The Upa (Bridge): Can you do it when you’re tired?

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The upa or bridge, when properly executed, is an awesome way of disrupting an opponents balance, setting them up for a sweep and helping to secure a sweep. However, in my experience of practicing BJJ and watching boatloads of submission grappling and MMA videos, it is highly underused.

Whenever I remember to use it in practice it always surprises me how effective it is. I also know that at certain points in grappling, and I suspect in MMA, conditioning affects its use. The more tired a person is, the less likely it will be used.  I have often noticed that many people can only upa or bridge a few times when another human being is on top of them, then their attempts fizzle out. This is fine in grappling class because you can always work for another position. However, in MMA we have seen people get smashed even when a couple of upas could either prolong or prevent the inevitable ‘beatdown.”

So my question is how can one train to execute multiple upas or bridges when they are under pressure? When training I am sure most of us can hammer out 30 to 100 bridges in warm-ups without breaking a sweat. But when we have a fully resisting opponent of the same weight or higher on top of us, it’s not so easy.

As an experiment, I grabbed my 65 lb heavy bag and held it perpendicular to my body, with it resting on my stomach. I then began bridging backward. I reached 30 reps and then I began to feel fatigue. My lower back muscles began to tire and just about gave out as I reached 40 reps. Although my legs could have continued for a little while longer, my back muscles would not allow it. So perhaps deadlifts and more squats would help.

By itself, 40 bridges with a 65lb heavy bag may (or may not) seem sufficient for grappling. However, I wrestle guys who often weigh well over 200 pounds. It is easy to see that after grappling for a few minutes and then trying to defend against a mount those 40 reps of 65lbs wouldn’t stand for much.

So how do you guys train so you can pull off that upa or bridge when you are at your weakest?


16 thoughts on “The Upa (Bridge): Can you do it when you’re tired?

    Elyse said:
    May 18, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Bridging is used infrequently because once you’ve reached higher levels of jiu jitsu (and I can NOT totally speak for this since I’m only a blue belt) it simply doesn’t work. Bridging leaves you extremely exposed allows your opponent to basically move about freely. If your doing MMA, the bridge actually /adds/ force to their punch if they’ve timed/balanced it correctly. Every once in a while I get caught in a nasty ompa that throws me off mount, but that’s only when I’m distracted by trying to get a submission.

    I’m female, about 130 lbs and have grappled with Division 1 wrestlers between 130 and 160 lbs. They have RIDICULOUSLY good bridges, but since I was aware of that ahead of time, they could bridge all they wanted all day and couldn’t get me off :P.

    Long story short, an ompa (umpa?) is a good tool to have as a surprise attack, but there’s no real point in targeting that move specifically for repetition.

    Brian said:
    May 18, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Thought it was “UPA” (oo-pah) … umpa lumpa is an character from Charley and the Chocolate Factory … could be wrong though

    Jiujitsu365 said:
    May 18, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Thanks Brian,

    I believe it is “upa.” I checked my “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Submission Grappling” book by Royler Gracie and he uses “upa.” When I did a quick check online I ran into “umpa” quite a few times so I used it.

    jiujitsu365 said:
    May 18, 2008 at 11:01 pm


    I tend to agree with your comments.

    For the past few years I have practiced BJJ, it has been no-gi, but those ( with higher belts such as purple, brown and black) who practice both gi and no-gi who I have come into contact with tend to work their way into a high mount pretty quickly.

    Trying to upa carelessly with them in such a high mount usually leads to a reverse guillotine, s-mount to an armbar, or an omaplata.

    However, I have also noted with opponents of many different ranks that a properly executed upa on a low mount has helped me reverse the tide many times. Even if it only helped achieve half guard or provided some space for a scramble.

    christian said:
    May 19, 2008 at 1:50 am

    I see your movnig to Jax and wanted to let you know that I train at Jaxbjj. It is an amazing school and Larry is one of a few BJJ blackbelts in the Jax area. Also it would be wrong of me not to mention other schools., victor huber jiu-jitsu (beach), world martial arts jax they are CSW and almost all no-gi(southside), and 5 star martial arts in jax beach (ehhh not that great) and JAMA via Luiz Palhares. These are you choices and if you google the info I gave you you can see their website. Personally for me Jaxbjj was the best and I have rolled at most the other schools. LArry is awesome and has a stable of great fighters. They just cleaned house at NAGA last week. Email me if you need more info. And I must say Jaxbjj is the best by far, lots of classes and good one on one time. Also lots of tourneys.

    christian said:
    May 19, 2008 at 1:53 am

    Don’t grade my grammer and spelling I was in a hurry. ha ha ha But seriously give jaxbjj some serious thought. Oh and he just started a no-gi competition team. Lots of great training and conditioning.

    Bronson said:
    May 19, 2008 at 8:10 am

    As I’ve learned it, the bridge is essential to getting out of inferior positions. For example, we bridge hard before hipping out to escape side control. And the bridge and roll is a reliable escape, but the high mount takes it out of play. That’s one of the reasons for going to high mount.

    I disagree with Elyse re: striking. If you’re mounted and striking is allowed, you can get your opponent to put his hands on the ground by bridging. You see guys do this in MMA all the time. Striking or no, it’s also the best way to get him to post a hand on the ground so you can grab it for the bridge and roll.

    I’ve also noticed that even experienced blue belts will make the mistake of putting one arm completely under your head when they mount you, making it easy to bridge and roll in that direction, unless they’re very quick to shift their weight.

    Jiujitsu365 said:
    May 19, 2008 at 3:22 pm


    Thanks for the invite and ‘heads up’ on all of the places to train. You mentioned a lot of places I didn’t know about.

    I actually visited JaxBJJ last December and blogged about it:

    I really enjoyed that session and look forward to coming back. It’s in an ideal location because it is about 7 minutes from where I will be working. So hopefully, I will be able to take advantage of that.

    It is also good that you guys have created a no-gi competition team. I saw from the Jax BJJ web page that you guys do well in gi competition. I look forward to visiting the academy.


    jiujitsu365 said:
    May 19, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Yeah Bronson,

    As far as MMA, a well placed bridge will keep a mounted opponent from landing a potentially serious blow. Sometimes one blow is all it takes and if you can upa to avoid it, then it’s worth it….

    christian said:
    May 19, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Hey Bakari,

    If you have any questions about Jax let me know i’ll try to help. And fyi, north campus FCCJ has seminars from time to time. They had sean sherk last october and I think josh barnet. It is all via the police academy and They also have a really really really nice weight room and pool at north campus. Also Luiz Palhares is having the jacksonville BJJ open in june. A bunch of our guys are fighting. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to email me.


    jiujitsu365 said:
    May 20, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Will do Christian.

    Jacksonville has even more going on in BJJ/MMA etc., than I thought, which is good.

    I had planned to enter the tournament in April before it was rescheduled. Hopefully, I can be settled enough to enter it in June.

    Yuri said:
    August 15, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    I don’t think there is any question that the person with the most compelling credentials as a Gracie BJJ Instructor anywhere near Jacksonville, is Profesor Palhares.

    Next time you are in town, come in, meet him, and join us for a class.

    Luiz is a phenomenal teacher, and the atmosphere at the school is very open and inviting to newcomers and visitors.


    jiujitsu365 said:
    August 16, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Hello Yuri,

    You are right, he is an excellent instructor. I attended a seminar led by him today, August 16, 2008, at Smiley’s MMA/Combat Athletix. Our school is now under Professor Palhares if I understand correctly.

    Amigo said:
    December 8, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I agree with Luiz palhares being the the best choice in Jacksonville.

    As for jaxbjj, I don’t understand how someone can go from a purple belt to a brown belt 4 stripes and then black belt all in 1 year. The problem I have with jaxbjj is their over emphasis on warm-ups/drills vs teaching techniques. They spend 15 minutes wearing you down to exhaustion with the warm up routine followed by non-stop drills for 20-25 minutes and then pairing you off with someone who thinks they’re in a competition for the last 20 minutes or so. It’s hard to have a relaxed mind and train good technique there because of that. Who can focus and learn techniques when your gassing from the warm up?

    If you want to learn good technique in a friendly enviroment from a true certified 6 stripe blackbelt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and won’t completely exhaust you before the class begins with horrendus warm-ups, see Luiz Palhares.

    Otherwise you can join jaxbjj for their excessive cardio class.

    BJJGuy said:
    March 4, 2009 at 10:34 am

    I think anything practiced with repetition is only going to make you better. At the very least your stamina for upa’ing will greatly increase. Being mounted is not the only place you would bridge to create space. Side mount, north-south are also places that it comes in handy.

    Every BJJ school I have every trained at has warmups that are as hard, or even harder than JAXBJJs. In fact, the school I go to now makes JaxBJJs warmups and drills seem like a cakewalk. I always thought that was the nature of BJJ… drain the strength and energy out the students, so they have nothing to rely on, except for technique. The technique they show is pretty on par with most traditional Gracie modeled schools. No, I do not train at JaxBJJ anymore, but I have before and their program seems legit. As for the instructor, well he has been training for over 14 years. So regardless of the acceleration through the last couple of belts, I think that is more than enough time put in to earn black belt status.

    Palhares, Moraes, Shealy, Smiley, WMA, & Huber all run great schools. I guess you just have to find the teaching style that best fits you.

    Obrigado said:
    March 17, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    These are the places in Jacksonville that I would recommend if you want to train BJJ (in no particular order).

    Palhares runs a good program in Julington Creek if you happen to live that way. He is well-respected in the BJJ community and I believe he received his black belt from Rickson.

    Daniel Moraes is a true world-champion jiu-jitsu player (recently won the no-gi Pan Ams) and mma fighter. He is a good teacher and his english is pretty good. He’s located in the Arlington area.

    Victor Huber is located in Atlantic Beach and is a gifted teacher and an incredible grappler. He received his black belt from Royler (the undisputed technician of the Gracie family) and has some very impressive credentials. I believe there is a video of his match with Jeff The Snowman Munson on youtube if you’d like to see the caliber of his game.

    Combat Athletix and WMA are more MMA schools than BJJ academies but are respected programs in their respective arenas.

    I would say that JaxBJJ does not offer black belt caliber teaching and would not recommend them. They do bring in Gracie Barra black belts for frequent seminars, though.

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