How to Escape Side Control: Modified Kesa Gatame
When I ask BJJ white belts what they most need help with or want to work on, invariably the answer is escaping from side control. Generally, this means a generic sort of "they have passed my guard and aren't letting me move" situation, but as you move up the jiu-jitsu ladder, it's useful to identify certain key types of side control (although many principles will apply across the board).
Here, we're taking a look at one of the most frustrating types of side control: modified kesa gatame, or the "sitout" position, as it is sometimes called. I've used this sequence and variations of it for more than a decade now (and probably closer to two decades, all told), and feel confident that the sequence shown will work for you as well.
Situp and Rowboat Escapes
The first escape starts when the person is settling into the position but hasn't quite established modified kesa just yet. Ideally, start in head and arm side control, and have your partner work on switching their hips right as you bring your near-side elbow in to make a frame.
As your partner switches their hips, grab the backs of both of your knees (if you can't reach your knees, you can grab your gi pants, although the back of your knees is better). Now use your own momentum to rock and then kick your legs back, operating them both as one unit.
It's entirely possible that you will catch your opponent off guard here and get a simple reversal, ending up on top in your own modified kesa position. However, if your partner begins to switch back to head and arm side control (an appropriate course of action to shut down the situp escape), you can use the space you've created between you and the mat to post and remain sitting up, just for long enough to hip out and recover guard. I call the second option the "rowboat escape" because you are going to row with both arms in order to square back up with your partner.
The Frame Escape
The frame escape works well even if your partner has settled into the position, as long as you can creep your far arm underneath their chin and across to their far shoulder. Note that you might have already tried the situp escape, but your partner has been able to shut it down.
Once your frame is in place, there are two keys to this position being successful. First, you need to be sure that your arm is completely straight, or as close to straight as anatomy allows. Second, you will need to be very patient. If you try to come up too early, your partner is going to shut you down with the greatest of ease. Instead, stay flat on your back while walking around, Homer Simpson style, in a circle, away from your partner. As your base starts to move away from your partner, your partner will begin to slip just a hair. As long as your frame is straight, these incremental gains will add up, and you'll be able to come up on top in side control.
Simple Hip Escape
A common theme with all of these escapes you may have noticed is that, as my friend Brian says, "jiu jitsu does not happen in a vacuum." This means that your partner is eventually going to start doing the right things to shut down your first effort at escaping. Here's a great example of this: you are framed and circling, and your partner moves to switch back to being square with you. The thing about this is that they're going to give you a lot of space to slide your near-side knee in between you and your partner, and you'll be able to revert to a much more fundamental guard recovery, very similar to the first guard maintenance drill.
Sukui Nage Escape
If the above escapes haven't worked and you're locked in, it's time to work on an unorthodox escape. If your partner has passed to your right side and has your right sleeve under control, reach over with your left arm and create a frame so that you can break their grip, and continue turning over to a full "almost turtle" position. If possible, grip your partner's pants on the outside of their knees (inside is more dangerous for Crucifix) setups in particular). Next, shoot your left leg behind your partner, and then lift their pants legs up as you rock back, coming up on top in side control. If you're familiar with judo, think of this as a hybrid of sukui nage and tane otoshi.
Toughest Side Control to Escape?
All You Need Is a Lot of Patience
Clearly, side control is a tough position to escape, and sometimes you have to be very, very patient, waiting for the opportunity to do one of the above (or even a more basic) escape(s). The good news is that you are likely to have ample time during rolling to practice these techniques since your training partners are likely to enjoy passing your guard and establishing a strong side control position. As always, try these techniques out, and, as always, let me know if any or all work for you!