In the vast world of BJJ submissions, most are easily distinguished and recognizable. But two of the most popular armlocks, the Americana and Kimura, are very similar visually, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other. Don’t let the similarities trick you because they have dramatically different potential and applications.
Do you know the easiest way to differentiate them and which is better?
The Americana and Kimura are armlocks that target the shoulder through a figure four grip on the hand. The easiest way to determine them is by looking at the attacked arm position. If the hand is pointing towards the head, it’s an Americana. If it’s towards the feet, then it’s a Kimura.
This minor technical difference creates an important disparity in the versatility and utility of the two techniques. While both are powerful finishers, they are also used to elicit specific defensive responses from an opponent.
By knowing possible responses, you can chain together attacks and sequences and create “dilemmas” for the opponent, where every choice leads to an unfavorable outcome for them.
The Kimura and Americana are potent tools for creating such dilemmas and getting the tap, so we will take a look and compare their potential.
The Americana, also called a keylock or ude-garami in judo, is an armlock targeting the shoulder joint through wrist manipulation.
In this submission, you control one of the opponent’s arms with both hands by applying a figure four grip on their wrist and bending the elbow at around 90 degrees.
When you apply rotational pressure, the opponent will feel a sharp pain in the shoulder and the elbow and will be forced to tap.
Since the Kimura is done with the same figure four grip, the easiest way to differentiate them is to know that in the Americana, the palm of the attacked arm is pointing towards the ceiling and the head.
The Americana is almost always finished when you are in a top position, either mount or side control.
The Americana is an effective way to make someone tap at the beginner level. Still, after these initial stages, the finishing rate drastically drops because everyone understands how to alleviate the pressure from the shoulder and that it’s not very difficult to do so.
But this doesn’t mean the Americana is useless at a high level. The fact that the defense is straightforward and predictable also means the attacking player knows and expects the defensive answer and can use it to their advantage.
A simple setup that I personally love to use because I have strong mount control is to isolate a hand on the mat and threaten with an Americana, which makes the opponent turn toward the armlock. This creates back exposure, which you can take advantage of.
Most top positions can use the Americana to elicit defensive responses, which you anticipate and use for other attacks.
The Kimura, also known as the double wrist lock, chicken wing, or gyaku ude-garami, is a shoulder lock executed by placing rotational pressure on the shoulder by controlling the wrist with a figure four grip.
The key characteristic of the Kimura lock is that the hand of the attacked arm is facing the feet and goes behind the opponent’s back for the finish.
The Kimura can be approached from many positions, but it’s most commonly done from the bottom, usually from full guard.
The Kimura is an excellent finishing move, but it’s much more than that. The figure four grip provides exceptional control over the opponent’s arm, and the grip can be secured from many different positions, like full guard, bottom half guard, top side control, and even standing while defending takedowns and body locks.
Some people are very strong, and it is near impossible to finish them with a Kimura after they lock hands to defend, but the grip allows us to move around the shoulder, back, and head with ease and secure much better positions like a mount or back mount.
Differences Between Americana and Kimura
At first glance, the two moves are almost the same. Both require a figure-four grip and a bent elbow, placing immense pressure on the shoulder. But there are distinct differences, making them different moves with different applications.
The first main difference is the arm position. In the Americana, the trapped hand points toward the head, while in the Kimura, it points toward the feet.
To finish an Americana, you need to bring the elbow down and up, while for a Kimura, the hand goes behind the opponent’s back.
The other main difference is the position from which you can get both submissions. The Kimura is often caught from the bottom, but this is not always true.
As a highly versatile submission, the Kimura can be approached and set up from many places, including top positions like side control and top half guard.
On the other hand, the Americana is almost always executed from a top position, like mount or side control.
Americana vs Kimura: Which is Better?
The Kimura is more effective as a finishing move and a tool to transition into other submissions and positions. It can be approached from many more positions, both top and bottom, and people like Kazushi Sakuraba have even made a career out of using a kimura grip from standing.
Both techniques offer many opportunities to funnel our opponent down predictable pathways that we can anticipate and use.
Yes, the Kimura is superior in this regard, but the Americana also has its merit and should not be overlooked as simply a white belt move.
An excellent example is when the threat of an Americana forces the opponent to turn to the side and allow you to take S-mount.
This transition opens up multiple avenues for submissions like the armbar, RNC after you take the back, or the mounted triangle.
The two keylocks can also work in tandem. For example, when you are attacking an Americana from side control, the opponent will often move his arm down to his body, which makes it ripe for a Kimura. This way, the two keylocks work together to create a dilemma.
There are many more possible setups for each individually and in combination. A large number of possibilities are revealed in this great video by Jason Scully.
The beauty of BJJ and the reason many call it human chess is revealed when you start to see and use chained movements that elicit a specific response in the opponent, which is then utilized for further offense. The Americana and Kimura are two popular submissions that double as excellent “dilemma” tools.
These submissions target the shoulder and elbow joints and use a figure four grip on the wrist. The Americana is almost always done from a top position, and the attacked hand is oriented upwards.
The Kimura is more versatile, can be approached from many top and bottom positions, and can be easily recognized when you see the trapped forearm pointing towards the person’s feet.