How to Ninja Roll in BJJ
There are fancy looking moves in BJJ, and then there are flashy moves that really work. The "ninja roll" from 3/4 mount (quarter guard) has been a solid staple for me for over a decade now. While the move is challenging to grasp in the beginning, it can actually be broken down into a few simple steps, which can, in turn, be mastered individually. What follows is a basic overview of the main concepts, some key details that will allow you to get the technical aspects down with a minimum of headaches, and some preemptive troubleshooting for the likely resistance you'll encounter (and avoiding common mistakes).
Here's a sort of "bird's eye view" of the technique. As your partner starts to use a stepover mount escape (as outlined in this tutorial), the first order of business is to keep your partner's hips turned away from you. You can accomplish this by pinching your left knee behind their back while they're turned onto their left hip (while capturing your right foot). Next, establish a lockdown on your partner's right foot and leg. It's extremely useful to open your hip up here, ensuring that your left knee is up in the air. This will allow you to stay locked in, minimizing wiggle and escape room. Third, roll over your right shoulder (the proper "ninja roll" portion of the technique) after walking your hands down to your partner's feet. The further you walk down toward your partner's feet, the higher your success rate will be. After rolling over your right shoulder, you should come up with several distinct and useful reference points for your positional journey. These are outlined below.
The calf slicer reference point
After executing the roll, you're going to end up with your shin perpendicular to your partner's "knee pit" area, in a perfect calf slicer position. My students sometimes ask me if this is an even exchange, like 50/50, where whoever is quicker on the draw will get the tap. The answer is a resounding no. If your shin is perpendicular to your opponent's knee pit, you're going to win the calf slicer battle 100% of the time. Although the slicer isn't our primary attack here, it is an excellent place to stop and test out whether you have the first reference point correct. If you can calf slicer your opponent, you've got it right. If not, adjust accordingly. Note: you can really see the initial leg positioning (the lockdown and opening up the hip, and walking the hands all the way down past your partner's hips to facilitate the roll) in this video quite well.
Finishing the back take
During the roll in this video, the near side foot isn't available to me, so I hook the other leg at first, but notice that as soon as the other leg becomes available (right after the roll), I switch to the proper lockdown on the same foot. Once past the calf slicer reference point (it is okay to move past this one automatically once you're accustomed to doing the roll correctly), your next reference point is going to be to catch the far side pants leg. It's important to grab this leg (either at the pants, if in the gi, or by hugging around the knee, if no-gi), so that your partner isn't able to turn away and follow you to the top of your half guard (disastrous!). While still controlling your partner's pants with your left hand, hug underneath your partner's left arm with your right hand exactly as shown in the video. Don't try to rush this! Make sure that you have both grips before moving on to the next grip. Finally, from here, get your left arm under your partner's left arm, and then your right arm under your partner's head, establishing a "harness", and then full back control. Note the detail on shortening your far hook so that your last hook is easy to insert.
Ninja roll or berimbolo?
Handle with care
This series utilizes the ninja roll to get you to your partner's back. In that sense, it's very "sport BJJ" oriented. If this was MMA or advanced no-gi, you might consider going straight after the calf slicer, banana split, or twister on your way to the back. The great part is that if you screw one of these options up, you can always move on to the next technique. Make sure that your instructor (and training partner!) is okay with you going after these submissions if you're going to use them, but if you do, have fun, and let me know how this works for you! You might also enjoy how to counter a ninja roll.
About the author
Andrew Smith teaches gi and no-gi seminars across the country. Check out hisschedule of upcoming seminars and bio here. If you're interested in booking Andrew for a seminar, email him here.