Murilo Santana Passing Studies: Stack Setup and Over/Under Switch (Updated with Part 2 video)

Murilo Santana is an Underrated Passer

Like Leandro Lo (before he became the greatest thing since sliced bread), Murilo Santana is another one of BJJ’s best kept secrets. He has a rep as a pressure passer but what exactly do people mean? Not all pressure passers are the same and Murilo’s take on pressure passing is unique amongst peers. I have not seen anyone else employing his tactics at the elite level and I hope with this study many more will be inspired to study what he does and further extend the skilltrees of his strategy.

Stacking hasn’t changed Much

I’ll be straight up honest here. I think stacking (as most know it) is a big person’s move requiring quite some effort in order to get a guarder on his shoulders.

The problem with the “stack” as we know it

If you look at stacking, the only “innovation” lately has been around what happens post getting someone on their shoulders. Now, besides the traditional pinning of the arm with a knee and throwing the legs aside, new “moves” include leg dragging or spinning upside down to take the back (ie Travis Stevens v Miyao) etc. A lot of these moves look great, but IMO, if you can get someone on their shoulders, lots of stuff can become high percentage.

Bottom line –  In the first place it’s hard to get someone on their shoulders in a consistent, repeatable and energy efficient manner. Getting someone on their shoulders and trapping them there is THE  fundamental problem to be addressed and dissecting/re-inventing the “finishes” after the stack has already taken place avoids addressing the primary stumbling block to would-be stackers.

This is why stacking gets a “bad rep”- often what we see is a bigger/stronger passer bullying a defensive guarder who somehow gets caught on his shoulders during “balling up” and gets “finished” (passed) off this stack.  Random scramble, size/strength differential, luck or was there something to be learned?

Galvao stacks Lo(trolls…not hating on Galvao! Just an opinion on a tech, feel free to disagree!)

* Aside – To me, good moves work on a “first principle” basis. For example Lo’s DLR knee post works because the key issue in berimbolo is the mobility of the DLR hooking leg from the start of the inversion to the finish of the sweep (it’s a big lever). This is why I feel many proposed “counters” that do not restrict this DLR hooking leg (even when you have been knocked down) are mostly ineffective, ie thinking grabbing the belt/hips/etc  (and not addressing this DLR hooking leg) is even a good basis to conceptualize a counter is flawed (imo).  You don’t do something about that leg, you can’t kill the subsequent re-bolo/twister hook (I won’t go into this here but if you watch Mendes/Miyao closely, there is  a reason why they will hide the hook leg almost immediately now if the initial berimbolo fails).

Murilo Brings Innovation to the Traditional Stack

Murilo Santana has modified “traditional” BJJ to turn the humble stack into a lethal weapon. For study purposes, I am often attracted to players that employ one-dimensional tactics that work against a wide variety of opponents because that means there is probably something “fundamentally sound” to it. Below is something you will always see happen in his matches:


Murilo Santana Stack

These simple innovations change the complexion of stacking. I don’t want to repeat the video so just note two things:

(1) Murilo is on his feet walking in

(2) His head is tucked in (either pinning your head or your hip, depending on the circumstances)

As you can tell, the immediate problem with the stack, getting someone on their shoulders, is dealt with. With all his weight pressing down, the guarder is immediately working against gravity. Compare this to starting on your knees and trying to pull someone on to your knees or just up in general, where you are the one working against gravity.

Murilo Stack Lever GIF


What makes this approach interesting though is not just the stack entry, but the reaction of the guarder who is suddenly getting “walked up” into a stack. Murilo has a series of responses depending on what you do from here which I will cover in the next few videos. Similar to the DLR Counters video, there is an overall strategy at work here (quite clever I must say) which Murilo will unleash once he puts you into his “world”.

Understand that the Bicep Ride is A Critical Structure in Guarding

One thing Murilo is counting on, is the retreat to the “bicep ride” when he starts working a stack. This response is almost inevitable (hence the “reliability” in his strategy). Despite what you think about elite guarding (ie ultra flexibility required) , there is a fundamental principle of “framing to create space”  at work from beginner to elite and cannot be  ignored.  Be it Keenan, Miyao, Lo, Mendes etc, the “secret” to their guard retention is the ability to find this position to escape pressure, make space and transition to new guards. If their guard is going to get passed, look carefully – they are not  always running to an inversion/turtle/accepting a stack. They are looking to actively get the bicep ride and switch out.


I made a second video on this position specifically because aside from how Murilo is exploiting it, I think it is useful to understand for general guarding purposes. It helps to check it out before you watch the Murilo studies.

Murilo Understands this Instinctive Retreat to the Bicep Ride

Because the bicep ride is supposed to be a “safety move” many passers don’t really even bother to try pass this. Rather these days, people wait for the guarder to “open up” to try drag/toreando/punch underhook etc. That is where the problem of dealing with tricky “modern” guards start.

Counter intuitively, Murilo actually wants to force this position and keep you there while he passes. He doesn’t need to worry about spider/DLR/lapel etc “counters” because you’re not going to get these guards going on him in the first place.

If you stick with me for the subsequent parts, you will see Murilo is successfully stacking people in his weight class – modern guarders, stronger ones, younger ones etc.  Watching him has made me re-evaluate my previous biases on stacking as a strategy personally.

Tactics win Fights not “Moves”

Don’t fight like you are marketed to. Fight with fundamental strategy in mind. Yes flexible/complex guards are a problem, but a new DVD showing you how to lock on a kimura off someone’s deadly half or understanding all the intricacies to the berimbolo isn’t the only path to salvation.

I’ll give you another way now for free (and I don’t even need your email address) – how about not even letting someone get a proper guard going in the first place. Many are not comfortable getting stuck in the bicep ride for extended periods and there is not much fancy offence that can be generated there. (*cough* my donation button is below….)

The videos say it all. Do help spread the word everyone – it’s been too long since my last update. Enjoy!


Updated with Part 2!


Note – If you’re interested, other lightweight stackers to watch

AJ Agazam –  similar tactics to Murilo (walking in with head tucked) but doesn’t have a real coherent strategy yet

Nicolas Meregali – uses a completely different stack pass strategy from Murilo (but making work against flexible guys so it’s interesting), only purple level matches so far though so not sure how this would work at the brown/black level.

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14 comments On Murilo Santana Passing Studies: Stack Setup and Over/Under Switch (Updated with Part 2 video)

  • Brilliant! And timely, as usual. I was just discussing with my coach how I needed to add a third branch to my passing game -beyond smash and standing weave/redirects…Thanks!

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  • it looks very much like over/under pass with a tripod. Normally over under, way I was taught is done with heavy hips, because you supposedly give space for opponent to pummel legs for biceps stack.
    But it is hard to stay heavy on opponent framing with arms and I go to tripod on instinct. Really cool to see it is being done on elite level, very curios what options you will catalog available from there. You showed leg weave…
    btw, going with the stack towards underhook not overhook is such a counter intuitive detail..
    Such on-point details and insight in your vids… You are a unique cat Sir. Thanks for those analytical, out of the box gems of yours.

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  • Hey thanks for this! Check out my Keenan v Murilo video, you will see one of the follow on moves when the opponent gives up the underhooked leg’s pummel and drops to half getting into a bad position to mount (will be in a future study). Yes I think this tripod method of stack to over/under etc etc leads to a seemless mobile pressure pass which is hard to counter. I’m not that much of a fan of knee stacking

  • thanks for the feedback, glad you found it useful!

  • Bernardo Faria does the over-under the same way. He passes ONLY this way. You should do a study on him. His advantage in front of Murilo is that he is a World Champion 🙂 Also his half guard is a killer!

  • Thanks a lot for this study , yesterday i tryed it to my academy and i pass with succes différents types of guard , i have to be better si i workou it again and again thanks very much

  • How in the world does he avoid getting triangled?

  • By keeping his head down and constant pressure from pushing off his toes he avoids the triangle choke.

  • Thanks for the post. Personally, it is the most inspiring BJJ analysis/video in years. Truly a Eureka moment for me.

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  • Hey scout, is there going to be a part three to this study? I saw it advertised at the end of the second video, but haven’t been able to find it anywhere. Thanks for the time you put into making these videos, you do awesome work!

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