Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to do an arm bar right: A rant

It’s getting into the position to do an arm bar that is the hard part, and takes up a good many pages on this blog and in our upcoming book. My friend, Steve Scott, has written two books JUST on arm lock, as well as The Tap Out Textbook and Gene Lebell has a ton in his Encyclopedia of Finishing Holds .

The actual physical activity of doing an arm lock is pretty simple.  Here is one simple way to do a straight arm lock.

Step 1: You begin with your partner on his or her back. You have hooked the opponent’s arm and have it locked against your body. You have both your legs across the opponent’s body as shown. Usually, feeling in danger, your opponent is going to have gripped both hands together and be hanging on to that arm for dear life. Lock the opponent’s arm against your chest, holding it tight to your body. Rotate toward the opponent’s head to break the grip.

Step 2: Once you have the arm pulled free, rotate back to be pulling the arm straight out from the shoulder. (If you were good at geometry, you will remember that is forming a 90 degree angle with the body.)

Step 3: With the arm locked against your body, arch your hips to complaint the arm bar.

That holding it tight against your body is a really important point. If you grab your opponent's arm with both hands and she grabs her own arm then you are going with your two arms against her two arms. The stronger person will win. 

Instead, if you lock her arm tight against your chest and rotate back towards her head, her arm is at an angle. All you need to do is hold on, lean back toward the mat and let gravity do the rest. She is going to have hold up your body weight. 

Try this exercise. Lie on your back and put your arms at an awkward angle over your head. Clasp a 100-pound dumbbell between your hands and hold it six inches off the floor. See how long before your arms give out.  This explains why smaller players, if done effectively, can apply an arm bar to a much larger player, the opponent is being put in the position of having to hold up a substantial amount of weight with her arms at an uncomfortable angle.

Let me pause here to rant and complain. I am ALWAYS hearing people correct judo players, grapplers, MMA fighters in how they do an arm bar.

Most of the corrections, though, I am skeptical. I always hear people say you need to pinch your knees together, don't cross your ankles, you always need to lock the arm against your body with both hands, grab the wrist instead of the gi , turn the arm so the little finger is pointing up (or down).

In many, many pictures where I, Ronda or someone else is doing an arm bar some black belt, instructor or just random person walking around will point out,
"That isn't right."
In writing The Book, I've had many, many people take pictures of arm bars being done in practice, in competition and had almost as many comments from almost as many people on what is wrong with the technique.

All of those people are correct. I have heard the same things as them - your knees need to be pinched together, the arm should be locked against your body - I've even made some of those same comments.


This has led me to conclude that if all of those people who are doing arm bars in practice and competition are doing them "the wrong way" maybe there isn't just one right way after all.


Lex said...

I always feel weird disagreeing with you at all because who the heck am I, but here we go ;-) I think your observation about arm bars in competition is spot on. But you can say the same thing about every technique really. For example: osoto gari. There are a million variations of osoto in competition, and yet the way it's practiced in uchikomi and throws is limited to just a few ways. There's something to be said about practicing techniques with the fundamentals all in place, and then in competition when something is out of place you just improvise. Kind of like what Ronda said in some interview (lol, worst reference ever) a while back that she never does an armbar the same way twice. It's always improvised to a degree.

My favorite techniques on the ground are chokes, and I have to say that part of the reason I love jiu jitsu (aka newaza) is that you do have to improvise based on your opponent's reactions, body type, relative position, exhaustion level, etc. But when I practice my chokes, it usually all has to be perfect, no space, tons of pressure everywhere, etc.

dsimon3387 said...

Why does Castillion Spanish....spoken by the nobility require a distinct lilt? Why do people in Wing Chun walk around pigeon toed in their stances? I believe in both cases we are dealing with idiocyncratic behavior passed off as a refinement of some sort.

There are things about an arm bar which are further refinements and things which are idiocyncracies... I wouldn't tell someone with knees that go out (like mine) to pull them in so the legs are absolutely straight, but if I saw the opponent's arm not positioned properly in the groin area (for example) I would say something.

I agree that the "proof is in the pudding" if you need a lot of muscle to make a choke work and there is a better way of getting position so the technique works effortlessly, well I know how I would proceed.

I think people have to experiment to find the difference between an idiocyncracy and a technical flaw... play with and make the body movements their own.

Chiropractor Salt Lake said...

I find some solution with arm bar but in some point I never thought that it’s not that easy though. But thanks for sharing this article! Very informative! Keep posting more!

Steve Scott said...

Being an armlock geek, I really enjoy it when you blog about armlocks and even better when we talk about them on the telephone. First of all, let me say to everyone that when AnnMaria's and Jim's book comes it. Then, study it, take it to practice and use it to work through things.Years from now, yo will re-read the book and find things that you may have missed in previous readings. Now, on to specifics...
The initial photo shows you in what I have termed as the "Leg Press" position. Some people call this the "Juji Gatame Position" but I believe that name limits it too much as there are a lot of positions to do juji gatame. This is an important controlling position that give the attacker
(1) time and (2) opportunity to trap the opponent's arm more securely and lever it loose to apply the juji gatame. There are some key elements in doing juji gatame. Here are some of the important ones...1-Control the position. In your photo series, you are contolling the position with the leg press; riding and controlling your opponent and limiting her movement.2-Trap the opponent's arm (Ann, I think you call it "collecting" the arm). 3-Lever (pry) your opponent's arm so that you can straighten it and apply the armlock. Always lever gainst your opponent's weak areas. The way you roll to your side to compromise your opponent's shoulder and lever your opponent's arm loose in the second and third photos.
There are more aspects to doing juji gatame, but always remember that if yo control the position, you can get the submission.
My upcoming book will be entirely devoted to Juji Gatame. Should be about 400 pages with over 1,500 photos (shameless plug, I know).
Another shamless plug; honestly, I really do look forward to your upcoming book AnnMaria. Your realistic, functinoal approach to judo is vitally needed in American judo.

Sylver said...

I think the problem is that wrong and right are considered as binary values, on/off type of thing, but as for all material things, there is a degree of rightness or wrongness in armbars.

Legs wide open, holding the sleeve, hips below the elbow... if you are fast and strong enough, it might work. In competition you take what you can get and if it worked, it was right enough.

Still there is plenty that could be improved about it. For one thing, if the control of the arm is not good, you need to pull hard and fast to prevent an escape, and of course the risk of injury increases a lot. So does the risk of an escape.

If you take each one of the advice and consider them from the viewpoint of the biomechanical advantage, you will realize that they are all valid points:

Escapes to juji gatame rely on the ability to move the elbow in a direction where it can bent normally. Having the hips right below the shoulder and the knees pinched on the biceps makes it very difficult for your opponent to get out of it. It also reduces a lot the strength of the opponent's arm. Try to curl a barbell with one arm twice. The first time, just move the barbell up. The second time, place your arm on a curl bench and lift straight without moving the elbow. You can probably lift 20%-30% less weight that way.

That's all in favor of pinching the biceps with your knees. A side benefit is that because control is much better, it's far easier to avoid causing injury to the opponent.

Holding the wrist gives you maximum leverage as it is the furthest point from the elbow that does not involve other joints.

Turning the arm is one way to assure that your pressure is applied in the right direction (the one in which the elbow can't bent much), which minimizes the effort necessary

All in all, it's not a matter of wrong or right, it's a matter of good and better, and assuming that the goal of criticizing is to help a person improve, I think all those points are valid.

If you had all the time you wanted to set up an armbar on a compliant uke, how would you set it up?

Chad Morrison said...

I second Steve's recommendation about the book... The bigger the better. I'll pay extra.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Hi, Unknown -
If that IS your real name, thank you for your comment because you have hit on my point exactly, when ever will you have all of the time you want on a compliant uke? And if you did, why would you arm bar them unless it was some kinky, weird S&M thing?

Seriously, arm bars are applied on the fly against a resisting opponent and most times you won't get it perfectly.

Do I teach my students to pinch their legs together, lock the arm against the body, hold at the wrist - yes, when I am teaching arm bars, but when people practice in drills I don't emphasize that. If the other person tapped, it was right.

Sylver said...


Sorry about the "Unknown" thing. I am logged in but for some reason my comments always end up posted as "Unknown".

I totally agree that against a resisting opponent, one can't always get perfect form (I am happy if I can get it at all).

In training however, isn't that the time to drill getting the best form possible? If someone drills a thousand times with knees wide open and doesn't get corrected, then "knees open" becomes normal.

"Do I teach my students to pinch their legs together, lock the arm against the body, hold at the wrist - yes, when I am teaching arm bars, but when people practice in drills I don't emphasize that"

What do you emphasize in drilling armbars?


Sylver said...

As a side note:

8:22. GSP gets an armbar. Hardy slipped his shoulder 2-3 times and escaped.

All GSP had to do was pinch his knees together, and that would have been it. He had 7 seconds to do it and didn't. Instead, he moved the arm around trying to get leverage without blocking the elbow.

It's not like he couldn't get it, he had it, and he had plenty of time to fix it... but didn't know how and said as much in the post fight interview.

That's GSP, one of the best MMA fighters, with a grappling background and some training in both BJJ and Judo.

These "every one knows them" details for armbars are perhaps not as obvious and well known as you seem to think, IMO.


Dr. AnnMaria said...

Hi, Sylvain -
The main thing I emphasize in drills is ATTACK WITHOUT HESITATION. In American players, the biggest deficit I see most of them having is that they don't attack often enough, they are waiting for that perfect opening.

If a player misses the arm bar, for example, as you said, because the knees were not pinched together, I will mention that.

My gripe is with coaches who criticize players who GET THE ARM BAR. If it worked, it was right. If you didn't pinch your knees together and you still arm barred the person then that is fine.

As Steve said, the "leg press position", curling the opponent into you like doing leg curls can work - and does.

Sylver said...

Thanks. Your approach makes a lot of sense.


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michael said...

Thank you very much for your interesting talk and the good photos which are very educational,
and the "armbar method" worked as you predicted