One of the most frequently asked questions in regard to the arm bar is when and why you should cross your legs. Various high-level instructors will tell you to never cross your legs while others will tell you that you should. With this disagreement, it can be difficult for a new student to come a decent conclusion to this question.
Just like with most questions related to Jiu Jitsu, the answer is complex and usually depends on specific circumstances. Generalizations don’t work well with Jiu Jitsu, and that is because different situations require intricate application of different ideas.
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Crossing the legs is a common position in Jiu Jitsu. In order to determine when we should cross the legs, we should first understand why we actually do it. Crossing the legs is almost entirely for control. When we lock our legs in closed guard or lock them to attack leg locks, we are essentially limiting movement on behalf of the defender. In order to escape your attacks, the defender needs to break the legs apart.
Furthermore, there are multiple types of armbars, each with a different set of details that must be applied. Rather than asking if we should cross our legs during an armbar, ask if we should lock them during a closed guard armbar attack.
Rather than trying to answer question myself, I will allow Professor John Danaher to do so. John is one of the most intelligent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructors today and his explanation will make a lot of sense. See below:
The primary defense to the closed guard arm bar is stacking the attacker. In order to stack, the defender needs to be able to posture forward and use their head. In order to prevent this defense from working, the attacker needs to control the defender’s posture, and this is best don’t by keeping the legs separate and pushing the head down with one leg. Ultimately, this means that in the closed guard armbar, you shouldn’t lock your legs.
The top armbar is a little different. Whether you lock your legs or not depends on what kind of defense the defender is attempting. The hitchhiker escape is best stopped by locking the legs and keeping the extended arm straight. If the defender is trying to sit up and get to their knees, the legs should remain open to push them down.
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