Armbars. For many new Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students, simply hearing the word conjures up images of complex leg and hip movements that seem utterly baffling. When rolling with more experienced partners, attempting armbars often feels outright impossible – they yank their arm free effortlessly before you can even begin to extend it.
However, while armbars have a reputation for being complicated, the reality is they are a fundamental submission that every grappler can and should learn to apply effectively – even absolute beginners on their first day in the gym.
With the right systematic understanding of the core concepts and finer details, armbars rapidly transform from a mysterious, mythical technique into a high percentage weapon you can hit on anyone. This ultimate guide aims to condense everything a white belt needs to troubleshoot their armbar technique and start tapping out training partners of all levels.
Speed vs Control Armbars
The first key insight is recognizing there are two broad approaches to executing armbars in jiu-jitsu:
- Speed-Based – Fast and loose. Explosively whip the legs over the head and crank the arm.
- Control-Based – Methodical and systematic. Control positions and angles before breaking the arm.
Beginners often gravitate to speed-based armbars due to the simplistic appeal. Unfortunately, this rarely works against experienced grapplers who know how to defend armbar attempts. Without first establishing control, they effortlessly yank their arm free.
The higher percentage approach relies on first dominating angles and body positions with pins and off-balances. This methodical control-based approach sets up smooth armbar finishes against the best opponents. Top black belts virtually never rely on speed and explosiveness alone.
As a beginner, focus on grasping the finer details of control-based armbars. Speed can come later when your foundation is rock solid.
The 6 Phases of Control Armbars
All control-based armbars involve moving through 6 key phases with precision:
- Entry – Getting the opponent’s elbow lined up near your centerline to establish the angle.
- Connection – Firmly connecting your hips to your opponent’s shoulder girdle.
- Orientation – Controlling your opponent’s body angle as they turn and roll.
- Configuration – Transitioning between different leg grips around the head and torso.
- Separation – Isolating the arm from their defenses.
- Breaking – Finally extending the elbow joint with maximal leverage.
Many white belts rush through these phases and miss key details. Be systematic in how you move through each step against resisting partners.
3 Essential Armbar Scenarios
Competent armbar technique requires ability in three major positions:
- Front – Mount, Knee Mount, North-South, Side Control
- Underneath – Closed Guard, Open Guard, Butterfly Guard
- Back – Rear Mount, Back Control
Armbars from being on top, being underneath, and attacking the back all require different setups, mechanics and solutions. Being dangerous from all three areas is a must.
Common Problems from Underneath
Armbars from the bottom often prove most challenging for beginners. Three issues frequently arise:
- Posture – They posture up tall, protecting their arm. Use collar grips and the top lock guard to keep them angled.
- Stacking – They pressure down into you, keeping the arm tight. Frame on the hips and sweep them over.
- Pullouts – They yank the arm out before you establish control. Control the shoulder first and use asymmetrical hips.
Solving Top Position Armbar Problems
Armbars from dominant top positions still present common pitfalls:
- Leg Scissoring – They scissor their legs around you and reverse positions. Use various grips to control their legs.
- Elbow Slips – They create space and slip their elbow free. Maintain constant shoulder connection.
- Turnouts – They roll their thumb out and escape the submission. Control directional wrist grip.
Rear Armbar Troubleshooting
Three typical challenges arise when attacking the back:
- Turn Ins – Aggressive inward turning blocks the armbar. Use reverse top lock grips to pin their shoulder.
- Head Position – Their head blocks your leg from feeding through. Adapt leg setup to their head being up or down.
- Misalignment – You’re aligned with their body so can’t get perpendicular. Get both your hands to one side first before throwing leg over.
10 Core Principles for Armbar Dominance
While there are endless micro-details, these foundational principles underpin everything:
- Time and Pressure – Win through unrelenting pressure, not speed.
- Multiplicity – Master many armbar variations.
- Joint Above – Control the shoulder before the elbow.
- Right Right Rule – Control same-side elbow and hand.
- Height and Hardness – Use the bony hip as a high, hard fulcrum.
- Gateway – Attack arms, chokes or legs from the armbar grip.
- Top/Bottom Asymmetry – Keep head down from top or hips up from bottom.
- Division – Each leg has separate roles.
- Direction – Foot positioning dictates armbar force direction.
- Coupled Forces – Use both arms to apply pressure in opposing directions.
Truly absorbing these core concepts will accelerate your armbar mastery faster than any YouTube tutorial. Be systematic, be patient, be precise.
Fixing Common Armbar Mistakes
Here are solutions to some of the most frequent armbar errors beginners make:
- Getting stacked – Frame on their hips and lift your head, then sweep them over.
- Can’t break their grip – Use elbow-to-elbow grips and isolate the arm cross-body.
- Keep getting reversed – Control their hips and legs with various grips.
- Arm slips free – Maintain constant hip-to-shoulder connection.
- They roll out of the armbar – Grip the wrist tightly in the correct direction.
- Armbar entries keep failing – Master proper elbow lineups in each position.
Drill the troubleshooting advice until these common errors become a thing of the past.
Master The Armbar At Apex MMA
Armlocks remain a battle-tested technique absolutely worthy of mastering. Use this guide to shortcut the learning curve. Before you know it, you’ll be smoothly catching surprised teammates – at every belt level – in quick, clean armbar finishes.
Want to accelerate your progress even faster? Try a beginner class at Apex MMA and experience the satisfaction of your first armbar success under the watchful eye of our renowned coaches.