So I saw something spectacular the other day…
It was a clip from a wrestling match in which 125 lb Ronnie Bresser from Oregon State cartwheels himself over his opponent in a move called ‘the Flying Squirrel’ to get to a 15 point advantage and win the match by technical fall (thanks to “i like to wrassle” on reddit for giving me the proper name for it)!
Here’s the move:
Of course this is a particularly spectacular cartwheel, and pulling off something like this is well outside the realm of possibility for most BJJ practitioners, especially anyone over 150 lbs.
But there’s a strong argument that even if you’re a ‘normal’ human being, and especially if you’re one that practises BJJ, submission wrestling, or some other form of grappling, that you should still learn to cartwheel. Initially learn how to do it on your hands, but then move on to also using your elbows, and your head.
It’ll build athleticism, improve spatial awareness, and teach body positioning in space.
But, even more importantly, there are grappling applications of the cartwheel that you should be aware of.
And no, they don’t require as much athleticism as that insane wrestling move above…
Let’s take a look at a few examples of cartwheels as applied to BJJ and submission grappling…
Omoplata Cartwheel Counter
Probably the most easily applied (and most commonly used) cartwheel in grappling is the low angle cartwheel applied to counter the omoplata armlock.
You see this counter used by everyone from advanced whitebelts to elite-level blackbelts. It comes in handy anytime you’re caught in the omoplata by an opponent who has not yet controlled your belt, back, legs, or hips.
Basically if you’re in an omoplata but your legs are free to move then plant your free hand, post your head, and jump over his body. You don’t have to go high; in fact sometimes it looks more like a short hop.
But even though it all happens at a low angle in one move you’ve gone from being caught in a potentially match-ending submission to controlling your opponent in sidemount, which is a pretty good deal!
This move really doesn’t require as much gymnastics experience as you might think.
Showing you how to do the cartwheel escape to the omoplata safely and easily in a video breakdown is Mark Mullen, one of my very earliest BJJ training partners!
Now let’s get a little fancier…
Seated Butterfly Guard Cartwheel Pass
You can also use a cartwheel to pass a seated butterfly guard so long as your opponent hasn’t established any grips on you.
The abbreviated version of this move is that you first create some distance, then plant one hand on the ground between your opponent’s legs and another on his shoulder, and then cartwheel over him to get to his back.
This might seem really intimidating but if you can do a cartwheel on level ground then you should be able to do this technique.
Besides, how hard can this move be if I was able to film an instructional about it in my mid-forties and at a weight of 210 lbs?
Check out my breakdown of both the cartwheel pass, and the learning progression that makes it easier, in the video below…
Can the cartwheel be used to pass other kinds of guard? Certainly…
Z Guard Cartwheel Pass
The Z guard (aka knee shield) can be a very frustrating type of guard to deal with. Your opponent has you in half guard and is jamming his top knee into your shoulder, sternum or belly, making it hard to close the distance and smash him.
What can you do to pass the Z guard?
My friend and BJJ nogi world champion Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins has several ways to shut down the Z guard, but the one we’re talking about today involves.. you guessed it… a cartwheel!
In this pass you’re first going to move towards your opponent’s open side first, then change directions, cartwheelover his body, and end up on his side or behind him.
In the video below Brandon also shows exactly how to train this move as a drill on a punching bag, allowing you to get the movements smooth and easy before trying them out on a resisting partner.
Let’s look at one more use of the cartwheel while passing the guard…
Cartwheel Recounter to a Guard Pass Counter
This next technique is an example of a counter to a counter to a guard pass.
The video below starts with the instructor (who I’ve never met) teaching the X pass, which is a very powerful way to pass the guard.
Next he shows you one way to counter the X pass (which is essentially a variation of the ‘Frame and Hip Escape‘ guard retention movement).
Then finally he moves on to using a hand plant and cartwheel to counter the frame and hip escape.
It’s great stuff, but too detailed for me to break it down further here. Watch the video if you’re interested in this aspect of guard passing!
Can the cartwheel only be used for guard passing? Nope! Let’s take a look at a few other examples…
Here’s a use of the cartwheel to tighten up a choke and put your opponent into a bad position. It’s essentially a variation of the ‘Shaolin Choke‘, the difference being that here you wrap your opponent’s lapel around his neck rather than your own.
Still, feeling comfortable while flipping and cartwheeling through the air is essential for both variations.
And either way, your opponent probably won’t see it coming and will feel like burning his gi after he gets caught in it!
Check it out…
Cartwheel Armbar Escape
This next technique is high risk, because if something goes wrong your arm could get seriously hyperextended.
It’s a cartwheeling escape to an almost-finalised armbar.
I’ve seen it pulled off a few times in high level competition so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it.
However given the danger level you’re going to have to figure this one out for yourself if you want to practise it, OK?
OK, that’s it for now.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour through applying the cartwheel in BJJ and submission grappling.
If you’re feeling intimidated then just start with the first one we covered – the low angle cartwheel escape to the omoplata.
Once you feel comfortable with that then you can move on to some of the others and, before you know it, you’ll be doing fancy, hand-free sideflips like fighter Wu Ze pulled off in OneFC (gif below).
Just please don’t stomp your foot directly into your training partner’s’ groin while landing!