- It’s scary
- It gets in the way of their pride
They’re being choked, their limbs feel like they’re snapping, it hurts and they’re not sure how far they should take the pain before injury happens. They’re a tough guy and don’t want to tap because they want to “win” the roll. Losing this way of thinking is one of the first steps to becoming a more advanced grappler.
Everyone and their mother knows BJJ nowadays. Not knowing how to defend yourself against a submission is just asking for certain defeat. You might as well step in the ring without knowing how to hold your hands up and block a punch. Walking into your first BJJ class leave your pride at the door. Prepare to get your ass kicked by guys way smaller than you. Prepare to have your ego and every delusion you had of you being a badass smashed to pieces. And prepare for it to be molded right back stronger than ever before, but this time with reason.
With so many of you at our community having trouble preventing being submitted we had to take your questions to the UFC fighter Bubba Bush. He has a record of 8-3 with 38% of his victories by submission and not a single loss to one. He certainly knows both how to survive submissions, and how to successfully get someone in one.
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“Some fighters seem to struggle and take the pain as long as they can, others seem to tap quickly once they know they’re stuck. I don’t want to tap too early when I could’ve escaped, but I don’t want to trade my limbs for victory either. What is the point when you should decide to tap?”
Bubba Bush: “Great question, and my answer to this one depends greatly on how long you’ve been in the fight game. When you are brand new to BJJ, you aren’t even aware of all the ways you can get hurt. Leave your pride at the door and tap early and often because your pride isn’t worth missing weeks of training in which you could actually learn to defeat the submission you just got caught in. The reason some people tap so quickly is that they realize that they already made the mistake. They shouldn’t have allowed their arm to get extended or their neck to be put in a compromising situation to begin with, so rather than spending have a round delaying the tap, they just move on and get back to practicing not making that mistake to begin with. This is a great way to learn and protect yourself when you’re a beginner, but it’s terrible to roll against someone who doesn’t let you finish later on in your journey. As you spend more and more time on the mats, you will learn the difference between a position where there is nothing left to do but delay the inevitable, and a difficult situation that you can fight through. That said, training is much different than competition. Different purposes, different stakes, different policies. In competition you will hold out longer and push the envelope more. In fact, because it really doesn’t set back your training at all, I encourage my students never to tap to chokes in competition, because you never know when the end of the round is 2 seconds away and you might wake up a winner;)“
“How do you know that there is no way out of a submission you are in? What signs will be present that you can escape?”
Bubba Bush: “ Obviously BJJ is not binary, and there is no hard and fast assurance that you can escape a submission, but let me offer this: If you’re hips are free, you probably aren’t sunk. If you’ve done BJJ for more than a few minutes you realize that almost every submission involves securing the other persons hips in some way (or another part of their body to leverage against) in order to isolate a smaller weaker joint/artery/airway and transfer all of your pressure into it. So look for the other persons hips to be loose (as in the case of a bad armbar where you may slip your head into their guard or your elbow to the ground) or for your hips to be unencumbered (as in a guillotine where they try to simply fall backwards, leaving your hips free to jump sides and go cross body). If your hips can’t move, and the pressure is increasing, you’re more than likely in trouble. Go back and work on not getting into that position to begin with.”
“Many more experienced guys at my gym always seem to predict my attack, they say they can read me. How can you read your opponent to know they are about to go for a submission?”
Bubba Bush: “In some ways, BJJ is very systematic and layered. Most of the time a white belt will learn an armbar before they learn an omoplata. And a triangle before they know a heel hook. So an upper belt in your guard can probably use their own BJJ experience to subconsciously narrow the number of attacks they are looking out for based on the limited moves that they know you have available to you. This will be especially true at your home gym, or with your instructor (who for the most part knows what they’ve taught you). People are also creatures of habit, which makes continuing to train at the same gym fun. At first you learn a kimura. Then you learn to hip bump to set up the kimura. Eventually you learn to hip bump, fake the kimura and come around into a triangle. Your attacks get better and more nuisanced leading your opponents into traps. But your training partners learn your habits at each level, and know whats coming next based on being submitted by it three times last week, so they will learn to actually anticipate your pattern. This is great because it makes you sharper on defense, chaining your defenses more quickly, and better on offense because you have to constantly adapt and not get stuck in a tired routine. Keep in mind that in competition, your opponent may not be used to your favorite series and you may enjoy much more success than you would against even lower belts that know you. Lastly, experience practitioners can anticipate opponents even though they’ve never rolled with them before. Not just because of standard movement chains, but also because they can feel your body and weight shift even before they can see it. Try closing your eyes and passing someones guard. It’s not nearly as hard as you think, and you become more in tuned to the angle of their hips, and where they place their weight. As a white belt this may not help you much because you might not yet know what a particular angle of their hips indicates, but trust that as your repertoire of moves grows, so will the number things you can anticipate based on that awareness.”
“Almost every time I get put into a submission I panic and forget what I’ve been taught to escape. How do you stay calm and focused?”
Bubba Bush: “Experience will teach you to trust yourself and your instincts. When that happens, you will be able to stay calmer and focus better. In school your first day is exciting and can throw you off your game. By your 100th class, you are busy thinking about the weekend, finishing last nights homework and texting a friend as you sit down. The 100th time you get put into a triangle it won’t be as daunting as the 1st, and your mind will go immediately to posturing instead of to the futility of being upset with yourself over leaving one arm in. And remember, drill is essential. When you “learn” a move, you grasp the general idea of it. But until your body instinctively performs that move without you having to reason through every step of it, you wont have much success with it in live competition. Drill the move in class, but make sure you also do situational drilling. For instance, you may start in a triangle and have the other person actually trying to finish you instead of “letting you drill”. This may lead to you having to tap out the first 8 times in a row. But by that point you’re probably bored of panicking and thinking “oh no, i’m in a triangle, again!” and your practicing taking that correct first reaction into the triangle with you. If you still panic and forget, think it through before you enter the next attempt. Visualization is the next best thing, and works the exact same way. Close your eyes, see yourself entering the bad situation, feel the moment of panic and try to experience it just like you did the last time it actually happened. Then, see yourself doing step 1, step 2, and escaping. Do this over and over until when you visualize the situation your first thought is step 1. The more details you imagine and the more real you make your experience while visualizing, the more helpful it will be when you actually find yourself in duress.”
“What mistakes do you see people make once they are put into a submission?”
Bubba Bush: “Obviously panicking comes to mind if you panic try to move pull a muscle out you waste a lot of energy. And that mostly applies to chokes you have a limited amount of blood flow so if they’re choking you the more energy you are expending the quicker the choke will work. So block it, prevent them from working a lot of times the answer is inaction so blocking your hips in the right place holding your hands so you’re not choking me anymore than you are now. Then I’ll wait. I’ll wait for you to figure out it’s not going to work. if you can’t finish the submission then its not a submission. So just preventing the finish is getting out of it as well. Most people think they need to get all the way out to full guard, but just beating the submission a smart player will see they are wasting energy in the submission and move on to the next thing let you out of it. Some guys will adjust to make it more effective but if you’re preventing it, your preventing it.
There are other basic stuff like turning the wrong way. But the most prevalent is not moving with your hips. Staying in the same place and trying to fight with your arms. Especially on bottom people will just lay there they won’t move their hips they won’t buck they won’t roll they won’t shrimp just stay there. It’s the biggest mistake you can make. Motion makes it’s more difficult for the person to control if they have to reach out to stabilize their hips then they’re not focusing on finishing the submission.”
“What common mistakes do you see people make to get themselves in a submission?”
Bubba Bush: “Again, not moving your hips. Stopping. So if you shoot in then stop halfway through you’ll get guillotined or you pass the guard for an over under and stop you’ll get triangled up. Stopping your movements will give him a chance to solidify things. Watch your posture in the guard so many of us try to pass low keeping our head low. Control the head keep posture low and that gets you in a lot of trouble so being higher in the guard and standing a pass both things are probably not good enough. Allowing any limbs to get isolated from your body. Getting your hands far from away from your core, your feet far away from your core. Not staying in tight.”
So what have we learned about surviving submissions by speaking with Bubba Bush?
- Unsure how long you should take the pain? In training, leave your pride at the door. You should tap early and often because you shouldn’t of gotten into that position in the first place. Missing weeks of training to an injury isn’t worth trying to push the envelope. Bubba teaches his students not to tap to chokes in competition, you never know how soon that clock is going to end. The worst that’ll happen is you take a little nap.
- Unsure if escape is a possibility? Check your hips. If your hips aren’t stuck 9/10 you can bridge, shrimp and escape.
- Are you constantly being surprised by what your opponent is doing? This comes with experience and knowledge. As your arsenal of moves grows you will better be able to predict what moves are coming your way. The more times you roll and the more angles of attack you see, you’ll the better be able to anticipate what’s coming next.
- Do you start to panic when you are put in a submission? This comes with experience and constant drilling. The first time you are put into an armbar is a lot scarier than the hundredth. After being put in the submission so many times you stop thinking “Oh no I’m in a triangle!” and instead react accordingly. You’ve drilled so many times that escaping the triangle has become second nature to you. Try visualizing yourself falling into a bad situation and seeing how you would escape.
- Are you afraid of a nap? If you are being choked out in competition and you want to tap, don’t. You don’t know how soon that round is going to end and you may just make it. Are you afraid to take a nap?
- Don’t stay still! Constantly buck bridge and shrimp. If your opponent is focusing on controlling your hips he isn’t focusing on submitting you.
- Taking their pride with them in training. The goal is not to win, you are practicing. In the beginning, tap early and often while rolling. If you’ve even made it to the point of getting yourself in a submission, you may want to tap. Because you shouldn’t of gotten there in the first place. Restart and work on where you went wrong. You don’t need to risk weeks of training due to an injury caused by your pride.
- Panicking. Panicking will only increase the effectiveness of the choke and knock you out quicker. Stay calm, stay focused.
- Isolating limbs. Keep your limbs close to your core or they will be targeted and submitted
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