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What is Side Control in BJJ?

July 2, 2024

Side control, also known as side mount or cross-body, is an important position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). It’s one of four control positions in BJJ, along with the mount, the guard, and back control, and is often achieved after passing the guard. In the side control position, the top fighter lies across the body of the bottom fighter, who is lying with their chest upward. Both combatant’s legs are free, but the fighter on top has the advantage and opportunity to transition to a mount or apply submissions. 

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The fighter on the bottom is vulnerable in this position and has to defend themselves by sweeping their opponent or entangling their legs and trying to secure the half-guard or guard. Side control is useful because it is a great place to manage the tempo of the match and set up submissions or transitions. This article will explain the mechanics of side control, how you can use it to beat your opponent, and how you can defend yourself from it. 

The Mechanics of Side Control

Side control is often achieved from a guard pass like the knee slice pass. In basic side control, you kneel perpendicular to your opponent, lying on top of them, chest to chest. Put the arm closest to their legs underneath their far arm (known as an ‘underhook’), and the arm near their head under their neck while you drive your shoulder into their face (known as the ‘crossface’). Your hands are typically linked together to form a closed circuit.

The core foundation of successful side control involves keeping the opponent’s shoulder blades pinned and their back flat on the mat. Don’t over-fixate on the cross-face, because your opponent will work hard to get on their side and alleviate the pressure (while also creating shrimp opportunities). The better job you do of maintaining consistent pressure, the better chance you have of tiring your opponent, making them more desperate to escape, and opening opportunities to secure submissions.

Use Your Weight

Ensure your chest is pressed against your opponent’s chest to minimize space and restrict their movement. Your hips should be low and close to the ground to maintain a stable base. You can also control your opponent by using the balls of your feet to put pressure on them, not the mat, and drive your weight forward to keep them pinned. 

Knees and Hips

Keep your hips connected with their hips. You should also keep one knee near your opponent’s hip to block their attempts to shrimp or turn. The other knee should be positioned near their head or shoulder to help control the upper body and prevent them from bridging or rolling.

Timing Transition

Maintaining side control requires constantly adjusting your position to maintain control. Use small movements to stay tight and close any gaps your opponent might try to exploit, and practice common transitions to other positions, such as mount or back control. Your opponent only has a few ways to escape from side control, including bridging, shrimping, and underhooking. Know how to adjust your weight and use your knees and elbows to block their hips and shoulders from turning or creating space.

Submissions from Side Control BJJ

There are countless jiu-jitsu holds and submission maneuvers you can do from side control,  some of which are better suited for No-Gi competitions. 

The bow and arrow choke 

While in side control, use your far-side arm to establish a cross face. Your arm should go under your opponent’s head, and your hand should reach towards the far side, gripping their shoulder or back to keep their head and shoulders pinned. With your free hand, grab their near-side collar, pull it across their neck, and feed it to your cross-face hand to create a tight grip. 

Slide the knee closest to your opponent’s head under their shoulder and begin to transition your body by positioning your other leg across their body, bringing your shin across their back to help apply leverage. Maintaining the collar grip with your cross-face hand, use your free hand to grab your opponent’s pants near their knee to control their lower body and prevent them from escaping.

Pull the collar with your cross-face hand while simultaneously pulling their pants with your other hand. Apply gradual and steady pressure, pulling the collar across their neck and the pants grip in the opposite direction to create the choke. Be ready to release them immediately if your opponent taps out.

Nearside arm bar 

Isolate the nearside arm by establishing a cross face, reaching under their head, and gripping their shoulder or far-side armpit. With your free arm, reach under their nearside arm and secure a grip on their triceps or elbow, lifting it slightly off the mat.

Slide your knee closest to their hips up towards their armpit and lift their arm with your grip on the triceps or elbow. Switch your cross-face hand to grip their wrist, controlling their arm and preventing them from pulling it away, and use your free hand to secure a figure-four grip, holding their wrist with one hand and grabbing your own wrist with the other hand.

Keeping the figure-four grip tight, lift their arm and begin to slide the leg near their head over their face and rotate into the arm bar position. Ensure your leg clears their face and head, sit back,  and extend your leg so they are positioned across their chest, with their arm trapped between your legs. Pinch your knees together and slide your hands up their arm to transition from the figure-four grip to gripping their wrist with both hands.

Lean back and apply pressure by pulling their arm down and hyperextending their elbow.

Ensure their thumb is pointed upwards to apply maximum pressure to the elbow joint.


Establish a cross face and applying pressure to control their head and shoulders. With your free arm, reach across their body and control their far-side wrist, pinning it to the mat. Release the cross-face and bring your arm over their head, reaching under their far-side arm to grab your own wrist. This will create a figure-four grip, known as the Kimura grip.

Your opponent’s arm should be bent at a 90-degree angle, with their hand pointed towards their head. Maintain the figure-four grip and pull their elbow towards their body to tighten the hold and lift their elbow off the mat while keeping their wrist pinned down to create a rotational force on their shoulder. Increase the pressure by lifting their elbow and pushing their wrist towards their head, ensuring the arm remains bent at a right angle. 


Position your knees close to their body, with your far-side knee near their hip and your near-side knee near their head or shoulder. Keep your hips low and apply pressure with your chest.

Isolate the arm by using your cross-face arm (the arm closest to your opponent’s head) to reach over their head and place your hand on the mat next to their head. With your free hand, reach across their body and push their far-side arm to the mat. You want to isolate this arm to set up the submission.

Once their arm is on the mat, use the hand that was controlling their head to grab their wrist, making sure your thumb is on top. Slide your other arm under their elbow and grab your own wrist. Your arms should form a figure-four grip, with your arm bent at a 90-degree angle.

Lift their elbow off the mat while keeping their wrist firmly on the ground to create a rotational force on their shoulder. At the same time, drag their wrist downwards towards their hips while lifting their elbow to apply tension in their shoulder joint. 

How to Escape and Counter Side Control 

When your opponent has you in side control, they will eventually try to transition to a more dominant position or submission. That’s the exact moment when you will have to escape. Elbow escape is the most common method in this position, and requires creating space by wedging your forearm underneath your opponent’s chin, and pushing off their hip with your other hand. Turn onto your side, slide your bottom knee into your opponent’s hip, and hook your top leg over theirs. From here, you can thread your bottom leg through into a half-guard position, setting yourself up to go on the offensive. 

You can also use the shrimp escape to turn the tables on your opponent. Start by placing your far-side forearm across your opponent’s neck or shoulder and your near-side forearm against their hip. Bump your hips up to make space and continue shrimping away from your opponent using the frames you created with your forearms. When you have enough distance, slide your near-side knee inside to create more space and keep shrimping until you can bring your near-side leg in to recover guard. Place your foot on their hip or reestablish a full guard.

Common Side Control Mistakes

Allowing too much space

Proper side control requires staying tight to your opponent’s body to prevent them from escaping or recovering guard. When you leave gaps, your opponent can easily create frames, turn to their side, and begin the process of escaping or regaining a more neutral position. You have to constantly adjust and apply pressure to maintain a snug connection to keep your opponent from escaping.

Overcommitting to submissions without control

If you are overzealous in your attempt to secure a submission hold without first maintaining your position, you can easily lose control of your opponent. If your opponent recognizes that you’re out of position, they can counterattack and ruin your strategy. Stabilize your position above all else. Then you can take your time transitioning to submission attempts and seize the opportunity when your opponent has a moment of vulnerability.

Sloppy Transitions

Like all things in BJJ, fighting from side control is a delicate balance. You have to keep the pressure on your opponent while also not being stagnant as you work toward a more dominant position or submission. If you’re not deliberate with your movements and transitions, you allow your opponent time to escape and potentially even reverse the situation. 


Mastering side control is a gateway to the rest of this fascinating grappling art. To do that, you need to practice maintaining tight pressure, proper weight distribution, and securing submissions like the bow and arrow choke and kimura. As ever, it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an advanced student – you have to always maintain attention to detail and practice regularly. There is always someone out there working harder to get better. It’s up to you to put in the effort and the time on the mat!