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How to Break Grips on an Armbar Defense in BJJ


The Armbar Finish Position

If you've been doing jiu-jitsu for a while now, you've probably gotten stuck in an armbar finish position. Your legs are across your partner's body and head, and all of the cards are lined up so that you can finish the joint-lock submission. Everything is going your way until you realize you can't break your partner's grip. Argh!

This tutorial series is designed to guide you through the most common gripping scenarios, all while maintaining your armlock position and effectively pinning your partner the whole time. We'll start with a simple palm-to-palm defense, but we'll explore much tougher defenses in future tutorials to come soon.

Grip Break 1 (and the Hand Switch)

When you reach the armbar finish position, it's important to realize that there are two very useful positions: "hand in the pocket," where your left hand (assuming you're armbarring your partner's right arm) reaches through into your "hip pocket" area, securing the grip; and the Kimura grip, the old standby of my jiu-jitsu game. When you're dealing with a palm to palm grip defense, the Kimura grip is your preferred option.

If you find yourself stuck with the "pocket" grip, swim your other hand under so you can stay connected while switching to the Kimura grip. The first grip break from this sequence is the simplest by far: Step on your partner's biceps, making sure that your heel points inward, and, as you extend to break your partner's hips, be sure to squeeze your knees together, and fall in the direction of your partner's feet, securing the finish.

The Other Three Options

After attempting the first grip break, sometimes your partner's palm-to-palm grip is just too strong to be broken with the stomp option. In this case, try threading your right foot through your partner's arms, under their gripping hands, and across to the other side of their head. Now just sit back, and see if your partner's head comes up off the ground. If so, grab the triangle right away by using your left knee to drive their head forward, and then close the figure four to get the submission.

If your partner doesn't take the bait right away, don't fret; you're all set to move on to our third grip break option, the X-break. Keep your right foot where it already is, in front of your partner's left biceps and with your instep facing their arms. Cross your left foot over the top and across their head, and mirror what your other foot is doing, flaring your feet out. Now extend your legs forward, mimicking the stomp option (but amplifying the effect considerably). The nice thing about this set up is that if you screw it up (or if you can't get your partner's superhuman hands apart), you can also switch to the triangle, option 4 from this position.

Maintaining the Position

Of course, no matter how good your grip breaks are, you won't be able to execute any of them if you can't maintain the armbar finish position. Start by ensuring that your hips are underneath your partner's shoulder (at a minimum; if you can get them jacked up so that your hips are almost under their back, that's even better). Second, make sure your partner's far arm is in between your legs (it's okay to cross your feet during this stabilization period, too).

Note that the pocket grip works best when you can turn and face your partner's feet, not their head, so plan accordingly (unless you like your partner escaping your armbars). With the pocket grip done properly, you can also post with your free hand down by your partner's hips, killing their attempt to come up on top.

There's More!

Realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to grip breaks during armbar attempts, but the principles can guide you through a variety of situations, and even through other grip defenses. Once you've become good at stabilizing the position, your odds of breaking the grips go up exponentially, so be sure to get that part down first. Sometimes, it's a good idea to try to simply hold your partner in the armbar finish position for a minute or two, just to see if you can stabilize the position and maintain the attack. Enjoy these techniques, and, as always, let me know how these moves work for you!

© 2016 Andrew Smith