7 Armbar Options in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

November 27, 2023

Before diving into the Juji Gatame's intricacies, let's tackle the most pressing question: where do jiu-jitsu enthusiasts take their dates? To the Armbar, of course! 

If you've read my article on the most effective submissions for BJJ, you won't be shocked to hear that the armbar is the most attempted submission in jiu-jitsu. Accounting for 20% of our total sample size and a 50% finishing rate, the classic armbar is one of BJJ's most tried and true submissions in both Gi and No Gi. If you're a beginner or an avid practitioner, the armbar is one of the best ways to finish your opponent.

The most recent example of this is at WNO 20, where Gordon Ryan submitted Patrick Gaudio with an armbar. Mica Galvao submitted PJ Barch with a flying armbar on that same card. This just shows the effectiveness of this fundamental submission at the highest level.

Mechanics of the Armbar

The key mechanics of an armbar involve positioning oneself perpendicular to the opponent, securing control of the arm by aligning it with the hips, and ensuring the elbow is trapped against the body.

Proper leg placement is crucial, with one leg pressing against the opponent's head and the other securing the torso, creating a wedge that limits their movement. The execution of the Armbar requires extending the opponent’s arm while maintaining control of the wrist, using hips and legs to apply pressure on the elbow joint. 

An additional critical mechanic in executing an effective Armbar is the directional alignment of the opponent's arm with the corresponding hip. When applying an Armbar on the opponent's right arm, it should be broken over your right hip; similarly, for the left arm, it should be broken over your left hip. This alignment ensures optimal leverage and control, concentrating the pressure and force on the opponent's elbow joint.

Types of Armbars

There are many different variations of the armbar, like the shotgun armbar or the choi bar

Armbar from Mount

To execute an armbar from the mount position, begin by controlling your opponent's wrist while positioning one of your arms over their opposite arm.

Next, create an angle by closing the gap between you and your opponent, enabling you to swing your leg over their head. Ensure that your weight is distributed onto the opponent to keep the leg light as you pass it over.

Finally, sit back, keeping your knees pinched together and the leg heavy, while pulling the opponent's arm towards your chest, pointing their thumb upwards, and applying pressure downwards to hyperextend the elbow for the submission.

Armbar from the Closed Guard

To perform an armbar from closed guard position, it's essential to focus on the relationship between your opponent’s head, their elbow, and your hip.

Start by controlling the opponent's head to prevent them from posturing up, while simultaneously working to bring their elbow towards your centerline.

The ultimate goal is to position their elbow inside your hip, which is the minimum requirement for a successful armbar. To achieve this, employ a two-on-one grip on the arm, use a top lock to maintain the position, and then pivot to an angle, ideally 90 degrees or more relative to your opponent.

This positioning allows for the effective application of downward pressure on the opponent's arm, leading to a successful armbar submission.

Armbar from Side Control

Your first step is to get your opponent's hand on that side of your head. Use a cross-face or a walk to set this up.

Fake an Americana; if your opponent does not defend, this could finish them off, but in the likely scenario that they defend by straightening their arm out, you can then push the arm to the far side of your head.

It’s necessary to get your opponent flat on their back for this technique. If they manage to spin around, you lose leverage over the arm. Prevent this by lifting and pulling them up using your grips, potentially integrating a knee-on-belly position to help.

Once your opponent is on their side, move closer to their hips. Your opponent will typically try to prevent you from putting your leg over by blocking with their free arm, lean your weight down and away to counter this. Bring your knee inside, over their blocking arm, step your right leg over their head, and pin their arm with your right leg. It’s important to control the arm tightly and limit any space your opponent can use to escape or counter.

To finalize, your right leg should pinch close to their body, while your left leg pulls back at their shoulder, preventing them from rotating their body to escape. Sit your hips to the other side, controlling the arm, finishing the armbar by lifting your hips. Be cautious to finish at a 90-degree angle to your opponent, ensuring they can’t easily hitch-hike escape. Pull the wrist towards the left of your body to engage the joint lock and submitting your opponent.

Flying Armbar

The flying armbar starts from standing position when you are exchanging grips with your opponent. Focus on the arm that your opponent extends. As they grab your collar, you should establish your grip on their sleeve or gi under the triceps. Ensure your grip is firm because it will aid in creating leverage later on. Your other hand will grip their collar along the line of the chin.

Now, place the leg opposite to the arm you're attacking across their hips. Ensure that you create enough momentum to lift your body from the ground using your opponent’s body as leverage. One common mistake to avoid is dropping your head, which would cause you to fall to the ground, essentially ruining the attempt. Instead, thrust your hips upwards and swing your other leg around your opponent's head.

Once your hips are high and the second leg is around the opponent's head, release the initial sleeve or gi grip, and immediately transition to their wrist. This transition is crucial to secure the armbar. Staying tight and keeping pressure with your knees ensures there is little to no space for your opponent to escape.

Finally, finish the armbar by extending your hips upwards while pulling their arm downwards, effectively applying pressure to your opponent's elbow joint. Some practitioners also use a variation where they grip the collar behind the opponent's neck.

Helicopter Armbar

The helicopter armbar is another dynamic technique which is begun from the guard when your opponent is standing. Regardless of which type of guard you initiate from, the key principle is to keep your opponent's hips back to prevent them from passing. Grip their hands to keep control: in no-gi, two-on-one grip can be specifically useful.

The technique starts similar to a Tomoe Nage or front sweep. Create a little pushing energy towards your opponent, then when they push back, collapse your knees into your chest and kick upwards. It's important not to land on your head but use your opponent’s body and momentum to lift yours from the ground.

However, aim to initiate the helicopter armbar instead of completing the sweep. Once you have your opponent off-balance and in the air, the technique then changes. Rotate your body slightly and extend your toes in the direction of the twist. This motion should cause your opponent to land right into the perfect position for an armbar.

What makes this technique so effective is that when you kick your opponent up into the air, their instinctual reaction will be to extend their arms to break their fall or balance their body, which is exactly what’s needed for an armbar. By giving them a slight twist and then extending your toes, their body naturally falls into position allowing for a swift and effective armbar submission.

Reverse Armbar

The reverse armbar from the closed guard is an efficient and powerful move. This technique requires you to first break your opponent's posture and mobilize your hips.

If your opponent's elbows are blocking your chest, preventing you from breaking his posture, your aim should be to transform this frame into a lever. This can be achieved by flaring their arm and pulling them forward. As you pull them forward, transition into an underhook underneath one of their arms.

Keep your chin close to their triceps to isolate the lever on their shoulder, allowing indirect control of their posture. Set a frame with your elbow against your opponent to block his attempts to push into you.

The next step involves creating space to mobilize your hips. After your positioning is secure, perform a hip escape and place your foot on the opponent's hip. Transition your arm back to their elbow while bringing their wrist into the space between your shoulder and ear, establishing the control needed for the reverse armbar.

The finish requires you to create space and apply a crunching movement, opposite from a standard armbar finish, which would have you bridging instead. Applying these principles will allow you to execute the reverse armbar efficiently and subsequently submit your opponent.

It's important to remember that the reverse armbar is exactly what its name implies - it's the reverse of a standard armbar. Instead of bridging upwards to exert pressure on the elbow, you are, on the contrary, hip escaping.

This technique could also be applied from the butterfly guard, typically initiated with a butterfly sweep. Once your opponent posts to stop the sweep, you can dive underneath and extend away to secure the reverse armbar.

Choi Bar


To execute the Choi Bar from the Z-guard position, begin by establishing a solid Z-guard. Ensure your feet are crossed with the bottom leg’s toes curling around the shin of the top leg. This setup impedes your opponent's ability to stand up easily. If they manage to grab across your head, immediately work to slide your hand in to counter this grip.

Next, secure a gable grip on the back of your opponent’s shoulder, maintaining their arm across your chest. Utilize your top leg for leverage. In scenarios where the opponent is tight on your hip, drag your knee between both of you, pushing it into their face. Subsequently, roll it over the top and pummel it to their back. This movement sets the stage for securing the arm. Breaking the opponent's posture is crucial; achieve this by using your knee effectively.

Once you've maneuvered your leg to their back and secured the arm, curl your toes around their hip to maintain control. Finally, grab the opponent's thumb or wrist, extend your hips, and apply pressure to complete the armbar.

How to Defend an Armbar

The defense starts from a fully locked armbar position and evolves through multiple layers as the attacker progresses through the submission. Initially, the defender uses a rear naked choke grip for basic defense, effective in holding the position but not in escaping. As the attacker tries to break this grip, possibly by pushing the elbow or using their feet, the defender transitions to a more robust 'S grip', which is harder to break. If the attacker intensifies their efforts, the defender then employs a leg-based defense, bringing up a leg to catch behind their own knee, creating a tight pinch that strengthens the hold and protects the arm. This position also allows for a triangle of the legs, further securing the defense.

In advanced stages, if the attacker falls to the side to finish the armbar, the defender can grab the attacker's bottom ankle and push it up, trapping it between their legs. This maneuver disrupts the attacker's leverage and opens up escape opportunities. The defender can either attempt to turn into the attacker, grabbing their collar to aid the movement, or switch back to a modified rear naked choke grip without using one hand, using momentum to sit up and apply pressure. This defense sequence is dynamic, adapting to the attacker's movements and employing a combination of grips and leg maneuvers to not just defend but also create opportunities to escape the armbar.

History of the Armbar

The history of the arm bar can be traced back to Judo, a traditional Japanese martial art. In Judo, the armbar is known as ude-hishigi-juji-gatame, which translates to "cross armlock." I found it fascinating that Judo practitioners used similar arm locks to what we see in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today.

As Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) evolved from Judo, it also adopted the armbar into its techniques. Some notable differences exist between the two disciplines' execution of the armbar, but the primary focus remains the same: extending the opponent's arm to force them into submission. 

The armbar's widespread use in mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions and modern-day Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be credited to its adaptability and effectiveness as a submission hold. In fact, the armbar debuted in sanctioned MMA in Japan at Pancrase 1 in 1993 when Takaku Fuke defeated Vernon White.

Best Instructionals for Armbars

FAQs

What does an armbar break?

An armbar primarily targets the arm, specifically the elbow joint. When executed correctly, it applies pressure on the elbow, potentially leading to hyperextension or even breaking of the joint if the opponent does not tap out in time. The technique is designed to leverage the opponent's arm against the joint's natural range of motion.

Do you point your thumb up or down for an armbar?

When applying an armbar, the thumb of the arm being attacked should generally be pointed upwards, towards the ceiling. This orientation aligns the arm correctly, particularly the elbow joint, allowing for effective application of pressure. Pointing the thumb upwards ensures that the force applied during the armbar is directly against the elbow joint, maximizing the efficacy of the submission and reducing the chances of the opponent escaping.