Jiu-Jitsu’s arsenal of submissions is deep, diverse, and ever-growing. Still, a few moves are so recognizable that they’ve become a trademark for the style, and one of those is the almighty armbar. You’ve certainly seen it, but do you know what it is?
The armbar is a straight armlock that attacks the elbow joint, eliciting a tap or dislocation. The armbar is widely used in BJJ, judo, and MMA and is a very versatile move with many possible entries, setups, and finishes.
There is a tremendous amount of information about the armbar, offensively and defensively, so we will only touch on the main attack positions, which are mount and bottom half guard, and some common defenses for both.
The armbar is a straight armlock attacking the elbow, which leads to a submission or a gruesome joint dislocation. The armbar has been one of the fundamental BJJ submissions since day one, and Carlos Gracie Sr. has had much success. Like most other moves, it came from judo, where it’s called juji-gatame.
In addition to being a very effective submission hold, the armbar is a powerful controlling tool, just like in judo, where it’s often used to pin the opponent.
The armbar became the symbol of Gracie jiu-jitsu after Royce Gracie pulled off two impressive victories with it in UFC 3 and 4. The move was extremely popular in MMA, but in more recent years, people have learned to defend it well. In pure grappling, it remains one of the key submissions at all levels.
The armbar is highly versatile and can be used from many positions, including mount, closed guard, and side control, with countless setups and dozens of ways to finish. The common principle is you must isolate and control the opponent’s arm, regardless of position.
The sheer amount of possibilities makes it impossible for me to cover everything, but I will go over the basic setups and positions and a few tips on how to escape an armbar if you find yourself in one.
How To Do Armbar From Mount
One of the most fundamental armbar executions is from the mount. From the dominant position, you have the time to set up the armbar and not rush like in the bottom guard version.
One of the easiest ways to do an armbar from mount is when the opponent sticks his hands up, trying to push you off. While this is instinctive, it’s wrong and gives you a perfect opportunity to put your hands on his chest, swing around, and lock the armbar.
But this will work only against inexperienced people; everyone else will have their arms tight to their chest, and you will have to do the work to expose their elbow and put it inside the line of your hips. Here is the written instruction, followed by a video:
Step 1: Trap The Opponent’s Arm
There are many ways to do this. In a gi, you can threaten with collar chokes, and both in a gi and without, you can use your hands and feet to pry the elbow open and bring it close to the head. We will use John Danaher’s method:
- Secure a cross face and keep your hand under the shoulder of the arm you attack.
- Put your forearm underneath the elbow you are attacking and start crawling with your hand, lifting the elbow over your head.
Step 2: Assume S-Mount
- Once you have the elbow close to the head, assume S-mount without losing control of the head and arm. Your knee should serve as a wedge against the opponent’s head and shoulder.
- Lean towards their hips to free your cross-face leg and put it over their head before you sit back.
Step 3: Finishing The Armbar
Before you can finish the lock, you need to separate the arm of the opponent, which will inevitably be tightly locked together to defend. The separation of the hands depends on the way they are locked. They can be palm-to-palm, in a figure four configuration, they can grab your leg, and so on, but palm-to-palm is the most common, so we will be looking at this.
- Replace the hand holding elbow to elbow with the other one. Now place your free forearm to his wrist and pull the arm into the “across chest” position.
- Always keep the attacked arm’s elbow diagonally. This means if you attack the left arm, it should be on your left hip and vice versa.
- For the finish, extend the arm and switch to control the wrist with both your hands.
- Keep the diagonal, point the opponent’s thumb to the ceiling, and use a slight bridging motion to elicit a tap or dislocate an elbow.
The armbar from mount is an excellent submission, but many things can go wrong, so don’t lose hope when the first few attempts don’t work. Each move has a counter, and with enough drilling and attempts in sparring, you will learn to address the common pain points, like the opponent getting on top or using the hitchhiker escape.
Armbar From Full Guard
The other most popular way to pull off an armbar is from closed guard. However, this attack is based on speed, reaction, and surprise rather than a systematic setup like the ones used from mount.
You need control of the opponent’s wrist and head to execute an armbar from full guard. The elbow of the hand you are attacking must come inside your hip at a minimum. The ideal posture of the opponent is around a 45-degree angle, which you can manipulate by controlling their head.
Once you control the head and wrist and their elbow is inside your hips, you can shoot up the legs to get a top lock over their shoulders. Then, you must create a 90-degree angle and swing your cross-face leg over the opponent’s head.
The finishing sequence is the same as in the mounted version.
The armbar from mount is not easy to pull off, but it’s a great attack to combine with other submissions like the triangle choke and Omoplata. This way, you can create a triple threat and always keep the opponent guessing.
How To Defend Against An Armbar
As one of the most commonly used techniques in jiu-jitsu, it’s even more important to be able to defend against than it’s to be effectively attacking.
Once you end up in an armbar when you are on your back, you should first connect your hands. There are many ways to do it, like palm-to-palm grip, s-grip, elbow-to-elbow, or figure four on your biceps (rear-naked choke grip) and underneath the opponent’s thigh.
Each of those grips has benefits and weak points, but the RNC grip is usually the strongest. If the opponents break this, you can transition into another grip as a second line of defense. From there, the most popular escape is the hitchhiker escape, also called the turning escape. This is a very efficient move commonly used in high-level competitions.
The other popular escape is turning toward the opponent rather than the outside, as in the hitchhiker. Timing is key here, and you need to take your hips to parallel with the opponent while controlling his leg so you can escape it.
If caught in an armbar from full guard, there are other mechanics you can use to prevent going into the final positions where you must resort to the defenses described above. If the person on the bottom traps your arm, it’s time to stack them on their neck and force them to release the hold.
You can see two ways of stacking the opponent in the video below, plus another explanation of the hitchhiker defense as a nice bonus.
What Does An Armbar Break?
The armbar is a straight armlock that aims to hyperextend and eventually dislocate the elbow joint. Of course, most people tap before the damage is done. Hence the expression “tap or snap.”
The strength of the armbar is based on the mechanical advantage you have by using your whole body against a single isolated limb. The attacker controls the opponent’s shoulders and wrist while using his own hips as a fulcrum. When an armbar is applied correctly, even a small effort from the hips is enough to dislocate the joint.
Perhaps only the triangle choke is as emblematic in jiu-jitsu as the armbar. The strong mechanical advantage it provides to attack a single joint and the multiple positions and options available make it a high-percentage technique at every possible experience level.
Learning how to apply and defend armbars is a common struggle for grapplers. Hopefully, this article has opened the door for you or shown you some new insights if you were already familiar with the mighty armbar.