The Beginner’s Guide To Kimuras in Jiu-Jitsu

Feb 9, 2023Jiu-Jitsu0 comments

The kimura lock is one of the most effective and versatile submissions in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This powerful shoulder lock can be applied from nearly any grappling position and against a variety of defences. Mastery of the kimura system requires understanding the mechanics of generating finishing power, optimal hand and body positioning, high percentage setups, and critical details for finishing against resistance.

In this comprehensive guide, we will break down all aspects of the kimura for grapplers of every level. Whether you are new to BJJ and looking to learn your first submission, or a seasoned veteran working to refine your skills, this article will provide key insights to take your kimura attacks to the next level. Let’s get started!

The Trinity of Kimura Power Generation

The kimura functions by generating tremendous twisting pressure in the shoulder joint and elbow. But what factors actually allow you to apply enough force to elicit a submission? There are three primary elements that contribute to power generation in the kimura system:

Controlling the Head

Your opponent’s ability to move their head is key for defending and escaping a kimura attack. If their head is free to rotate, lift, and look away from the submission, they can relieve pressure in their shoulder and prevent getting caught. By contrast, if you can immobilize your opponent’s head from moving, their shoulder girdle remains “locked” so the elbow and shoulder are vulnerable to breaks.

Bringing the Elbow to the Shoulder Line

Picture a straight line drawn between your opponent’s shoulders. The further their elbow moves away from this shoulder line, the less tension is felt in the arm. But when the elbow is elevated up to the shoulder line, there is radically increased pressure through the elbow joint and shoulder. Less force is required to get the tap or injury.

Incorporating Your Legs

While the arms apply the kimura grip and armlock, your legs and hips provide the true power. Gripping and pulling with the arms alone results in a weak attack against resistance. Driving forward with your legs or bridging with your hips as you pull with your upper body creates tremendous finishing pressure.

If you can strongly incorporate just one of these three elements, you will have a high percentage kimura attack. Controlling two multiplies your submission power. And if you can combine all three factors – head immobilization, elbow-to-shoulder line, and hip pressure – your kimura will be virtually unstoppable.

Optimal Hand and Grip Placement

With an understanding of kimura power generation, next let’s examine proper hand and arm positioning. How and where you grip the wrist and arm is crucial for control and leverage.

Gripping the Wrist

When grabbing your opponent’s wrist, the optimal point is to slide your middle finger over the fold on the outer wrist. This allows you to grip the furthest end of the lever arm for maximum leverage, while also providing control of a fixed point on the arm versus the more mobile hand.

Covering Your Own Wrist

With your second hand, be sure to eliminate any space between your wrist and your opponent’s. Gripping your own hand lower on the forearm decreases control and leverage. Covering your knuckles with the middle finger of your opposite hand provides an unbreakable “bite” on the wrist bones with no chance for escape.

Elbow Placement

Proper elbow position focuses on keeping your elbow as close to your opponent’s as possible throughout the submission. Distance between the elbows diminishes your pull force through the furthest end of the lever. Continually sweep and pin your elbow to your opponent’s elbow for optimal attack position.

With exact wrist grips, tight wrist connection, and pinned elbows, you will have superior hand and arm positioning to apply maximum kimura pressure. Never underestimate the importance of precise grip placement.

Bending the Arm for Control and Power

The degree to which you can bend your opponent’s arm determines the control and power you will have when attacking the kimura. While straight arm submissions are possible (which we will cover soon), a sharply bent arm is preferred.

Putting the Hand Behind the Back

The goal is to bring your opponent’s hand all the way behind their back into extreme mechanical weakness. This is accomplished by lifting the elbow and “throttling” the wrist like an arm wrestling top roll. Dominate their wrist behind their elbow and draw the hand in behind the back. This removes their ability to resist.

Creating the Bent Arm from Straight

If your opponent’s arm is straight, step over their body to bring your elbow to theirs. Lift the elbow off the mat to make space, then throttle the wrist and sweep the hand behind the back as you drive your hips forward. Even against strong resistance, you can achieve the desired bent arm position.

With the hand secured behind the back and arm sharply bent, your opponent will be unable to stop the submission without rolling and giving up their back. This exemplifies the extreme control generated from a bent arm kimura attack.

The Diagonal Power Line for Optimal Leverage

Most kimura attacks begin from a perpendicular angle, with you reaching across your opponent’s torso. However, this diminishes leverage and finishing power compared to the optimal diagonal body position.

Lining Up the Power Line

Instead of being chest-to-chest, you want to line up your body diagonally in a straight line from your opponent’s opposite hip to shoulder. Your hips should be at 90 degrees with your head toward their hip point and shoulder toward their shoulder. This creates maximum kimura torque.

Incorporating Your Legs

From this diagonal line, stepping over your opponent’s head traps it between your thighs. Now incorporating your legs limits your opponent’s defensive head movement. Driving your leg adds power and enables a devastating pulling force on the submission.

Moving Your Head Back

Don’t keep your head tight to your opponent’s when finishing. Create space by moving your head back down the power line. This allows full extension to pull through the elbow joint for taps and breaks. Keep these concepts of body positioning in mind for every kimura attack.

How to Finish with a Pull-Dominant Kimura

There is a right way and a wrong way to apply pressure when attacking the kimura. Understanding pull versus push dominance is critical.

The Wrong Way

Most unsuccessful kimura attacks involve “pushing” the submission by driving forward on the wrist while the elbow floats. This fails to isolate elbow movement and allows too much play through the shoulder joint. You end up pushing the entire arm without enough force to finish.

The Right Way

To finish correctly, stop the wrist in place with the end of your lever arm while you pull and sweep your elbow to control theirs. This keeps the shoulder stationary so all the pressure digs into the elbow joint. Keep your head away from your opponent’s to enable full backward pull through the arm.

Focus on Pulling the Elbow

Your push hand immobilizes. Your pull hand attacks. Don’t push the wrist toward them – sweep your elbow to theirs and pull theirs toward you. This generates power perfect for getting quick taps and breaks against resistance. Master the pull-dominant kimura finish.

Controlling the Head

As discussed earlier, controlling your opponent’s head is critical for applying maximum kimura pressure. The shoulder and elbow cannot move freely if the head is immobilized. How can you best control the head?

Passing the Shoulder

From side control, passing your hip over your opponent’s shoulder before stepping over the head allows you to use your leg to trap their head. Beat the shoulder and cover the head in one motion.

The Trimura

One of the highest percentage control options is the “trimura” or triangle-kimura hybrid. Triangle your opponent’s head to limit movement, opening huge finishing leverage for the armlock. This can be applied both from bottom and top positions.

Head Positioning

Don’t keep your head too close to your opponent’s when finishing. Move your head back down the diagonal power line to allow space for maximum pull through the elbow joint. Intelligent head positioning vastly improves kimura success.

Bringing the Elbow to the Shoulder Line

As we discussed earlier, having the elbow positioned on the shoulder line removes mechanical disadvantages. Here is how to bring the elbow to the line:

Elevating from Low Elbow

If the elbow starts too low near the hip, drive your head forward to lift and pull the elbow up to shoulder level before finishing. This makes all the difference in quick taps and breaks.

Attacking Straight Arms

Even against a straight arm, grab the end lever and lift the elbow north right to the shoulder line. Now sweep your elbow to your opponent’s to attack from optimal position. You can break straight arms if you get the elbow to the line.

Explode from the Line

Once the elbow touches the shoulder line, you are in the best position to finish. Keep your head back and hips pressing forward. The elbow-to-shoulder line gives you all the leverage you need to get an immediate submission against even the toughest opponent.

Rolling Through Kimura Scrambles

Say you lift your opponent’s shoulder off the mat to attack the kimura, but they urgently sit up into you. Many people panic and try to re-establish the pin. But if you maintain control of the hand behind the back, you already have the dominant position.

Keep the Hand Behind the Back

The second their back lifts off the floor, commit to keeping the hand behind the back no matter what. This gives you a massive mechanical advantage you must retain through the scramble.

Facilitate Their Movement

Don’t resist your opponent sitting up. Dive over their elbow and encourage the upward motion. You have no reason to stay on the side their arms are on. Willingly give the under position.

Turn Them Over

As soon as they turn up to one side, use your legs to guide their movement and turn them back over the other way. Regain top position with the hand still stuck behind their back. Now re-establish your finishing leverage.

Retain Mechanical Control

By pragmatically rolling through while hand trapping, you retain control and emerge in a dominant position. Don’t give up your lock to re-scramble from neutral. Guide the fight while keeping their hand behind their back.

Setting Up the Kimura Grip

Gripping the kimura is simple when your opponent’s arm is outstretched and undefended. But what about setting up the grip against active resistance? Here are two methods:

Using the Thumb

If your opponent can freely rotate their wrist, they can prevent you from establishing an arms-in figure four grip. Controlling the wrist with your thumb enables a strong grabbing position so they cannot escape.

Bringing the Elbows Together

Can’t reach your wrist for the finish grip? Don’t claw up the arm. Step over their body to bring your elbow to theirs and lift their elbow off the mat. This creates space to sweep the hand in behind the back for the figure four.

Temporary Grips

In a worst case scenario, secure a temporary grip halfway up your own forearm. This limits leverage, but retains arm control. From here, transition down to the optimal wrist locking point to complete the attack position.

Intelligent grip fighting is essential to set up high percentage kimura attacks, especially against savvy opponents. Use these principles to secure strong control.

Bent Arm Versus Straight Arm Positioning

We have established that a bent arm kimura attack provides optimal control and finishing leverage. But what about when you encounter an opponent with excellent arm straightening who you simply cannot bend?

Bent Arms are Ideal

Given the choice, sharply bending the arm under 90 degrees sets you up for the highest percentage finish. The mechanical weaknesses created by the hand behind the back and severe bend make finishing elementary.

Straight Arms Work Too

However, just because you haven’t bent the arm does not mean submission is impossible. As long as you achieve other power principles like diagonal body position, head trapping, and elbow-to-shoulder line, straight arm kimuras can still force a tap.

Best of Both Worlds

Ideally, bend the arm if you can. But if faced with solid arm straightening, focus on optimal body positioning and dragging the elbow north to the shoulder line at all costs. Either way, utilize smart leverage and power generation for the finish.

In short, do your best to bend the arm, but stay calm and finish correctly if you encounter an unbendable straight arm.

To Thumb or Not to Thumb?

Should you grip with your thumb wrapped around your opponent’s wrist or grab the wrist in thumbless fashion? There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the debate:

Thumb – More Twist

Using the thumb enables you to apply a twisting force to the wrist, which can provide additional leverage through the elbow joint. Top wrist control helps prevent hand escape.

No Thumb – More Flexible

A thumbless grip can allow tighter wrist connection and flexibility for re-gripping in transitions. Many top grapplers finish kimuras very successfully with no thumb involved.

The Verdict

For finishing mechanics, the thumb does not seem to significantly impact breaking power. Use your preference. However, the thumb can help initial control. Overall, don’t obsess over thumb or no thumb – good kimura technique transcends this decision.

The 7 Kimura Variations

While the figure four grip constitutes the core kimura lock, having multiple kimura variations in your game enables you to adapt your attack based on your opponent’s reactions and defenses. Here are 7 kimura options to expand your arsenal:

Figure Four Kimura – The standard for elbow and shoulder locking attacks.

Figure Four Bicep Kimura – Grips closer to the elbow in the bicep to apply force and limit hand escape.

Cross Kimura – Uses the legs to pull the arm across the body when the standard kimura grip is defended.

Kimura Plata – Also known as the “karate kimura,” this hybrid incorporates the omoplata for additional shoulder pressure.

Trimura – The triangle-kimura combination which uses the legs to isolate the head while attacking the arm.

One-Handed Kimura – Specialized option that grips only the wrist and forearm when arm separation is not possible.

Leg Kimura – No hand grip at all, just using the legs from the turtle to attack the arm.

Becoming a true kimura master requires depth and breadth across many interrelated techniques. Add these 7 kimura variations to your game for more submission opportunities.

Master The Kimura at Apex MMA

The kimura system is clearly one of the highest percentage and most fundamentally critical submission skills in BJJ. At Apex MMA here in Brookvale, the kimura and its many permutations are heavily featured across our fundamentals curriculum, advanced techniques, MMA classes, and rolling.

Hopefully, this detailed breakdown has provided you with key insights into grip placement, finishing mechanics, power generation, setups, and adaptations when applying the versatile kimura lock. I highly encourage you to take a beginner Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class or claim your free 7-day trial at Apex MMA where our qualified instructors can help you turn these kimura concepts into skills on the mats. Happy training!

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Team Apex MMA Martial Arts Coach
Apex MMA is a specialist mixed martial arts gym focusing on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Led by an experienced team of instructors, Apex MMA offers comprehensive training programs for students of all ages and skill levels. With Apex MMA's systematic teaching methods, passion for martial arts, and strong community relationships, you will gain the tools to succeed in the gym and beyond.
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