Side Control: 10 Tips For Top & Bottom Side Control BJJ

Side control can be a frustrating position in BJJ. On the bottom, you may feel completely stuck, while on top you can feel like you can’t force the action against a stalling opponent. Understanding what the top and bottom person are trying to do in side control and what their options are can help you break through such stalemates. In this article you’ll read everything you need to know to be effective in side control from both top and bottom.

Contents of this article

What Is Side Control?

Side control is a dominant position in which the person on top controls the person on the bottom from the side, with the bottom person’s back facing the ground. It’s primarily a control position and it’s used in BJJ, Judo and mixed martial arts. A good side control puts a lot of pressure on the bottom person and white belts might even tap out due to this pressure.

Why is Side Control Important?

Side control is an important position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) because it allows the person on top to control the person on the bottom, making it difficult for the bottom person to escape or counterattack. In addition, side control provides a good position for the person on top to transition to other, more advantageous positions, such as mount or rear-mount. Finally, side control provides many submission opportunities for the person on top.

What Do You Do In Side Control?

If you’re in side control and you’re on top you use it as a control position from which you try to submit your opponent or improve your position to mount, knee on belly or back mount. If you’re on bottom you try to defend yourself and escape the side control. Most commonly, you’ll escape to a guard position, to turtle with an underhook or you reverse the position entirely and land on top.

Submissions from Side Control

There are many submissions that can be performed from side control. The most high percentage options are:

Far armbar from side control (Lachlan Giles)
Awesome Keylock Setup from my White Belt Days (Kill the Frame)
  • Kimura: a great control position over your opponent’s arm that can also be a submission.
How To Do The Perfect Kimura From Side Control by John Danaher
  • Baseball choke: a sneaky gi choke that might catch your training partner off guard.
Baseball bat choke (Lachlan Giles)
  • Triangle choke: one of the most effective submissions in BJJ and mixed martial arts of all time.
The Most Simple and Effective Triangle in BJJ - Dominique Bell
  • Lapel choke or ninja choke: a sneaky side control submissions that yours truly gets caught with too often.
BJJ Basics - Lapel Choke by Roger Gracie

Escapes from Side Control

There are two main side control escapes:

Underhook escape: You can get an underhook on the far side from your opponent (so not where he has the crossface) and bridge up and point your arm north to make him slide off of you. Then you can rock up to your knees and attack a single leg. This is a common side control escape in MMA. In the video below Andre Galvao explains how to do this side control escape properly.

Underhook Escape by Andre Galvao

Hip escape to guard: You can bridge and hip escape to create space to wedge your knee in between your and your opponent’s hip. Then you can push your opponent away with your knee and your arms to recover back to half guard or closed guard.

Side Control Escape - These Small Details Change Everything

Additionally, it’s sometimes possible to roll your opponent over completely with a sweep or reversal, but this is more rare.

Who Should Use Side Control?

Every BJJ practitioner should use side control. It doesn’t matter if you’re a white belt, black belt or anywhere in between. Holding side control, escaping side control and attacking from side control are key skills for anyone who does jiu jitsu (or any other grappling based martial art).

How Do You Get Side Control in BJJ?

There are a number of ways to get side control in BJJ, but the most common is directly from a guard pass. Common guard passes that will land you directly into side control are the knee slide, toreando and double under pass. Other ways to get side control are to sweep your training partner directly to side control or to take him down with a big throw.

How Do You Hold Side Control in BJJ?

There are a few details to remember when holding side control in BJJ:

  • First, you want to make sure that your hips and shoulders are at right angles to the body of the person on the bottom. This will give you the best possible position to put pressure on them.
  • Second, you want to keep your weight distributed evenly across your body. This will help you to avoid being rolled over, and will also make it easier to transition to other positions.
  • Third, you want to keep your elbows close to your body. This will help to prevent the person on the bottom from escaping or attacking.
  • Finally, you want to make sure that you are breathing evenly and deeply. This will help you to maintain control over the situation, and will also prevent you from getting tired too quickly.

What’s The Best Side Control Instructional?

The best side control instructional is Systematically attacking From Top Pins: Side Control & North South by Gordon Ryan. This is my favorite BJJ instructional ever, together with the mount instructional in the same series. Gordon taught me how to systematically separate both my opponent’s elbows from his body to then safely attack arm bars, triangles, kimuras and other submissions. Thanks Gordon Ryan!

Types Of Side Control Variations

There are a few variations of side control that can be used in BJJ, depending on the situation:

Normal BJJ side control: In this variation, the person on top controls the person on bottom chest to chest with a crossface and an underhook on the far arm. This is the most common side control variation in BJJ.

normal BJJ type of side control

Kesa Gatame / Scarf Hold / Head lock: In this variation, the person on top controls the person on the bottom with one arm around their head, and the other arm controlling their arm. This is the most common side control variation in Judo.

kesa gatame side control

Modified Kesa Gatame With Underhook: In this modified variation, the arm that controls the head in kesa gatame grabs an underhook on the far side instead. This is a better side control variation for BJJ because the risk of giving your back is reduced.

kesa gatame with underhook side control

Reverse kesa gatame / Twister side control: In this variation, the top person is looking at the legs of the bottom person and has one arm across their body under their far armpit or over their head. This variation is often used to transition to mount.

reverse kesa gatame side control variation