Curriculum Planning – Fundamentals of Side Control


  • Spinning arm bar
  • “Triple threat” (Americana, Kimura, Ude gatame flow)

Submissions are fun, but I’d rather see students going to the back for the RNC as beginners. In my opinion, the reason to show submissions from side control in fundamentals classes is more so people understand why different arm/head placements open up different risks they’ll need to mitigate. These are more like warnings than encouraged techniques, and when they are covered they should be bonus material on top of solid positional fundamentals.

The spinning arm bar is having an underhook on their armpit, tilting them toward you, stepping over the head, and rotating in place to put your hips behind their shoulder. Again, the utility is reminding people the value of the “body armor, shield” concept so they know why leaving an elbow away from their rib poses the threat of submission.


  • Shrimp to re-guard
  • Shrimp to turtle/single
  • Ghost
  • Double-unders bridge to turtle/single
  • Turn away to turtle

Escapes, along with a conceptual model for transitions, should be the bread-and-butter of a fundamental side control lesson to me. Underpinning all of these escapes is the notion that you either need to make space via connection to the ground to get to your side to turn in, go under them (the proverbial “back door”) to get to a single, or turn away and expose your back in a controlled manner. I don’t think the last one should be frequently covered with beginners as it tends to require more nuanced turtling skills, but I do think it’s at least important that they understand that turning away is conditionally an answer.

I think all of these are basic enough that it warrants not explaining what each is. The Ghost is the only one that I think is semi-novel as I believe it comes from 10P, but I also think it’s relatively mainstream at this point. I hadn’t seen it until purple belt when Mike taught me it, but it chains really well with the more traditional escapes.


  • Side mount to Knee-on-belly
  • Side mount to scarf hold
  • Side mount to the back
  • Knee-on-belly to the mount
  • Reverse scarf to the mount

Side control is a cornucopia of positions and transitions. This is the point where a conceptual model is necessary. Around the World (covered in drills below) teaches a lot of positions and transitions at once by focusing on keeping contact throughout transitions. What I feel is really important with these is understanding how to direct the knees of uke using arms and hips to keep them in poor spinal alignment so their bad posture or reaction to correct their posture gives the transitions we’re looking for. Next to no time will be spend on the technical “how to” of these because, while generally useful, it’s not the best use of time compared to focusing on the conceptual model of why they work so students can make their own transitions.


I like to do Around the World as a warm-up for side control. At this point most, if not all, of the students have seen mount and the back, so Around the World allows us to explore almost all of the positions I consider part of side control such as scarf hold, North-South, knee-on-belly, reverse scarf, and top crucifix. The primary goal of this drill is constant pressure – tori should be moving with solid contact to uke the entire time. Each person goes through the sequence two to three times and then we switch roles. Once each person has gone through the first sequence two to three times we do the second sequence twice each.

  1. Side mount -> modified scarf hold (arm under armpit) -> top crucifix -> reverse scarf (arm in front) -> North-South -> reverse scarf (arm in front) -> top crucifix -> modified scarf hold (arm under armpit) -> side mount -> knee-on-belly -> mount -> knee on belly -> side mount
  2. Side mount -> modified scarf hold (arm under armpit) -> top crucifix -> reverse scarf (arm in front) -> North-South -> reverse scarf (arm in front) -> top crucifix -> modified scarf hold (arm under armpit) -> side mount -> reverse scarf (arm behind) -> mount -> reverse scarf (arm behind) -> side mount

Positional sparring is more interesting than the last two lessons as there are far more victory conditions. Tori wants mount, the back, or a submission. Uke wants to establish any guard or stand up. Turtle is not out until they either use it to establish a classic guard (half, butterfly, feet on hips, closed, etc.) or stand up. This is typically the point where folks start asking “what if I can submit them from the bottom”. The answer to this is always – if your partner taps you “won”, reset.

Considered But Will Not Be Done

Chokes – there are chokes from side control. But as noted in the mount section, I’m terrible at teaching arm triangles. I don’t really think any choke other than variations on the North-South choke are worthwhile for beginners after having tried to teach a few and realizing that the time was better spent on more positional understanding. Beginners should focus on getting to the back to finish.

Cross-body leg locks – the cross-body ankle lock (or even the heel hook) is pretty easy as someone tries to recover guard if you keep your knee low by their hip. Having said that, if submissions are like frosting on the cupcake for this position, baiting for leg lock attempts is sprinkles at this point. Yes, it’s there, yes it’s awesome, yes, I’m invariably going to use it on them as they get better, but I don’t think it’s adding much value with limited time.

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