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Vaporizer Leglock Setups and Finishes: A BJJ Tutorial

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 Vaporizer's Emergence

If you're anything like me, you were riveted while watching the Eddie Bravo and Royler Gracie rematch in 2014. Not only was the match intense and exciting, but it also showcased a unique submission attempt called the Vaporizer. Who can forget the climactic conclusion of the match where a very tough Gracie simply refused to tap to what looked like a certain leg-breaking submission?

Over the past year, I've had a great deal of success with a few different entries into the Vaporizer, and I'd like to share two of the highest percentage (and sneakiest!) ones with you here. As always, with any leg attack, please make sure your training partners and instructors are okay with you going for these, and use extreme caution when practicing these, particularly for the first time. For more of a fundamental look at leg attacks, check out the BJJ Tutorial Encyclopedia.

50/50 to Vaporizer!

This technique puts together a well-understood escape from knee on stomach to 50/50 (broken down in some detail in this tutorial), along with a very slick sweep into the well-sought-out vaporizer finish. As your partner attempts to pass to a knee on stomach position, rotate your hips almost all the way to a north/south position so that your back leg can weave through. From here, your partner drops their left knee to the mat, likely hoping to avoid a sweep and potentially hit a guard pass. Now, you could hit a nice 50/50 heel hook, but instead, you're going to opt for the sweep into the vaporizer. As soon as their knee hits the mat, three things need to happen:

  1. Rotate your hips to your left, so that you can hit the sweep.
  2. Hug their knee so that they can't simply step over for a kneebar.
  3. Force their left knee to the mat by hipping out to the side, then pushing their foot away.

There's no huge rush once you get to this spot, but you definitely need to focus on keeping them from spinning (by hugging the knee) until you get the lockdown in position (your next step). It's important to control their posture, too, which makes everything else much, much easier. If you can get double underhooks right away, go for it. If not, don't worry—you'll have plenty of time to pummel for them once you've locked the position in place.

In any case, you're going to catch a lockdown next, cementing the position in place and preventing any hope of escape. Note that there are two basic ways to pummel your feet into position here, and either will work, depending on your partner's body positioning and your relative leg length.

The first path to finish is simply to duck out the back door, almost like finishing a basic calf slicer from half guard bottom, and attack the foot directly. Using your legs to bring the foot to your hands, you now have three basic finish options:

  1. Calf slicer (very direct, usually has a bit of a pain warning before the submission)
  2. Modified toe hold (like the calf slicer, but with a slight twist, and an outward push with your hips)
  3. Modified heel hook ("steering wheel" finish—by far the nastiest of the three; involves grabbing the heel with one hand and the toes with the other)

No matter which of the three options you're finishing with, be sure to finish very, very slowly! These submissions, and even the position that leads to them, can be nasty on the knee and ankle of your partner, and even if your partner is an advanced grappler, be sure to take it slowly and even take time to explain what you're doing to them.

The second path to the finish involves sweeping once you get the lockdown and ending up on top, then hitting a ninja roll (which we'll go over below.)

Vaporizer Setup From Side Control

Here's a really sneaky entry into the same position, but this time, you're already on top in side control. As your partner puts their leg up to defend the mount or knee on stomach, they will leave a triangle of space behind their knee open.

Start by sliding your right foot through this gap (as shown in the video, I use my right foot, and for simplicity's sake, we'll use the same right-left terminology as is shown in the video) until you can get your right knee on the ground on the other side. Note: it's really important that you pin their right bicep to the mat here, or else they might be able to turn their hips over and go for a kneebar or heel hook before you can get your weight down on that knee.

Once your knee is on the mat, it's just a matter of snaking your right leg behind their trapped left leg, making your triangle with your legs, and then catching the lockdown. Once everything is locked in place, the position is yours to lose.

Simply place your right arm on the other side of their body, and roll through (like doing a rolling breakfall) into a "ninja roll", catching their foot with your hands as soon as you roll through.

Once again, you have the same three submissions as before (calf slicer, modified toe hold, and "steering wheel" heel hook). And again, use extreme caution when finishing this technique, as your partner might not fully comprehend how terrible their position really is!

If you combine this technique with the previous one, you get an incredibly high percentage sweep and finish combination, one which I've personally had success with, in both competition and at the gym.

Me Going for the Vaporizer in Competition

Final Thoughts

I really can't stress this enough: While this submission is extremely fun to play with, it requires a great deal of control and caution in order to practice it at full speed. Take care of your training partners, and the reward will be well worth the extra effort. Having said that, these entries can be extremely high percentage against very advanced grapplers who are extremely hard to submit! I've had amazing success with them over the past year, and I look forward to watching the position evolve right before my eyes. Have fun with these, and let me know if you have other options you come up with. Check out info on the basic toe hold if you're still unclear about the toe hold finish.

I'll leave you with a quick video of me going after the Vaporizer in competition against an incredible opponent. While I was able to set up the submission, I made a critical error at the end, and my opponent very deftly took full advantage of the mistake, immediately recognizing the way out (I didn't secure his leg once I got on top in the "leg drag" position). Nevertheless, the technique worked amazingly well as a sweep, and I was very happy with my performance.

© 2015 Andrew Smith