The Americana lock is a fundamental submission hold in BJJ and other grappling martial arts with different names but the same mechanics. It’s a move every practitioner with even a few weeks of practice has at least seen, if not tried himself. So what characterizes the Americana?
The Americana keylock is a submission that applies pressure to the shoulder and elbow of an opponent by putting his arm at a 90-degree angle by controlling the wrist. The move is characterized by a figure-four grip by the attacker, who isolates an arm and forces it into hyper-external rotation.
Compared to its close cousin, the Kimura, the Americana is less common at higher levels of competition. Still, nevertheless, it is a move everyone must know how to execute and defend against.
The Americana is a shoulder lock used as a submission in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The move is known by other names in other grappling martial arts, like ude-garami in Judo and figure four armlock in catch wrestling.
The Americana is a submission in which you control one of the opponent’s arms with both of yours, bending it in an “L” shape by controlling the wrist (palm pointing towards the ceiling) with a figure four grip.
Then you create rotational pressure, which causes severe pain in the shoulder and elbow. This technique perfectly represents the principles of leverage and fulcrum points used in jiu-jitsu.
The Americana is a foundational move in BJJ, and one of the first submissions taught to white belts everywhere because of the simple mechanics and potency of the technique.
It’s not entirely clear where the name comes from, but the keylock is inevitably a move used in grappling styles for ages.
The technique crossed over to BJJ from judokas and catch wrestlers in the early 20th century, many of whom came from America, and has been a part of the jiu-jitsu curriculum since the 1950s.
The difference between the Americana and the other very similar keylock, the Kimura, is the position of the forearm and fist: if the hand is pointing upwards in the direction of the head, then it’s an Americana; if the hand points downwards to the legs, it’s a Kimura.
How To Execute The Americana
While there are ways to apply an Americana lock from many different positions, usually, you need to be in a dominant position and have good control over the opponent’s body.
This is why mount and side control are the two most common positions from which the Americana is possible.
The execution from the two is quite similar, you need to isolate and control one arm with both of yours, but from the mount, you have the advantage of pressuring with your body weight to isolate the arm.
Here is how it’s done step by step:
Americana From Mount
- Step 1– First off, you need to isolate an arm. In the typical scenario, the person on the bottom will have his hands tight on his chest. Grab one arm with both of yours and push it to the mats. You would want your arms to be as straight as possible for more force. This way, you are applying more body weight behind the arms.
- Step 2– The next step is to put the elbow of the arm holding the wrist right next to the opponent’s head, preventing him from turning towards his trapped arm and defending.
- Step 3– Then, you secure the figure four grip by squeezing your other hand underneath his triceps. Always use a monkey grip.
- Step 4– To finish the submissions, you slide his elbow down and lift it simultaneously while the wrist remains on the floor.
The mount is a great position to attack the Americana because it provides the most control for the submission. It can be transitioned into other attacks if the opponent defends, like the S-mount, back take, mounted triangle choke, etc.
Americana From Side Control
As I said, the Americana from side control is very similar, but you have less control and must commit more for it to work.
- Step 1– One of the best ways to approach the keylock from side control is by taking a far side undertook control of the opponent’s shoulder.
- Step 2– Take your cross-face arm and grab the opponent’s wrist. Secure a tight S-grip. Otherwise, you won’t be able to pin their hand to the mat.
- Step 3- Once you pin the arm to the mat with the palm pointing towards the ceiling, you can move your other arm, which is already in position, into the figure four configuration. As you connect the position, transition into a monkey grip with both hands and wedge your elbow to the head of the opponent to prevent him from turning.
- Step 4- For the finish, paint the back of their trapped hand on the mat and lift their elbow simultaneously. The torque will be enough to elicit a tap or a painful scream.
Americana Lock Defense
As with all other submissions, the key is to avoid getting locked in the final position, from where escaping becomes difficult.
Once you know how to attack the Americana, you will also be able to recognize it when you on the bottom position.
The simple concept in defending is to rotate towards your trapped arm, which ultimately kills the angle required for the finish.
If you are in bottom mount, this may open you up for other attacks, but at least your shoulder is out of danger.
But from side control, you can not only prevent the submission by turning in the right direction but also go for an armpit push and completely reverse the position.
A common sentiment in BJJ is that the Americana is a great move but only for white belts and beginners, just because it’s easily defendable and has a fairly limited number of setups and finishes.
This is why the Americana is super rare at the black belt level in BJJ and even in MMA, where the few instances it has happened, it was against opponents who already took a considerable beating.
Many high-level competitors and instructors like John Danaher and Ramsey Dewey have registered this fact.
Some people like Braulo Estima have found ways to tweak the Americana and make it more effective even against higher-tier opponents. As shown in the video below, Estima changes one detail which makes all the difference.
This particular Americana variation is only available from side control, and it includes putting your support arm underneath the opponent’s shoulder rather than under his triceps like it’s in the classic Americana.
Then instead of the figure four grip, you grab your own biceps like in a rear naked choke grip. This configuration drastically limits the shoulder’s mobility and leads to a much higher percentage of finishes.
The Americana is one of the foundational submissions in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and one taught since day one. It’s most effective from dominant positions like mount and side control, where you have optimal control over the opponent’s body and can isolate and control a single arm.
The Americana drops in percentage as the overall level rises, becoming super rare at black belt, but some more clever tweaks and setups make it usable at every level.