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Side-Control Troubleshooting: How to Control the Inside Arm (BJJ)

Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.

Controlling the inside arm from side control.

Controlling the inside arm from side control.

Remember, Maintain

While the "glamorous" side of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu involves fancy back takes, slick submissions and the like, the outcomes of a match (or rolling session) often depend on much more subtle battles.

One such area of contention is the "inside arm" during side control; this is often the bane of a good side control. After all, if you can't control someone from side control for more than a few seconds, you're not likely to get one of those fancy submissions we keep hearing about.

Classic Hip-Switch

When you begin in head and arm side control (your chest is facing their chest), the number one thing to contend with (as soon as your balance is established) is going to be the inside arm. This facilitates your partner's conventional side control escapes. As soon as your partner establishes this frame (or if it's there immediately following a guard pass), try switching your hips toward your partner's head.

The key here is to scoop your partner's shoulder off the ground by sliding underneath with your knee, while at the same time pulling up on your partner's shoulder or triceps. Keep your head low to your partner's chest both while doing the initial switch and while switching back to head and arm side control. Use your free (underhooking) arm to post if needed, but keep your elbow in tight, close to your partner's body, lest they establish their own underhook and creep out the back door to take your back!

Shoulder Pressure

An alternative to switching your hips toward their head is to utilize shoulder pressure in order to get the reaction you're looking for. Start by sprawling your left arm down and through to the other side of your partner's head. Think about reaching inside of a cookie jar, but all the way at the very bottom. Really reach here, but reach with your palm down. Pretend like you are stabbing your partner's shoulder blade with your thumb (this will ensure that you are in the right position), and then turn your palm over, so that you can grab your partner's lat/shoulder area. Now drop your shoulder down underneath your partner's chin, and try to bring your palm to your shoulder, creating a choking pressure. From here, use a "windshield wiper" motion to slide your left knee in as close to your partner's body as possible, and, while staying flush here, scrape their inside arm out of the way. Finally, pull them up into your lap, securing their (now trapped) inside arm onto your "pocket."

The Other Hip-Switch Method

If the other two options haven't passed muster, or if you just prefer an option that leaves your opponent more open to Kimura or brabo choke options, try this technique. Start by reaching over to your partner's far side, and grab their belt. Make sure your armpit is on the other side of their shoulder, helping to keep their far arm trapped while you deal with the near one. Now lean forward so that you can take the weight off of your hips. Switch your base, but this time, switch toward your partner's hips. Walk up toward your partner's head in order to clear the inside arm out of your way.

From here, you can make the switch back to head and arm side control if you want, but reverse kesa gatame is an incredibly useful position, and I typically prefer looking for Kimuras anyway.


Maintaining side control isn't super sexy, but it's super important. It is very much analogous to guard maintenance in that it's an area where the fight is frequently won or lost, but the things people want to pay attention to are the submissions, sweeps, and guard passes—large, visible actions, no doubt.

Here, the fight is much more subtle, but equally important (and probably much, much more important, really, since you're going to be spending a great deal more time on maintenance issues than on finishes or transitions). As always, let me know if these techniques are effective for you!

© 2017 Andrew Smith