If you grapple, you know that when you’re battling an opponent with a similar skill level, maneuvering him into a finishing hold such as the cross-body armbar can be difficult because he knows what you know — namely, that he should keep his arms in tight to avoid getting caught.
How then can you advance to the next level and teach yourself to trap a skilled opponent and finish him on the ground? There are three ways:
- Be a better grappler. This means you must know more than he knows, catch and hold him in positions that are difficult to escape from, force him to make mistakes and capitalize on those mistakes. To make all this happen, keep training. There’s no easy or fast way to jump to this level.
- Tire him out. Even when someone knows the attack you’re attempting, being tired or weary can make it hard for him to fend you off. You can facilitate his fatigue by fine-tuning your fitness level — so he gets tired before you do — and by being smart about how you expend your energy, resting in good positions and holding him in positions that tire him out. Again, there’s no easy way to make this happen.
- Use sneaky setups. This strategy is one you can learn and practice right now, and it will have an immediate effect on your grappling game. That’s because your opponent can’t be prepared to foil your attack if he doesn’t see it coming.
To start you on that third path to success, this article will present five sneaky Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques to set up armbars: one from the guard, one from the side-control position, two from the back, and one while passing the guard. Master each BJJ technique — sourced from Rigan Machado, Jean Jacques Machado and John B. Will — and you’ll be ready to devise plenty of others on your own.
BJJ Technique No. 1: Armbar From the Guard
BJJ Technique Source — Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Rigan Machado of Redondo Beach, California
BJJ Technique Analysis — This Rigan Machado technique starts with a basic observation: When your opponent is in your guard and your legs are locked around his body — in what’s referred to as the closed guard — he’s probably well aware of the danger to his limbs. Therefore, he strives to keep them bent while holding your hips down to ensure that you can’t rise up and catch him in an armbar. But when you fight with your legs open or with your feet under his thighs — in the butterfly guard or two-hooks-in guard — he’s much less concerned about defending his arms and much more concerned about being swept.
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Therefore, for this Rigan Machado move, start the armbar-from-the-guard technique by sitting on the mat with your adversary sitting on your feet in the butterfly guard. Extend your left arm under his right arm and around his waste. Control his left hand with your right. Lean back and onto your right side, then lift your left foot to upend him and roll him to your right.
When he senses that you’re trying to control his left hand and feels his body lift, he’ll fight to place that hand on the ground as a “post” to maintain his balance. At this point in the Rigan Machado technique, you’ve tricked him into straightening his arm, leaving it vulnerable to attack.
Place your right hand under his left elbow, then shift your body to the right and guide his left wrist onto your right shoulder. Next, cup your hands behind his left elbow, rotating it so the bone of his elbow points up. You’ll then be able to apply downward pressure to hyperextend the trapped limb in a “cutting” armbar.
This attack can fail if your opponent rotates his arm to alleviate the pain. If that happens, use your left hand to continue cupping his left arm, then pull it across to your left hip. Spin your head to the left, and with his arm deeply across your body, you’ll be set up for a tight armbar. Use your right hand to hold his head down, clamp your left leg high across his back and move your right leg over the top of his head. Keep your legs heavy on him so he can’t rise. Then simply drop your feet and lift your hips for the finish.
BJJ Technique No. 2: Armbar From the Side-Control Position
BJJ Technique Source — Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor John B. Will of Melbourne, Australia
BJJ Technique Analysis — To execute this John B. Will technique, begin in side control with your body on your opponent’s left side. He’s properly defending his arms by keeping them bent and close to his chest, between your body and his. Place your left knee on the ground near his hip. The action will free your left hand so you can slip that wrist under his left wrist. As an added distraction (or real attack), move your right forearm across his throat and threaten him with a collar choke. At this point, he’s completely unaware of any armbar danger.
In one dynamic move, rotate on your left knee, bringing the inside of your left ankle against his left shoulder as you swing your right leg over his head. Sit deeply under his left shoulder with your left foot tight against your right thigh, then squeeze your knees together. His left arm is now weak and isolated, making it easy for you to grab it with one or both hands and lean back to straighten it for the tapout.
BJJ Technique No. 3: Armbar From the Back (No. 1)
BJJ Technique Source — Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Jean Jacques Machado of Tarzana, California
BJJ Technique Analysis — Begin this Jean Jacques Machado move in the back-control position with your legs around your foe’s hips while you and he are seated on the mat. Reach around his neck with your right hand and attempt a vigorous choke. Use your left hand, which you’ve extended under his left arm, to control his left wrist. As you fight for the choke with your right hand, begin leaning back and to your left. Move your feet to your opponent’s right side, then fall farther to your left as you bring your left leg high across his torso. Move your right hand to the left side of his head and push him away and down as you shift your right leg over his head for the armbar.
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BJJ Technique No. 4: Armbar From the Back (No. 2)
BJJ Technique Source — Rigan Machado
BJJ Technique Analysis — Begin this Rigan Machado move by taking your opponent’s back while he’s on his elbows and knees. Move your left hand across the back of his head and, coming from the top of his right shoulder, place it around and under his right arm. Reposition your left foot until your shin presses against the back of his neck and simultaneously move your right foot across his stomach. Push down with your left shin while grabbing his right pant leg with your right hand. Use your right hand to pull his foot widely over your head, lifting with your right leg to flip him. As he falls onto his back, keep hold of his pant leg to prevent him from rising to his knees in your guard. Move your left leg over his face to complete the armbar.
BJJ Technique No. 5: Armbar While Passing the Guard
BJJ Technique Source — Rigan Machado
BJJ Technique Analysis — This Rigan Machado sequence begins on your feet in your opponent’s open guard. He’s sitting up and using his left hand to control your right sleeve. Pinch your knees together to limit the amount his feet (his “hooks”) can move you. Bend your right leg to the left to free your left leg, then reposition your left leg alongside your right as you begin to move around his guard to your right. He’ll turn to his left side to improve his guard defense, and when he does, drop flat to pin his legs together. Use your right hand to grasp his left sleeve and your left hand to hold his left pant leg.
In one motion, place your hands on the ground and jump to your feet, maintaining the integrity of your grips. Thrust your hands toward the ceiling, which will result in your adversary’s being lifted by his left hand and leg. That action will turn him away from you and onto his right side. Immediately step over his head with your right leg and collapse your legs to sit into an armbar on his left arm. To make the technique tight, keep your left foot against the left side of his body. If you wish, you can squeeze your thighs together, turn your knees to the right and move your left leg to the other side of his body as previously described.
These five sneaky setups for armbars by Rigan Machado, Jean Jacques Machado and John B. Will will give you a real advantage over almost any opponent. Remember that in no case do you want to lose your position for a chance at a long-shot attack. That’s why it’s best to focus on solid, high-percentage moves like the ones described above.
About the Author:
David Meyer is a freelance writer and martial arts instructor with more than 40 years of experience. He spent more than two decades under the tutelage of small-circle jujitsu founder Wally Jay and 14 years with the Machado brothers. His acclaimed book, Training for Competition: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Submission Grappling, includes insights from legends such as the aforementioned Wally Jay as well as Bas Rutten, Cesar Gracie and Gene LeBell.
For More BJJ Technique Information by David Meyer, Jean Jacques Machado, Rigan Machado and John B. Will:
- BJJ America — started by David Meyer and John B. Will
- Rigan Machado Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association — official website for Rigan Machado
- JeanJacquesMachado.com — official website for Jean Jacques Machado