels of competition in a full-contact striking art. If they can do it, then Jiu-Jitsu grapplers should certainly be able to as well!hqdefault

First, let me define what we mean by “advanced” rolling. It’s not just “flow rolling” per se… the difference being that in a flow roll people often start doing things that would become bad habits during a fully competitive roll. It also isn’t about how complicated or flashy your techniques are….

Here are the criteria:

a) You should be able to roll for long rounds even if you’re just in average physical condition without being winded. A good test for this is that at any point during the roll you should be able to have a conversation without breathing heavily.

b) No keeping score. This type of rolling is about learning more than winning; you can go for submissions but no one should be tallying up who they beat, if they caught an upper belt, etc. If you’re doing this, you’re missing the point entirely (and probably a bit delusional).

c) If you have to use too much energy to accomplish an objective during the roll, such as an escape, then you must find another way.

So this style of rolling can be competitive, but the above “rules” insist that you put your physical attributes on standby even when sparring. This approach will not only sharpen and improve your technique, it will prevent wear and tear on the body and allow you to be more mentally relaxed and creative.

Remember: the goal is to use Jiu-Jitsu – be efficient and protect your body!

Want to take your escapes skills to the next level?

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