Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
The armbar from the guard has been a staple of attacks in every aspect of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, from self-defense to sport competition to MMA. As a result, it pays to understand how to defend this most common method of attack.
A fundamentally solid method of shutting down the armbar from the guard follows, along with a common counter to the counter.
The Basics of Armbar Defense
First, it's important to remember what not to do.
Once your partner has their leg over your head, do not rip your arm free, or attempt to stand up. While this can work a significant portion of the time, a non-zero amount of the time, this will result in injury. If you extend fully your arm, you can absolutely expect for your elbow joint to be much more vulnerable.
Instead, fight this initial reactive instinct, and instead grab behind your partner's head with your free arm, hugging as deeply as you can. Ultimately, you want to bring your partner's knee to their nose, making it difficult for them to extend any. Assuming that your left arm is hugging behind their neck, prop yourself further up with your right foot (like a "kickstand" of a bicycle). This will help you drive your weight forward into their nose. Keep their body propped up with your knee or inside thigh, ultimately taking a great deal of the power in their hips away from them.
Once you have established this pressure position, you can start to inch your trapped arm free (but don't rush this!).
Another really good way to help secure your arm from being extended is to grab inside of your own biceps as you reach behind their head. This is almost like a rear-naked choke grip, helping to reinforce the bend of your arm.
Again, prop their hips off the ground with your "kickstand" leg, all the while maintaining forward pressure. Once you have inched your arm free, you can "listen" to their knee, putting pressure against the side of their legs, and helping you facilitate turning the corner and finishing the guard pass.
Counter to the Counter
One big key to this counter is that when your partner grabs behind your head, you absolutely have to relax and allow your hips to shoot out perpendicular with your partner. You definitely can't let them dictate where you go; instead, use their energy as they are driving in toward you to spin underneath them.
Ultimately, you will need to hook their "kickstand" leg with your arm, facilitating the spin underneath. You'll also want to use your shin across their face to help your body escape completely from underneath your partner, once you have executed the spin.
The belly-down armbar from guard also needs to be in your game, whether as something to work on for the future, or A-game material to use against common counters.
Every counter in jiu-jitsu has a counter, and every move seems to be made to be dissected and analyzed by the collective hive-mind of the Internet.
This is hardly hyperbole any more, as virtually everyone who does jiu-jitsu now has easy access to the latest techniques—whether they are announced loudly on the world stage at a competition, or the following day by an analyst of the matches from that tournament, or simply on a quick social media post. Regardless, we need to be ready to adapt and evolve ourselves.
Fundamentals of BJJ don't really ever change. But the way you interpret and describe them, and the way these fundamentals relate to your own personal style or to the styles of your training partners, is absolutely a living, breathing thing. Help your understanding evolve by constantly being open to reviewing older techniques and playing with new ones! As always, let me know if these techniques work for you!
© 2018 Andrew Smith