Curriculum Planning – Fundamentals of the Back


In classical jiujitsu positional hierarchy, the back is the most dominant position. It’s worth 4 points in IBJJF, UWW Grappling, and similar rule sets and 3 in ADCC. In EBI it’s one of the overtime positions to have mastered. While the back is of little consequence in sports with pinning like judo and Sambo, submission-oriented flavors of grappling heavily reward it. The reason for this is pretty clear – the rear naked choke. Understanding this is the first fundamental to me – the primary attack from the back should be the RNC and the goal of positional advancement to the back is in service of that choke.

Escapes

  • Scoop Escape
  • Hail Mary Escape
  • (Mike’s Escape)

The first escape I like to teach I generally refer to as the “Scoop Escape”, “Saulo’s Escape”, or some variation of “Submarine Escape”. It’s the escape from pages 53-55 of Jiu-Jitsu University (predicated on the Scoop position from page 20, thus why I sometimes call it the Scoop Escape). Hips toward your feet (Scoop), chamber and kick on the choking side to kill a hook, rechamber the leg to an elbow-knee position, drive into their shoulder/chest with your shoulder as you rotate over their remaining hook into top half, consolidate. This escape can be really complex for beginners, but I think it’s value is in deconstructing what makes for good back control and giving a frame for an idealized escape. This is typically where I’m talking about what the person on the back wants so it’s effective for teaching both people different skills at the same time.

The second escape I teach is one of pragmatism. I refer to it as a “Simple Escape” because it lacks a lot of nuance or detail or the “Hail Mary Escape” because if better escapes have failed you, this is the next thing to try but it won’t necessarily get you to a good place. The only goal of this escape is to get your shoulders to the mat by any means necessary. I generally show it by falling to the weak side, killing the bottom hook to allow for rotation relative to your opponent, and then getting both shoulders to the mat. This escape, as shown, almost always gives up mount. There are ways to modify it to give them top half guard or even come up on top side control instead, but as the real point for beginners in a fundamentals class is shoulders to the mat so I avoid adding too many details that would allow for better positions. To me, those are modifications to the core goal of shoulders to the mat.

The third escape is one I don’t actually like to teach as a fundamental. Mike does an escape where he establishes a baseball bat grip on the choking arm, uses that to pull the arm down toward his hips, shrugs and moves his head to get the arm to the other side and then can rotate into/onto the arm, once driving into the arm/shoulder it becomes about rotating out, killing a hook, and continuing the drive to come up into top side control. This escape is a good escape; it keeps you safe from the choke while you’re escaping, it uses the strong posterior chain for the drive, it almost always ends up as a true reversal. The reason I’m hesitant with it as a basic is because I don’t feel the discrete steps characterize back control so much as they prevent it and it’s not as dead simple as the Hail Mary Escape. That is, it’s an escape I do like to teach for regular classes, but I generally only show it as a fundamental if everyone got the first two escapes really quickly or it’s a group where almost everyone has already been through the back sequence once before.

Attacks

  • Rear Naked Choke

There are myriad attacks from the back, but the goal is to choke. Yes, options like switching to an arm bar or a reverse triangle will be discussed as someone always asks. Always. However, in terms of what’s explicitly taught, I think it’s worth it to just stick to the choke for now. For one, it keeps the techniques limited – two escapes and one choke is plenty to get through in one class. Further, if you’re on someone’s back and you can’t choke them, unless they’re way ahead of you in terms of skill, some modification needs to be made to your back control or your choke.

Drills

I like to warm folks up by having them first just control with a seat belt and trying to keep their sternum connected with the triangle formed by the shoulder blades on the back. No legs as hooks. Uke’s goal is to get their shoulders to the mat, tori’s goal is to hold that control no matter how they get spun, flipped, or rotated in space. Reset if uke escapes. Switch roles after 30 seconds. Before we even get into technique this helps people understand the power of the seat belt and what we’re going to be doing. We’ll do a couple of rounds of this with different partners, and if we need further warm-ups, we do the same thing, but with hooks in to make it harder for uke.

For positional I essentially use EBI overtime rules – uke wants to get out as quickly as possible, tori wants to submit them. Since most people only know the choke this directly pins the concepts of back control that we discuss against the escapes we’ve learned and the choke as a win condition for tori. I’ve been setting up two groups of people – those comfortable with working with submissions, and those who just want to work the escapes against resistance. Folks who are in their first few weeks will generally pick the latter, but anyone who’s been around opts for submissions. Having them be separate essentially ensures folks are working to their skill level and comfort. When there aren’t enough people for two groups, we just start with rounds without chokes and then switch to chokes allowed so new folks still get the experience of trying without a choke but having full resistance before they end up getting choked every 20 seconds for the rest of class.

Considered But Will Not Be Done

As mentioned, there are a lot of other attacks from the back. I mentioned not covering transitions to things like arm bars and reverse triangles, but collar chokes have a lot of the same elements as the RNC without needing to move off the core position. Here’s my take on that – if you can do the RNC, switching to gripping the collar is trivial. I don’t think it’s worth the time to cover a sliding lapel choke, a bow-and-arrow choke, or a single wing choke in fundamentals class. They’re good things, but not all beginners have jackets and defending your collars via grip fighting is very similar to defending your neck via grip fighting. I just don’t feel beginners are missing anything critical by not covering these other than “hey, if you’re wearing a jacket, watch your collars too”.

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