Blue Belt Concepts-Hip Mobility
One of the most important lessons that I learned in my three and a half years as a blue belt was the significance of hip mobility. In the initial stages of blue belt, I found myself constantly being flattened out on the bottom. My teammates were flying passed my guard and sitting heavy in side control. Once they got there, I found myself flat on my back, panicking to escape. As I panicked, my heart rate increased, I was breathing rapidly and soon I was out of gas. I thought the key to improving was developing a better guard but, with time, I discovered that the real answer was in my hips.
Beating them to the Punch
While playing guard, I tried many different things to try to develop an impassable guard. While my opponents immobilized my hips and created space to break guard, I was thinking about what style of open guard I was going to play. My spider guard was bad. My de la riva was terrible. As a big guy, I don’t even have to tell you how inverting went. Eventually, I realized that the key was not necessarily reverting to a different guard but the key was to stay ahead of my opponent. To stay one step ahead of them, I needed to be both agile and mobile and I couldn’t be either of those things while my back and hips were flat on the mat.
(Let me first state that it is ideal to have both hips off the ground. The guard passer is trying to pin both hips to gain control so that they can create space and break your guard. Sometimes, though, it is not possible to elevate both hips.)
When playing guard, I started to angle my hips so that only one hip was on the ground at a time. This allowed me to be able to pivot on that hip and react more quickly to my opponent’s movements. By shifting my hips to one side or the other, I was also dictating my opponent’s choices. If I shifted my left hip up (laying my right hip on the ground) I was forcing my opponent to pass to their left. Not only was I more mobile, but I was also forcing my opponent to go somewhere I was preparing for them to go. So by dictating their next move, I could plan ahead and beat them to the position.
As my opponent worked on opening my guard, I was planning the perfect time to open my guard. If I allowed them to open my guard, they would have the upper hand and would be able to establish the position in which they could best play offense. By waiting until the last moment and opening the guard myself, I was able to move to a defensive position where I was much more capable of defending. This quick movement relied both on me opening my guard, as well as having mobile hips. Instead of my opponent controlling my legs, passing my guard and going into side control, I found that I could open my guard and establish half guard. This gave me the opportunity to sweep or replace guard instead of fighting off my back with all of my opponent’s weight directly on my chest.
They passed guard. Now what?
Inevitably, though, we are going to have our guards passed and we are going to feel that top pressure from our opponent. One of the keys to surviving this pressure is to never allow your opponent to flatten you out. The first key to this is opening your guard before it can be broken so that you can turn onto your side and start fighting the pass. If you allow you opponent to break your guard and control you legs, they are likely going to pass and flatten you out. So the first key is to release your guard. If you are playing guard on one hip like discussed above, you are a step ahead of the guard player who is flat on their back. Being up on this hip will allow you to turn and face your opponent as they are passing (if they are passing to their left, you would be on your right hip).
As the opponent passes, you should begin shrimping your hips away from them. They are going to be reaching to grab your head or collar. You do not want them to get this grip. This grip will allow them to cross face you and flatten you out. You should be fighting that grip with one of your arms. This fight typically ends two ways: the first you win and are able to replace your guard or half guard…the second is they win and set up their side control. If they win, your goals is to still fight to stay on your hip. You need to roll to face them and continue to fight for this position. You should also be fighting to connect your right elbow and right knee near your right hip. This sets up a barrier that will help to keep space between you and your opponent and will also allow you to keep yourself up on that right hip.
Help…I can’t Breath!
In order for your opponent to make you physically uncomfortable, they must be able to use their body weight to apply pressure. If you set up the elbow/knee barrier mentioned above, they will be too far from you to establish themselves and settle in to apply that pressure. If this barrier is not established and they settle in, you must be on your side. Being on your side allows you to begin shrimping and playing defense without having to worry about escaping that pressure. If you are on your side and they are applying pressure, you chest and diaphragm can still expand. This will allow you to breath and recover (you probably need it after the scramble). If you find yourself flat, you cannot shrimp and your diaphragm is being constricted. This is where the panic sets in. We are confined to a tight spot and our breathing is limited. As they apply more pressure and breathing becomes even more difficult, our brain begins to panic and our body needs more air. In this helpless and panicked state, many of us end up getting that claustrophobic feeling and tapping out.
Why is Everyone Laughing at me?
As you roll over gasping for air, you see your instructor shaking his head. You see he is disappointed and you don’t understand. You felt like you were dying. You had no other choice. The more experienced grapplers in the room are making fun of you for tapping when there was no submission involved. There are two reasons the upper belts don’t tap like you just did. The first is that they have far more experience being in bad positions. Their brains don’t panic when they find themselves in dangerous spots. They are thinking just as clearly here as they would be if they were mounted on someone. The second reason is because they know where and how to move so that the pressure is not that bad.
All of this takes time. You are not going to be able to put all of this together in your next roll. Make small goals to start. First, work on your hip mobility while you have someone in your guard. Break grips and don’t allow them to control your hips. Next, make them play your game. Force them to make choices that so that you can beat them to positions. Release your guard and beat them to half guard so you have time to set up. Continue to fight their grips and stay up on your side. If you do get flattened out, no matter what your brain is telling you, you are not dying.