Everyone has been there: you’re playing your guard game, get an arm isolated, open your guard and go for the armbar.
…and something didn’t go right and now you’re getting your guard passed instead finishing the submission. It is frustrating and demoralizing.
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So what happened? John Danahar sums up the art like this: “Jiu-jitsu is ultimately a problem-solving activity…whoever solves each other’s problems at a faster rate with better solutions typically wins the fight.” The opponent solved problem of your armbar faster then you solved the problem of their defense.
Let’s do some problem solving with this video from Danahar’s Armbars: Enter the System series below.
Many times, armbars are lost because of a failure have your opponent’s posture properly broken down from the start. As Danahar notes, you want to force your opponent’s spine to be at a forty-five-degree angle. If they have already secured good posture with back and head up, arms in, and hands on the hips, then their arms are going to be too far away, and you need to focus on breaking the posture first. Alternatively, if the opponent is completely broken down (chest to chest contact) is also difficult to attack because their elbows will be in the way of your hip’s movement. This will hinder your ability to angle off to get proper leverage.
Danahar’s method of forcing the opponent into proper posture is to start with a collar tie and a hand on the elbow of whichever arm he is attacking. This is only the initial set up though. His hands only keep the head and arm secured until his legs can get involved.
A core concept in jiu-jitsu is using as much of your body as possible against a smaller portion of the opponent’s body for more effective technique and control. A common example is that you finish an armbar not just with your arms, but your legs, back, and hips as well, against only the muscles in their arm.
Back to the posture control: Well the hands get the initial position; the legs secure it. Danahar’s legs climb higher and higher up the back until they get to the shoulders. There, the same side leg as the arm he’s attacking hooks over the shoulder and curls down, locking the opponent in place. The ankles cross again, with the opposite leg on top. This is an important detail because it reinforces the leg holding the shoulder in place. The hands are now free to continue the armbar attack. Danahar calls this position a “top lock”, though it is also commonly referred to as high guard or crooked guard.
Once opponents are caught in the armbar setup, a common response to start trying to stack the other person. Stacking does two things: its makes trying to hold the armbar position very uncomfortable for the person on bottom, and it compresses their hips down so they cannot extend and finish the submission.
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The first solution to this problem is to keep cutting the same angle you already were. “What I want in these situations is to get my feet pointing away from his base of support” Danahr says. The force of the armbar goes in whatever direction your feet are pointed. When you are stacked, your feet are pointed at the opponent, and that force is just meeting the force of their stack. If you underhook their leg and keep turning however, your force suddenly points in a direction where they have no base, and they topple over.
That approach is ideal, but sometimes you can get so stacked that it feels impossible to sweep them over. So instead of trying to do so, Danahar swivels under them all the way until he’s popped out from under them on the other side. From there it’s a simple matter to turn them over and finish the armbar.
Pulling the Arm Out
This last problem is the most demoralizing. You’ve done everything right so far, arm isolated, postured controlled go for the finish, and they slip their arm out and start passing. What happened? First, you may not have cut a proper angle. Danahar uses his legs to pivot of the opponent’s shoulder, bringing himself to a full ninety degrees relative to the opponent. This puts the arm in a weaker position to be pulled back. A common mistake is that the person attacking the armbar gives up too much space when they transition their leg around the head. Note that when Danahar does it, his leg doesn’t swing wildly. Instead, it never loses contact against the opponent’s head. Then it clamps down tightly against the head, making movement impossible.
The armbar is a basic but formidable submission from closed guard, one used from white belt all the way to black. Xande Reibero won many of his matches at the 2017 ADCC with this armbar. So study up and started submitting your competition.
Join John Danaher with the latest installment of his systematic approach to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Check Out “Enter The System: Arm Bar” and get to work on improving your armbar game! BJJ Fanatics has it here!