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Proven Judo Arm Lock for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu!

This Proven Judo Arm Lock Can Be Your Secret Weapon in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Too!

Judo Arm Lock for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Photos Courtesy of

Black Belt Plus

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is such an effective martial art in part because it never stops evolving.

BJJ practitioners experiment. They often discover techniques taught in other arts — like

sambo and wrestling — test them on the mat, and, if they’re successful, incorporate the new moves into their everyday training.

Sometimes they rediscover a technique that was forgotten or overlooked. Such is the case with waki-gatame, a time-honored judo arm lock that manifests, with slight variations, in many martial arts. Presented below is an analysis of the move, which stands a good chance of becoming part of BJJ’s evolution toward improved effectiveness.

Judo Arm Lock for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: “Lost” Arm Lock

Ude-hishigi-waki-gatame is often called simply waki-gatame. Its name translates to “arm-crush armpit hold” — for good reason. The mechanism involves the hyperextension of your opponent’s elbow, which happens when you clamp his or her arm in your armpit. In essence, your armpit becomes the fulcrum for the leverage on

which the lock depends.

Technically, waki-gatame is an armbar. An armbar, of course, is any arm lock that hyperextends the elbow.

In judo, waki-gatame is usually applied while standing, but it also has functionality in an array of ground positions. In BJJ, the technique is often relegated to standing self-defense applications. However, occasionally, one sees it originate from a ground position. In some respects, waki-gatame is a lost technique in the BJJ world. My goal with this article is to encourage you to examine it in a new light and see its value for BJJ ground fighters in search of a submission.

For assistance, we will consult Sid Kelly, an eighth-degree black belt in judo and a sixth degree in jujitsu. Kelly has found waki-gatame to be an extremely versatile and rather ignored arm lock. He arrived at this conclusion after five years of research that included experimenting and filming. From his investigation, he discovered more than 70 situations in which waki-gatame can be applied. In addition, he found that many of those situations are on the ground.

Because waki-gatame is an integral component of judo, it will be examined here mostly from a judo perspective. The technique is part of the Kodokan Judo Institute’s official list of nine joint locks, so it’s totally legitimate — not a fringe move at all. But because BJJ is renowned for its submissions and ground skills, waki-gatame also will be viewed from a BJJ perspective. You’ll see that it functions in no-gi grappling, as well.

Judo Arm Lock for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Before You Begin

The preconditions, along with the keys to success, for waki-gatame come from the aforementioned work of Sid Kelly. His research found that to apply the technique, four conditions need to be present. In certain cases, a fifth is necessary. The difficulty of setting them up varies according to the exact application.

• The opponent must be in a frontal position or be able to be brought to a frontal position.

• You must be able to maneuver your body into the required position as shown in the photos. 

• You must be able to extend the opponent’s arm.

• In some cases, the opponent must be in motion in order for you to get him or her into a frontal position.

Once you understand these preconditions, it’s relatively easy to determine whether waki-gatame is possible in any given situation. After ascertaining the preconditions for the specific version of the move you’re seeking to use — especially if it will take place on the ground — you’ll be able to develop and refine your technique. For the sequences of the moves that make up waki-gatame, see the photographs.

Judo Arm Lock for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Keys to Success

An effective waki-gatame hinges on your ability to perform five points correctly, Kelly has found. All are vital, and they build on each other, so it’s best to learn them in order.

1. Position of the Body: It’s critically important that your body be as far forward as possible so your groin is positioned under your opponent’s armpit. If your body is too far back, the arm lock cannot be applied effectively.

2. Application of Pressure on the Arm: Pressure must be applied between the elbow and shoulder. Your side must make constant contact. If pressure is applied to the shoulder, it becomes a shoulder lock, which is illegal in judo competition.

3. Placement of the Elbow: The pinkie and the natural bend of the opponent’s elbow must be in line with each other. For maximum effectiveness, pressure should be exerted on the outside of the elbow. The technique is usually done by feel, but in general, you pull or push the arm in the direction of the pinkie. You can pull up, or you can pull or push sideways. If you have to push down at the wrist to apply waki-gatame, it won’t be effective, so be sure to adjust the position of the opponent’s elbow by twisting the arm before you begin. Then you can pull up, or you can pull or push sideways to finalize the lock.

4. Position of the Hands: To maximize force and leverage, both hands should grip the far side of the opponent’s wrist. Note that placing your hands close to the elbow decreases leverage. Use both hands to pull or push as far from the elbow as possible.

5. Overall Posture: A large triangular posture with your legs is the most stable and therefore the best for combative purposes. A small triangular posture is unstable and makes it difficult to change positions.

Judo Arm Lock for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Enhanced Effectiveness

Waki-gatame can be augmented by adding a pronating wrist lock. To obtain the most leverage possible, press the captured hand’s knuckles toward the inside of the opponent’s forearm. Doing so makes escape from waki-gatame much more difficult.

Caveat: Before you attempt a pronating wrist lock in a grappling competition, ask whether wrist locks are legal under the rules being used. For instance, wrist locks are illegal in judo competition but are legal in some submission-based combat sports.

Final Considerations

When you apply waki-gatame with force and commitment while standing, you can break the opponent’s elbow. This makes it one of the more dangerous arm locks in the martial arts. Use caution and always stay in control during training and while using the move, especially from a standing position. It’s generally safer when initiated from a ground position because gravity doesn’t contribute to the likelihood of damage.

Note that because of a change in the rules advocated by the International Judo Federation, standing arm locks are now forbidden in judo contests. However, in most BJJ tournaments, waki-gatame is allowed while standing and on the ground. For this reason, adding it to your BJJ game can be beneficial for competition as well as self-defense. Because rules can vary from school to school and event to event, it’s best to ask what’s legal and what’s illegal. This will help prevent trouble or even a disqualification.

“Waki-gatame is a versatile, powerful and practical arm lock,” Kelly reminds us. It may not be the No. 1 arm lock, but it is an official joint lock in the Kodokan curriculum, and this recognition only reinforces the concept that it can be a great addition to your arsenal. Remember that the early Kodokan style of judo provided the major influence in the creation of BJJ. Apparently, waki-gatame did not cross over completely from judo into BJJ, making it a lost arm lock. This article hopes to change that. You’ve seen how it can be employed from a variety of top and bottom ground positions, making it a remarkable addition to your ground-grappling repertoire. Since it’s not used as frequently as other arm locks, it can enable you to catch your opponent off-guard. With all that you’ve learned about waki-gatame, all that’s left is to start incorporating this extremely versatile but often overlooked arm lock into your ground game.

Andrew Zerling is a New Jersey–based martial artist and author of the multi-award-winning book Sumo for Mixed Martial Arts: Winning

This article originally appeared in a 2021 edition of Black Belt Magazine.

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