Escaping Mount

I got to teach two classes for MDP camp this year – one about how to escape bottom mount position and one about how to use knee ride. Both classes were about applying groundwork to a self defense situation. The text that follows was the paper handout I gave to all the students who attended the mount escape class.


In this class, we will be working on confronting the problem of what to do if we end up on the ground in a self defense scenario. Specifically, we will be concentrating on escaping from the bottom mount position.

For clarity, let’s first define what bottom mount position is. Bottom mount is when we are flat on our backs and our partner is on top of us, with their knees outside of our hips. Sometimes, our partner might have their chest on us, mashing their body weight into us, sometimes they might be sitting upright delivering punches and elbows – both of these things are mount. There are, of course, tons of other terrible positions we might end up in but for this class, we will be concentrating only on bottom mount.

For further clarity, we will talk about why bottom mount position is a bad position and why it is a priority to change the position as opposed to strike or defend against strikes (we may still strike and defend but changing the position is the big concern.) Bottom mount is a terrible position for three main reasons: gravity is not on our side, we are constrained severely in our capacity to move, and our partner has the reach to hit us effectively in the head whereas we can not reach to hit our partner’s head. If we try to solve the problem striking at our partner, they are liable to strike at us and they have better targets, gravity, and their hips. If we prioritize defending against our partner’s strikes, then our situation will, at best, not deteriorate. Therefore, if we want to confront the problem of being in bottom mount, we must improve our position.

For ease of communication, we will be breaking the learning up into a three part steps. Those three steps are: technique, drilling, and play. The technique step will involve learning the pieces that make up the move – there should be no competition or fighting during this step. The drilling step involves some specific defense from our partner – they do a specific thing so that we can use the technique and see both the when and where of one possible application. The last step, play is where we try to apply the technique against an actively resisting partner – we may find that we have to change the technique radically or even use a different technique based on how our partner attacks.

To help build competency, we will be focusing on only two techniques so that (hopefully) in an hour long class, everyone can feel like they’ve had all their questions answered and they (at least) can do the techniques against a non-resisting partner. Reasonable competency (which we will define here as the ability to escape from bottom mount against a fully resisting, untrained person who weighs up to 10% more than you) groundwork typically takes between 6 months and a year of twice a week training.

The first technique we will learn will probably be familiar to many in the MDP community – the bridge and roll. We will break the bridge and roll down into 5 steps: bring your feet to your hips, block the foot, block the hand, bridge, and roll. Bringing the feet up to the hips gives you maximum leverage. Blocking the foot and hand will help prevent your partner reaching out a limb and stopping the roll. Bridging will life your partner up, making them easier to roll. Rolling will put you in top guard – thus improving your position.

The bridge and roll is a great technique but, like all techniques, doesn’t work if someone counters correctly, or if your timing is off, or if your partner is massively bigger (double your weight is a reasonable limit) than you. For all these reasons, when we first learn the technique, or any technique, it is helpful to do it against minimal resistance. Communicate clearly! If your partner resists, remind them that we are doing technique work and them resisting is going to hamper your learning.

The second technique to escape mount that we will learn is called the elbow escape. This more complex movement involves seven steps: keep your elbows down, roll 45 degrees over to one side, reach across their leg with your far foot, drag their leg over your close leg, pop your knee through, rotate 90 degrees over to your opposite side, take the underhook, and then use your free arm to frame. Keeping your elbows down stops the position from getting worse (high mount). Rolling over 45 degrees sets you up so you can reach their leg easier. Reaching across undermines their base. Dragging their leg over limits their movement options and sets you up to move to half guard. Rotating over to the other side makes it harder for them to smash you down. The underhook and the free arm frame both make you even harder to smash down and at this point, you are in bottom half guard, an improved position.

As with the first technique, communicate clearly with your partner while drilling. There should be no resistance while you are first learning. Your partner will need to still have some structure to their body so that you can move but they shouldn’t be fighting you. If one person improves, their new skills will help the whole community improve. As the cliche goes – iron sharpens iron.

Once we’ve got both techniques, we will work a drill concentrating on two specific scenarios – what to do if our partner’s knees are tight or loose? In the drill, our partner will feed us one of two options – are they squeezing us tight with their knees or are they relatively loose with their knees? If they are tight, we will do the bridge and roll. If they are loose, we will do the elbow escape.

For those who have seen both these techniques before and have a decent level of competency in groundwork, we will go over how to stand up from top guard (if you used the bridge and roll) and how to sweep from bottom half guard (if you used the elbow escape) – because our original goal, in this self defense situation, is to stand back up to our feet.

At that point, we will have done technique and rolls so we will finish the class with the last step – play. Partner’s will start in mount position. The partner on the bottom will try to escape. The partner on top will try to pin. The game will be over if either partner taps or if the bottom partner escapes to standing. The game can be modified in many ways – so communicate clearly with your partner. Consider competency, size difference, and injury when deciding how hard you and your partner should play. It is also completely fine to stick with the previous drill rather than escalate to play. For those who want the full self defense feel, they can add strikes as well.

Thanks for the opportunity to teach at camp! I love questions and feedback. Please send me your thoughts or just come ask me. If you want to get better at groundwork, check our BJJ schedule at Southwest Portland Martial Arts – all enrolled MDP students can attend those classes that concentrate on groundwork at no charge.

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