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How to Use the Lapel to Set up an Armbar From Guard in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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 classic armbar from the guard is usually one of the first moves we learn, and probably one of the last moves we master.

The classic armbar from the guard is usually one of the first moves we learn, and probably one of the last moves we master.

Using the Lapels

Ah, the classic armbar from the guard. This is usually one of the first moves we learn, and probably one of the last moves we master. Yes, you can hit this against an untrained opponent, but getting your partner's arm across your stomach (or getting them to reach forward) is not so easy against a savvy opponent.

Here, we'll look at a way to set up the armbar that is virtually airtight, and if you get the initial grip, you can use the position to sweep or take the back as well. Let's get started.

Setting the Trap

  1. Start by untucking your partner's left lapel from their belt (if it's not already undone).
  2. Use your right hand to feed the lapel over to your left hand, so that your left hand is gripping their lapel across their body. Make sure that, as you reach across, their left arm is trapped underneath your left arm, which is like a seat belt across their arm.
  3. From here, it's all about moving slowly and tightly. Use your right hand to control your partner's trapped wrist (their left sleeve is a great place to grip), keeping them from swimming free of the lapel "seat belt" trap you've set for them.
  4. Now lift your hips up, and as your hips come back down, drag your partner's arm across their body with the sleeve and lapel grips. This is a powerful combination, and very hard to stop.
  5. Have your partner try to posture out here, just like if they were defending a traditional armbar from guard. If they can move much or free their arm, something needs to be adjusted.
  6. Next, reach over your partner's back (similar to the cross grip arm drag series).
  7. From here, it's just a matter of angling out and getting your left leg up as high as you can on your partner's back before finishing the armlock.

The Initial Set Up

Here's a video demonstration of the beginning of this move. You can see that, at the beginning of the video, I try for a brabo choke, but my partner dips his head underneath the lapel. Once the head dips under, you can immediately switch to the lapel-drag into the armlock set up. You don't have to go for the choke first, but you can bet that if you do bring the lapel up, your partner will try to duck their head under the lapel. Let's face it—being choked isn't much fun.

Two Choices

In a similar vein, you can use your partner's reaction to either get the back or set up the armbar. Once you have the "seat belt" lapel trap, your partner will either be really far over to their right, or else they'll be trying hard to work back to the center.

  1. If they're very far over, you can simply sneak your hips out to the side and start climbing around to the back (the first video above shows this). If your partner doesn't react, you have a very simple back take.
  2. However, if your partner starts to try to pull their arm back across and posture to face you, this is an excellent opportunity to step on their hip, shoot your far leg up high on their back, and set up the finishing armbar (which will, by the way, be extremely difficult to defend because of the lapel grip).


If you've been stumped about how to set up an armbar from the guard, or feeling like you should be able to hit this basic submission more often, this technique may be able to jumpstart your jiu-jitsu excitement over the fundamentals once again.

Oftentimes in jiu-jitsu, you learn something that is fundamental, disregard it as something you won't ever use in real-time, and then, a few years later, you find yourself using the move with some regularity. This has definitely been the case for me with the armbar from the guard; with few exceptions, I'd only use it on white belts for the longest time. The lapel grip allowed me to start using it once again on people at my level (brown or black, by then), and then I started getting excited about using the technique from other positions, and found other ways to hit it. I hope your experience is similar.