Mega Smasher: Murilo Santana’s guard passing breakdown

Murilo Santana is one of those guys who has a lot of success in tournament jiu jitsu but is relatively unheard off. He does not have a DVD instructional series, a subscription website or a host of moves named after him. What he does have is a highly effective and brutal passing style that has served him well competing against the some of the best guys in the world.

Posture in the over under position

Snapshot 1 (04-03-2014 13-54)

Murilo’s passing game is based around working from the over under. He will often pressure from this position for up to 6-7mins in the round and not really commit to a pass. In the last 3mins the exhausted opponent is passed and often submitted in rapid succession.

The over under position provides a number of advantages for the athlete:

1. Being latched onto the hips negates the advantages many flexible guard players have.

2. Inversion is incredibly difficult with this degree of hip control.

3. Adopting this passing strategy completely avoids all the cool guard positions. There is no spider, de La Riva or inverted DLR options.

4. The opponent is carrying your weight the entire time. This is exhausting for the bottom player. Their options are limited to destroying the head position and framing against the top man in an effort to recompose some sort of barrier. This is tiring work, doing dumb bell presses for 7mins will knacker anyone.

5. The top mans has minimised a lot of the bottom guys offense and only really has two main concerns. Which are, the leg escaping into a triangle on the overhook side (this can be minimised by constantly contouring the hips to the overhook side) and being tilted or swept to the underhook side (this can be minimised by posting with the underhooking arm and keeping hips contoured to the overhook side). Keeping your opponent off the leg on the overhook side eliminates a lot of tilt sweep options.

Murilo Santana’s passing breakdown.

There are two really interesting things about Murilo’s personal passing game. First of all he is highly proficient in the passes outlined below on both sides. This is pretty unusual and is probably due to the fact that his passes are determined by his opponents responses.

Secondly he rarely does the traditional shin circle pass to side control. Perhaps he feels this methods offers up too much space when compared to the options outlined below or more likely he prefers passing directly to mount.

The side smash position

Snapshot 1 (27-02-2014 14-33)

After pressuring his opponents long enough to make them start hating life he begins moving towards the opponents mid line I.e. the underhook side. This makes tilt sweeps more difficult as the leg grab is tougher. It also opens up the elbow and knee space for the shin circle pass, but as we know Murilo has no intention of going that way.

Instead he is moving all the way round to the side smash position. Lateral movement is the key here. He is actively raising and lowering his elevation, contouring his hips and moving to the underhook side. You an see this in action whenever anyone tries to elevate him with butterfly hooks. At times he appears to be floating on the end of these hooks before gracefully landing in the side smash as the opponents legs fatigue.

From the side smash he covers the top leg with the shin and moves to the side. The bottom mans hip positioning makes it really difficult to re guard, they are left with a crappy choice, accept side control or expose the back.

The flattened half guard

flattened half

Often in the face of this pressure the opponent will shoot for half guard to increase the degree of control they feel they have in this situation. This rarely helps them. Instead of fishing for the underhook; very difficult to do on elite player, Murilo stays low and pins his head to the ground removing the threat of his opponents underhook while freeing up his own hand to actively post or assist in freeing the trapped knee on the way to mount.

With only the foot now trapped in guard the underhook is taken and solid forward pressure completes the guard pass. The opponent is mounted and in a seriously vulnerable position. The frequency with which Murilo taps an opponent after the pass may be due to the way in which he passes to this incredibly dominant mount.

Jiu Jitsu from a Newbies Perspective part 2 4 Sparring Tips (2014 edition)

So carrying on from the previous blog post we have established the importance of identifying the positions we are in and adopting the appropriate postures. You can tell when you have started becoming accomplished with this stage when more experienced training partners, with similar physical attributes struggle to sweep, submit or advance up the positional heirarchy (guard <side control < mount < back control).

The next stage will be to add techniques to these positions. At the Griphouse we have a 12 week rotating syllabus that addresses the fundamental positions and the most common techniques that arise from them. There are many options for those looking to learn new techniques. There are many YouTube videos, DVD’s and subscription sites out there. What these options do not have is interaction with an experienced and knowledgeable coach. Ask questions and take the answers on board. Your coaches are your best resources, you are paying for their knowledge so you might as well use them.

If your coach suggest that learning to pass guard is preferable to falling onto footlocks at every available opportunity, it might be because they have a point. They might also have spent way too long trying to tear peoples feet off to the detriment of their own passing game……. not mentioning anyone in particular though……yeah ok It was me.

Drilling side control escapes might not be as sexy as drilling a De la Riva tomoenage sweep, but in the initial stages its almost certainly more beneficial. All those guys pulling of amazing, ninja highlight reel sweeps and submissions are all truly amazing at the basic stuff that makes Jiu Jitsu such an effective combat sport.

4 Sparring Tips for the Newbie

At the Griphouse we want to get our athletes sparring as quickly as possible. Usually this is in the form of a drill with a specific goal in mind. Everything in jiu jitsu must work against a resisting opponent. Below are some tips to get the most out of the experience.

1. Win the Small battles.

If you have no previous combat sports experience and can walk into a jiu jitsu school and dominate everyone, you have probably not walked into a very good school. Jiu Jitsu is devestatingly effective. If you do not know the principles behind the art and you are on the ground with someone who does, you are in trouble. Watching a big guy getting dominated by a much smaller, more experienced athlete is so common it does not even bear considering as something unusual.

With that said when you start expect to be submitted a lot. Expecting to chain techniques together like a mundials champion is unrealistic. Instead focus on winning the small battles.

  • Try  to avoid being submitted, mounted, sweeped etc within a round.
  • If your guard has been passed focus on maintaining solid side control posture and escaping back to guard.
  • When in guard work on preventing your posture being broken by your partner.
  • Concentrate on breaking all of your opponents grips.
  • If your stuck, cant move and are being thoroughly crushed try to work on controling your breathing and finding your happy place (super important, the jiu jitsu athlete must develop being comfortable being uncomfirtable.

By assaigning goals to sparring you will find your round more productive and enjoyable. Winning the small battles will prevent the ego crushing that can sometimes put off those new to the sport.

2. Relax and get more mat time.

With  matches lasting up to 10mins and sparring classes often lasting over an hour jiu jitsu is an endurance sport. Then why do we see new guys latching onto a training partners gi and turning purple like a powerlifter trying to deadlift a gigantic personal best. Trying to do any activity above 80% effort or so usually results in a decrease of technical proficiency and a subsequent decrease in performance.

Its the common problem with new guys they try too hard. Very little can hold back technical development like trying way too hard. It will also negatvely effect the amount of training you can do. Holding your breath and squeezing someones head for a 6minute round really limits the amount of mat time you can get in.

Every situation is an opportunity to improve. If your guard is passed its a great time to work your escapes, if you pass it is an opportunity to work on maintaining side control.

3. Think about whats happening

I like to think that jiu jitsu is a perfect art. It’s our application that is sometimes lacking. If a training partner is preventing you from applying the armlock your coach just showed you, try figuring out what the problem is before abandoning the technique.

If you spend enough time on any technique you can make it work for you. Take for example the flying armbar this requires a lot of technical skill, athleticism and an almost suicidal disregard for your own safety. But because it’s cool spending tonnes of time on it isn’t too hard and it seems to land with a lot of regularity.

Try to address why a certain technique isn’t working. Slow your game down and analyse it. Is it a grip that’s stopping you? Is it counter movement? Maybe you are in the wrong position to implement the technique (this falls under identifying the position mentioned previously).

I have had so many ah ha moments that have stemmed from a desire to make a certain technique work. This is after many years of giving up on a technique as soon as my training partners were able to defend it.


The simple fact is that the guys who are really good train a lot.

The athletes that are consistent and work hard always seem to surpass the guys who seemed to have all the advantages early on.

In our next part I will address some points on effective drilling and technique development.


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from a newbies perspective part 1 (2014 edition)

This was one of the more popular article series I wrote for the old maccavelli blog. As its now 4 years old I decided to update it and let it see the light of day here on the Griphouse’s blog. Hopefully a whole new bunch of athletes can benefit from the ideas shared below.

Those who coach or are otherwise totally immersed in it often fail to see just how complicated Jiu Jitsu is to learn. If you look at jiu jitsu comps today versus those from a few years ago they look like completely different activities. As a fairly new and innovative sport Jiu Jitsu is constantly developing with strategies and techniques changing from year to year.


That being said we can break all these variations into 6 basic starting positions. From this point there is an endless list of techniques and strategies that can be utilised. With so many options no wonder the athlete can sometimes feel lost and overwhelmed by it all.

The chess comparison is thrown about a lot, but I would argue that Jiu jitsu can be even more confusing, as physical attributes are involved, blurring the effectiveness of any “correct response” to a situation. On top of that no one is trying to throttle you with your own clothing in chess.

I wake up everyday thankful that the UFC became popular and I no longer have this conversation every few months:

Me: So this is Guard what I want you to do is wrap your legs round this guys hips and…..

Newbie: Hold on a minute, why the hell would I want to do that.

Me: Well if you don’t, he can get past your legs and hips and beat the crap out of you and lets not forgot all those points you will be giving up. Plus from here you can actually win the fight from your back.

Newbie: this all sounds turbo gay. How would I win a fight off my back?

Me: well what I want you to do is wrap your legs round this guys head and ……

*Newbie leaves*

The rise of mma has improved peoples awareness of jiu jitsu but it is still a vast and confusing sport. What I encourage new guys to do is to break there learning up into stages.

Stage 1- Identify the 6 major positions and their postures

Well it’s actually 12 positions as we must address each with postures for the top and the bottom athlete.

The six major positions, Top and bottom are:


Side Control


Back Mount


Half guard

From the perspective of the top guy and the guy on the bottom we need to know what these positions are for. What is our aim in these positions and  what is the posture I want to adopt when I find myself there?

Posture is a big deal and cannot be overestimated. You cannot even begin to do anything effectively if your posture is wrong. Without correct posture everything you do will require a lot more effort and will ultimately not work against experienced players.

Again this is a broad simplification. There are many different variations of side control top posture and this corresponds to a different postural response from the bottom man. But as with all complex topics simplification is the first stage of learning.


Side Control Bottom:


My goal from here is to re-guard, turtle up or turn away in an effort to improve my position

Posture- On my side as much as possible, near arm blocking the cross face, far arm on opponents neck, body crunched up small, feet planted and prepared to shrimp.

Once you have identified these 6 positions and determined the basic postures they require, write them down on something.

When training keep thinking:

Being mounted = this posture

Guard top = this posture

Half guard bottom = this posture

“Identify the position” is a great mantra to have on repeat while rolling. As a coach it’s a much easier cue to use than “no put your hand there and your hips here and do …..”.

With experience you can start free styling it a bit, but our initial aim when starting out is to limit the individuals options. When you are mounted for the first time, you have millions of options you could:

  • Bench press the guy
  • Rollover and give your back
  • throw your legs up in the air
  • push his hips
  • underhook a leg
  • bridge like a mentalist in no particular direction
  • Cry

Once you have identified the correct posture to adopt the game becomes infinitely simpler. You only have one option, the right one.


JT Torres De La X Guard

When it comes to watching Jiu Jitsu matches I always tend to pick a specific athlete and watch a crap tonne of their matches as opposed to simply watching  full events. When focusing on a certain athlete you start seeing the type of positions they favor and the go to techniques that they prefer.

I watched an interview with JT Torres a few weeks ago and he had a great attitude to competition and training. That is what encouraged me to have a look at some of his matches in depth. . Initially I was looking at doing a breakdown with his awesome leg drag passing, but then I noticed the De La X Guard appearing time and time again, seriously like every match and with a freaky high sweeping percentage as well.

The frequency with which JT goes for this position and the success he has with it says a great deal about its effectivness, and when guys like Michael Langhi are getting nailed with it you have to respect it.

At the lower levels of Jiu Jitsu mastery we have a tendency to abandon positions when we come across obstacles. At the higher levels the athletes know the positions they are great at and consistently find a way to get to those spots. From these strong positions they are ready to implement their attacks based on how the opponent responds. As with everything in jiu jitsu you earn what you have got. JT has certainly but the time in with his De La X Guard and has a tonne of faith in this position.

The De La X Guard

The deep DLR hook on the hip and the lower leg hook effectively ruins your opponents ability to  move laterally. Using upper body grips and the powerful leg pressure of this position the bottom guy can effectively tilt their opponent to either side depending on their objectives.

If the top man drives forward or is pulled forward in this position he can expect to be on the bad end of the dump sweep shown in the first section of the video. If the top man keeps his weight back he is susceptible to single leg attacks.

One of JTs most common ways to get onto the single leg occurs when his opponent hides the far arm. This effectively prevents the dump sweep as the top man has a hand to post with. By switching to a collar grip and attempting the dump sweep JT can collect the posting arm and complete the initial sweep or use the momentary lack of forward pressure to come up onto the single leg take down.

Finally if the top man avoids the dump sweep and drives back into the single leg JT will sit back into the single leg X, very much like Torquinho would, but instead of heel hooking somebody’s leg to pieces he quickly changes to the full x guard and completes the sweep from there.

All in all there are not a great deal of fun options for the top guy when the De La X Guard is latched on and its a great way to deal with the combat base position.

The Lapel grip.

JT will change the nature of his grips depending on what he is trying to do. He is always going after the far arm to complete the dump sweep. But if thats not available he may go to the collar to help load his opponent onto the hips as mentioned above or grip on the lead leg to secure it.

One of the really cool grips he utilises really well is a variation on the lapel wedgy grip. I am sure there is a better way to describe this but my inner child have prevailed, he passes the far lapel to his outside hand behind his opponents knee. This kills the top mans posture and forces him to the inside and towards the dump sweep which is the first link in a chain of great positions JT uses really effectively.

Let me know what you think of this breakdown and if you would like some more,


Paulus Maximus

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