It is inevitable that in BJJ you will be told, “Control the hips,” or “It’s all about the hips,” or something along those lines. The advice is sound! What do they mean? This essay is going to try to demonstrate a way to direct your attention to controlling your opponent’s hips. We will first look at what I call the “Hip Control Zone (HCZ).” Then we will dissect several different positions both offensively and defensively with respect and attention paid to the HCZ.
Hip Control Zone (HCZ):
Imagine you are on your back, under side control. Every time you try to elbow escape, you run into his arm or his knee and you are never able to get your knee to your elbow. Or, you are attacking someone from your guard; each time you move to sweep or swing on an armbar your legs seem too short or your butt feels like it is stuck to the mat. What you’re imagining is probably a past reality and likely will happen again; someone has managed to control your hip mobility and they did so by controlling your HCZ.
Side Control Variations:
Traditional: In this side control your head-side arm is across his body and controlling his upper body by maintaining a tight pinch. Your hip-side arm is the real key though. If your partner is flat, then you can simply place your hand on the mat at the hip bone and effectively mute the HCZ. However, if your partner bumps or adjusts to his side, you might need to control in another way. This is because the HCZ has expanded. One strategy is to place the person flat on his or her back again and thereby minimize the HCZ.
100 Kilos: This is a powerful way to keep your opponent flat on his back, but you have to keep your attention attuned to the bottom guy’s HCZ. If your focus is too much on the upper body then escape is easy for your opponent. Use your hip-side knee to block the HCZ.
Kuzure kesa and Kesa Gatame: If you have trained Judo or wrestled, these positions may be a place you find yourself naturally. They can be great positions to hold and control the opponent, but if you lose sight of the opponent’s HCZ, you might end up in a worse position.
Twister Side Control (High Cross-side): I love this position when I am going against a younger, stronger, or more aggressive partner or opponent. The reason I like it so much is that it allows one to smash a great deal of pressure on an opponent’s upper body while easily controlling the hips. Submissions, transitions, and a position that allows you to breathe easy for a bit make this position a great position to hold when you are NOT against the clock.
Knee on Belly:
Knee on Belly is a position that many fear advancing to because of the ease with which their training partners are able to escape. I find that sad because Knee On Belly is a great way to attack, punish and advance on an opponent. With some careful placement of the foot and knee coupled with awareness of your opponent’s options for escape with their hips, your ability to submit increases significantly when you use Knee on Belly.
Nothing is more frustrating than attaining one of the most dominating positions in an art to quickly lose it and its options in the blink of an eye. With some simple attention to detail and cognizance paid toward the HCZ, your mount will be tough to deal with.
Combat Mount, High-Side, or “Rickson” (whatever you want to call it) this position is a great strategy to employ on an opponent determined to elbow escape from your mount. Again, the secret to making the High-Side a valuable position is controlling your opponent’s hip movement. Watch how I demonstrate a method to tighten down your high-side.
If you love to hear your opponent groan and huff and puff, then the S-Mount is worth exploring. Your opponent’s hips are going to be hard for them to engage and utilize against you. Watch how I hold my S-Mount to maximize pressure and minimize risk through awareness of my opponent’s hip movement.
Attacking the Turtle:
When your opponent turns to the turtle position on you, they are opening themselves up to many submissions and transitions to inferior positions. However, savvy BJJ practitioners will often roll to turtle to prevent you from securing a pass, or obtaining another dominating position. Then, if you do not have control of their hips, they will quickly return to guard, stand up in base, or attack your legs for the reversal or takedown! If you are conscious of the HCZ, you can frustrate their efforts and take advantage of their mistake.
My friend and training partner Kedar Bhat once told me that the reason he was able to work me from his guard was because I was not doing a good job of controlling his hips. Over the next few years of sparring against him I worked to figure out what he meant and develop a solution. What occurred was common sense, but perhaps this video will save you the same frustration.
There are many details that count in passing a butterfly guard. However, with the Toreando Pass, you won’t be able to finish if you don’t control your opponent’s hips. Here I show how to drop your shoulder low to keep your opponent from elbow escaping or countering with a roll.
Professor Caique starts all of his Half-guard series from establishing a good posture. In so doing, he has taught me that the secret to preventing getting swept from half-guard is controlling your opponent’s HCZ. If your opponent tries to come under your leg, they will be met by a tightly cramped knee in their HCZ. If your opponent moves his hips away, he makes himself vulnerable for several pass options.
Maintaining back mount is all about keeping a proper proportion of upper body control with hooks that lock hip movement down. In the following video I explain how escaping the back mount is largely dependent on freeing up the HCZ. I also explain why a newly popular back submission is so effective.
I wrote this essay and shot the included videos not because they are the holy grail of grappling. I did this because I was left to discover what “controlling the hips” meant for myself. Perhaps, now that you have seen my discovery you will take less time discovering it yourself.