It’s a little known fact that 64.5% of white belts get submitted by the armbar 52.8% more than any other submission. 91.3% of the reason is they posture up. There’s no reason to play the mostly made up odds. Learn how to escape like a champ.
There is absolutely no replacement for a good stacking defense. It will keep you out of more bad situations than any other defense. First, you have to get there. As soon as you realize that you are in danger of an armbar, you should start prepositioning your defense. One of the nice things about armbar attacks from a stable attack position is your opponent needs much more motion to execute their attack than you need to establish your defense.
As soon as you recognize which arm is being attacked, start protecting your endangered arm by bringing your other arm around it and place the endangered hand on your other bicep. Then preposition your free hand near your head where your opponent will be clamping their leg on your head. This hand is going to catch their leg as they position it for the finish.
The neat thing here is this basic concept of hiding your endangered hand and prepositioning your defensive hook is good for attacks from guard, mount, or anywhere else you have time to recognize the danger. If you feel like an arm is in danger of an armbar, go ahead and put that hand on the opposite biceps and get ready to catch the leg.
Once your opponent commits to the armbar, your entire goal is to make them eat their knees. They are trying to submit you; it’s fair to pin their knees to their face. A critical element here is your overall body positioning. You need to make sure that their knees are evenly over their head. If you don’t, they will have an easier time either cranking your head over to put you on your back, or they can flip through for a belly down armbar. Reinforce this position by stepping up your outside leg and putting your knee against your opponents butt. Your other knee should be on the mat to provide a good base.
Now that you have your opponent stacked, uncomfortable, and incapable of finishing the armbar, you can start to extract your arm. This is the stage where many people have trouble. A common error is to try to pull straight up. This will only result in an armbar finish, rather than an escape. You should be doing more of a jerking rotation of your shoulders to get your elbow out of danger.
After you clear your elbow, good opponents will already be transitioning back to putting you in their guard, or attempting a sweep or transition to some other position. If they insist on holding on to a failed armbar attack at this point, a simple twist and driving your previously endangered elbow around the leg will secure a pass to side control.
When dealing with an armbar from mount, you may get stuck on your back and not be able to roll up into your opponent to stack them. If this happens, wait for your opponent to commit their entire body to the attack, then twist up and stack them. Most people tend to tense up their core when they try to pull your arm back, and this stiffening of their body makes it much easier to roll into them. You may need to time your stack with their pulls. It’s very important to make it your timing and not theirs. As long as you do your best to retain control of your elbows and keep a strong grip on their leg, you have a little bit of time to work with.
Hip Switch Escapes
I’ve done a number of variations of this style of escape over the years, but they all share a common element. Your goal is not to roll up into your opponent, but to switch your hip orientation from up to down. This isn’t as hard as it sounds.
My favorite hip switch escape starts with the basic armbar defense position. From here, a hard bridge into your opponent will either knock them to their side, or it will force them to post out and retain your arm with their other arm. Either way, you can now kick your outside leg over the inside leg and end in a tripod position with both of your legs next to your opponents body. When I first started doing this style of escape, I often stepped one leg over my opponent to straddle them, then stepped my other leg over. This puts you in danger of a belly down armbar, and it prevents you from stacking your opponent.
Once you are in the tripod position, bring your inside knee up to their hips, then step your outside leg far forward to give you the leverage you need to swing their legs up and over to the previous stacking position. The rest of the escape proceeds as before.
Another hip switch escape is more in place, and doesn’t depend on being able to step your outside leg over. For this one, you are going to do a short pulsing bridge to create space, then switch your hips to the floor. As soon as you do this, rotate your legs around to get your body more in line with your opponent’s body, which will tend to lay them down in the opposite direction of the previous hip switch escape. Now your head is going to be a bit uncomfortable, but you need to work your way up to the stacking position.