Lesson Plan for 2014-02-10: Armbar Fundamentals

AttacksTonight we are going to treat the armbar to my fundamentals analysis.  Yes, we will do an armbar or two, but more importantly, we are going to examine what makes an armbar, any armbar, effective.  The goal here is to give you an understanding of an armbar so that when you have an unusual one within reach, you know how to finish it. 

We’ve done this before with triangles, americanas, and other submissions, but the armbar hasn’t had this treatment from me in class yet.  Considering this is one of the most common finishes at any level of jiu-jitsu, and it is used for self defense as well as sport, a more complete understanding of the armbar is critical for your continuing jiu-jitsu journey.

It’s entirely possible I wont get through all I intend to tonight because there are armbars applied with your arms, ones with just legs, and ones that use your hips, as well as standing, different guard and control positions, and countless orientations.  If I’m not satisfied with what we cover, I’ll extend the class to the next one, then the following class we will start looking at defense and escape options.  Two weeks of armbars might be enough for fundamentals.

If you want a real appreciation of this incredibly varied attack, don’t miss this class.


A good blue belt sees armbars everywhere.  “I see dead elbows.”

 Post class update

Although much of this class revolved around armbars from mount, that particular attack is just an avenue to show some details about an armbar.  There’s more material here than usual, so bear with me. (And excuse the audio; I’m still experimenting with solutions)

First, it’s important to understand what an armbar really is.  At a simplified base level, it is the process of controlling the wrist and applying pressure to the elbow.  There are dozens of ways to accomplish this, both on the ground and standing, but the armbar from mount demonstrates the important elements for an armbar that is applied with your whole body instead of just your arms (side control armbar) or just your legs (crucifix armbar).

Also, when executing this particular armbar, a mistake I see over and over is to try to hit it quickly.  The typical end result is you are helping your opponent get into the ideal defensive posture of making you eat your knees (which will be discussed in another class).  For most scenarios where I am transitioning between positions, I try to avoid putting too much energy into the system.  Even for quite a few of my sweeps, I only want just enough of a sweep to guarantee that I can come out on top.

If you concentrate on getting control first, then laying back, your success rate is going to go up.  It’s very difficult, but the habit to get into is to take the armbar from mount, and focus on sitting next to your opponent.  Yes, they may get a good defensive posture, but you are maintaining control and are in a better position to prevent their escapes, as well as having more choices and easier angles for breaking down their defenses.

Read the last paragraph again.  It’s important.

This doesn’t mean you won’t have any fast armbars.  If you follow the instruction in this class and the next one, all that really matters is that you have complete control of the arm.  If you can scoop it up while transitioning and prevent them from getting any defense, then you can execute this armbar, even with the individual steps, very quickly.


Weight Transfer

Although my intention in this class was mostly to get the fundamental concepts of an armbar detailed, one aspect of this specific technique involves some interesting leg work that is often difficult for beginners, while leading you down the path to a more advanced style of accomplishing the same thing.

The first place students have trouble with is after getting the knee up to the head, getting the outside foot up into the armpit for the s mount.  Students that are larger or have balance issues also find this to be particularly difficult.  In order to make that outside leg easy to move, you need to get your hips oriented away from the leg you want to move.  This is accomplished in several ways.  First, leaning away from the leg will orient your hips more towards a normal position for your legs and increase their range of motion.  If you can’t do this without falling over, then use your hand to post out above your opponent’s head after you switch the controlling arm against your opponents arm.  Either way, you are leaning away from their body and getting your leg in line with the rest of your body.  The second method which is more advanced is to only move your hips, but this requires good hip mobility that a beginning student may not have.  This is a subtle motion, but it’s similar to standing with your weight evenly distributed between your feet, then transferring all of your weight onto one foot and letting the other leg bend as much as possible while keeping your upper body vertical.  That angle you create with your hips can be done for this armbar to avoid leaning motion of your body.  There’s nothing in the video on the advanced version, but the leaning version starts at 8:19

Once you have your s-mount established, then you can lean (or tilt your hips) in the opposite direction and transfer your weight onto your opponents body to make the leg near their head light and easy to move.

As you settle your weight back to centered, it’s a short trip to sit down next to your adversary and decide if you have enough control of their arm to continue the technique.

To the beginner student, this looks like a lot of swaying back and forth, but as you get more and more comfortable with it, the hip tilting will become more natural, and the overall motion will look like the “quick” version above.  There are faster ways to get the mounted armbar, but against a skilled opponent, I favor this style.  The next class will explore this topic a bit more.

Head control

Head control is another area left behind by many students, and it makes finishing the armbar under unusual circumstances much harder.

Any time your opponent is trying to collapse your knees towards your body, drive your head control knee towards their chest, and drive your heel back towards your butt.  A solo demonstration is at 16:45 of the video.

This is especially important for scramble situations.  Many armbars that you creatively catch are only going to be finished cleanly if you force your opponent to roll onto their back

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