The Armbar – A History & Techniques

Known as the cross armlock in Judo, or ude hishigi juji gatame; this hyperextension of the elbow joint, when applied correctly, requires controlled force and full-body leverage to apply and secure the lock; as well as preventing the opponent from escaping.

Known as a traditional submission, in jiu jitsu, and not to be confused with the general term ‘armlock,’ the armbar is a very specific movement that is easily identifiable.

The jiu jitsu practitioner has the opponents arm, generally at the wrist, secured between their legs.

The practitioner will have one of their legs across the opponent’s chest and the other across the opponents face while squeezing their own knees together.

With the thumb facing up, the bjj practitioner holds the opponent’s arm to their chest, making sure that the opponent’s elbow joint is lying across their hips.

When the arm is secured, the bjj practitioner can apply pressure to the elbow joint by arching their hips against or towards the elbow.

The pressure from the hips moving one way, and the trapped limb being pulled by the practitioner’s torso another, causes the joint to break or the opponent to tap out.


You have to go back to ancient Greece to see artwork and historical references to submissions. Although Grappling has existed for thousands of years, going as far back as 15000 BC, it wasn’t until the ancient Greeks came along that we began to see submission holds incorporated into grappling.

With their wrestling and pankration (meaning all-force), the Greeks applied and recorded submissions such as armlocks and chokes.

Unfortunately, not much imagery on the technical aspects of the submissions has survived.

The Armbar in BJJ

With regards to BJJ, the armbar has had a prominent role as a submission of choice for many practitioners, including Carlos Gracie Sr.

The armbar was so effective that it became extremely popular around this time.

The closed guard to armbar setup became widely utilised in the jiu-jitsu world. Being applied from the bottom postition, the armbar setup from bottom became a saviour submission for any practitioners who frequently ended up on their back, or those who favoured a defensive, reactive style.

It is perhaps noteworthy that the armbar, although popular from top position, became most popular in the early days from a bottom position.

The armbar, instead, isolates an upper limb, and even the largest attacker cannot defend a single-arm against the technique of a trained individual who can utilise their full-body against it.

How to do an Armbar aka Juji Gatame

Armbar From Mount

In this position, we’re going to look at an armbar submission from mount. The armbar from mount or Jiji Gatame, is a classic attacking position in Jiu-Jitsu and BJJ.

However, it is also a position that is lost easily as the opponent’s arm escapes an elbow during the armbar attack.

The armbar is best caught when it is done slowly and methodically, it is also a lot tighter as a submission.

The Armbar Step by Step

  1. You have your opponent in a high mount position. Here you look to threaten the cross-collar choke, which will force a reaction out of your opponent. If done correctly, your opponent should bring their hands up to the collar to defend the choke. If they don’t then continue with the cross-collar choke.
  2. As both hands come up, establish a higher mount to break the frame of their arms. This will make isolating one arm easier. Take the choking hand out of the collar and grab the tricep of the same-side arm. Pull the arm into your chest and secure it by bringing your same-side knee closer to their head
  3. Now that you have the arm, you will need to secure it to stop them from escaping their elbow. Bring your chest closer to theirs and lean your weight into their trapped arm. They should not be able to escape their arm now. Establish position and continue with the attack.
  4. While maintaining constant pressure on your opponents trapped arm, shift your bodyweight to the leg furthest from the arm, this will allow you to bring your other leg up higher and around their head. You should now be sat on their chest, with your feet in the shape on an S. This is known as S-Mount.
  5. Bring your top leg over their face, and secure. The crook of your knee should be over their face. Bring your lower leg up and shift your weight so you are now sat off to the side at a 90-degree angle to your opponent with their arm between your legs.
  6. With their arm tight to your chest, start to lean backwards towards the floor, while also raising your hips to hyperextend your opponents elbow. Keep your knees tight and if all goes well, expect your opponent to be quickly tapping from the submission.

Arm Bar Variations

Now let’s look at various armbar submissions and different ways we can attack the shoulder lock and arm lock.

Armbar From Guard

We’re now going to look at the second most common position for getting and armbar in BJJ from the guard.

The armbar from this position really is one of those beginner bread and butter techniques that every Jiu-Jitsu practitioner should be practising.

However the mechanics of it can confuse some people, including myself when I first started to learn it, but let’s break it down into it’s fundamental movement pivot, the hips.

Like many other moves in jiu jitsu the hips are key when it comes to getting a clean, tight armbar from guard, the more fluid you are with your hips, the easier the catch.

Let’s take a look at how to perform an armbar from this position

Armbar From Guard Step By Step

  1. First you need your opponent in full guard.
  2. For an armbar from guard to be effective, you must first look to isolate an arm, similar to the armbar from mount. To start this you will need to break your opponent’s posture.
  3. Similar to the armbar from mount, we are going to look to cause a reaction and take advantage of it. Take your right arm and bring it over the crook of the elbow of your opponent’s opposite limb. Sinch it in tight as we are looking to control their shoulder.
  4. Break their posture by pulling that arm across your body and bringing your knees to your head, similar to doing a crunch.
  5. With your opponent’s posture broken, you’re now looking to reinforce that position to stop an escape. Uncross your feet and bring your left leg up and place your foot on their hip with your knee pressing into the side of their body.
  6. Keeping your right leg in the same position, use your left leg to pivot your body underneath your opponent. You need to pivot to a 90-degree angle across their body. You will also notice that your right leg, if you have not moved it has adjusted to it is also going across their back. Clampdown on the back to make it more difficult to escape.
  7. Your left will now come off the hip and swing around your opponent’s head. The inside of your knee should be on their face, similar to the mounted armbar.
  8. During their moves your hands should not have left your opponent’s controlled left arm. Use them to secure the arm to your chest and in one movement your raise your hips to the sky and drive them into your opponent’s elbow joint. Finish your submission and your opponent will be tapping from these armlock techniques.

Belly Down Armlock

The belly-down armbar in BJJ is often caught from your opponent turtling or from a transition during the armbar from the bottom where you rotate your body further than 90 degrees past their hip line.

The belly-down armbar is a bit of a last-ditch move, something that should be attempted if you’re down on points and desperate for these submissions against a dying timer.

Belly Down Armlock Step By Step

  1. Turtling normally happens as a last-ditch effort to prevent the pass. If done correctly it can be used offensively (see Edwardo Telles’ Turtle), however, 90% of the time the turtle is used as a stalling position to prevent points. Here’s how you’re going to capitalise
  2. From a controlling position, normally a hip-to-hip position, we’re going to have to look at isolating one arm, a regular theme when attacking an armbar.
  3. Isolating a single arm for the belly down armbar, however, is a riskier strategy. First you will need to move from the hip-to-hip position to a more north-south position, being careful not to give up space to allow them to sit through to guard.
  4. With your chest down in front of your opponent your right arm will swim over the top of the back, underneath the body and connect with your opponent’s arm.
  5. With the arm secure, you start to climb the back and your right leg bent into your opponent’s armpit, with your foot hooked across their back.
  6. Your other leg with do the same thing but over your opponent’s head. Your foot should be hooked onto the back of their head to prevent the sit up.
  7. With your body 90 degrees across from your opponent, your chest should now connect to the back of your opponent’s arm.
  8. With your body connected, extend your body to bring out the isolated arm, as the arm stretches out, move your arms up to the hand and secure it to your chest.
  9. Drive your hips into the floor and catch the submission, be prepared to let go quickly as these submission techniques are tight.

Straight Armbar

The straight armbar is a variation on the armbar, where instead of using your hips as the fulcrum to cause the hyper-extension, you use another limb. Normally your own arm.

Here we talk about performing straight armbar techniques from guard.

Straight Armbar Step By Step

  1. Start off in full closed guard, similar to the armbar from the bjj guard position. This time we’re looking at attacking the same-side arm, not the cross side.
  2. Similiar to the armbar from guard setup, bring your opposite hand over your opponents arm and secure the elbow and the ditch of the elbow. Break your opponent’s posture, so you can perform this move more easily.
  3. With your opponent’s posture broken, shrimp your hips out to the side. This is should be same side as the arm this is being controlled. Ideally they should fall forward, occupying the space.
  4. Next we need to regain a bit of control on your opponent, this is to further isolate the arm. Your top leg will come over your opponent’s back and your knee will look to clamp down on the nearside shoulder. With your lower leg, you will need to put your foot on their farside hip and then squeeze your knees together. This will lock your opponent into position, ready for you to attack the arm.
  5. With their arm still isolated, you now need to secure it. Bring your opponent’s hand and wrist up to the crook between your shoulder and neck and control it.
  6. With your arm, move up to just above the elbow, clasp your hands together in a gable grip and press down, the isolation of the shoulder and wrist, will create the same hyper-extension as a standard armbar technique.

Flying Armbar

The flying armbar is one of the most spectacular moves in mixed martial arts and BJJ. If the technique is performed correctly, it’s an instant tap and submission.

Flying Armbar Step By Step

  1. From a standing position tie your opponent up, one arm around the head, the 2nd overwrapping to control your opponent’s arm.
  2. Snap down on your opponent’s neck to cause a reaction. As your opponent snaps back up, bring your foot into the armpit of the non-controlled arm and jump your second leg up and over the controlled arm. Your aiming to get the crook of your knee into their face.
  3. Slide down to control the wrist of the controlled arm and keep it tight to your chest.
  4. Drive your hips into their elbow for the tap.

Helicopter Armbar

The helicopter is a flashy move that was first introduced by BJJ black belt Braulio Estima. Used correctly, it allows you to surprise your opponent with a fantastically quick submission.

This is an advanced technique, so before performing this, you should already know how to perform a standard armbar from mount as the finish is identical.

  1. Starting from De La Riva guard, you need to load your opponent’s weight over you, so they’re floating over you. To do this scoot your hips underneath your opponent.
  2. While you’re underneath your opponent, rock backwards and roll your opponent’s weight up onto your feet and raise them up so they’re floating.
  3. With weight loaded above you, unhook your De La Riva hook, pull the controlling arm towards you and bring the unhooked foot around your opponent’s head.
  4. At the same time push on the hip with the other foot to create a rotation. All done correctly your opponent should fall into the armbar position, where you can then finish.