Analysis of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Part 6): Submission Holds

This article was written by BJJ.Org featured contributor Roy Harris. Harris is a black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor in San Diego. It was originally published on his PFS web site www.royharris.comLearning and practicing submission holds is one of the funnest parts of learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. What’s even funner is making the opponent tap to an arm lock, choke or leg lock.

To be proficient at submission holds, one must be proficient in the following areas:

The mechanics of each submissionThe positions of control that accompany the submissionsThe transitions that occur between the positions and submissionsThe physical attribute of sensitivityAn understanding of the principles involved with joint manipulations and chokesLearning the mechanics of submission holds is so important to develop good submission skills. I have seen numerous grappling matches where an aggressor tries to effect a lock, yet struggles with getting it on just right. He fumbles, and the opponent escapes. Why? Poor mechanics. He had an basic idea of how to do a lock, but he used strength to apply the lock. If he’d had good mechanics, his opponent would have tapped and he would have been declared the victor.

Learning the mechanics of a specific joint lock is more important than anything else. It lays the foundation for your understanding of specific limb placement and the use of leverage. Knowing the mechanics of a specific joint lock is also important because contained in the mechanics are the escapes. (And we all know how important it is for us to know how to escape a submission hold.)

Finally, learning the mechanics will help you at the intermediate and advanced levels of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Intermediate level Jiu Jitsu is nothing more than putting the basics together into numerous two and three technique combinations. However, once you begin to put these basics together into two technique combinations, you must maintain the integrity of both techniques as well as the transition, otherwise, you leave your opponent a chance to escape. For example, an arm lock has six different components to it and a triangle has seven. To put those two techniques together into a combination, one must coordinate sixteen different components (six for the arm lock, seven for the triangle and three for the transition between both submission holds). That’s a lot of stuff to remember and coordinate. If you can not coordinate all of the above components, you must stick with learning and mastering the basic mechanics. Also, if you can not coordinate all of the above components, it means you must fill the gaps in the mechanics with speed, power, strength and explosiveness. Now, there¹s nothing wrong with filling the gaps with speed, power, strength and explosiveness. All it means is that you better not grapple with anyone who’s bigger, stronger, faster, more explosive and as equally skilled as yourself. Otherwise, you’re gonna end up real tired, real quick.

The second thing you must devote yourself to learning are the positions of control that accompany the submission holds. Contained within the mechanics are the control positions that allow you to maintain positional dominance over your opponent. When you opponent frees himself from your grip, you must learn how to adjust your body to maintain control over his body without relinquishing your hold on the submission. You must also learn how to deal with those walls of resistance that present them self as you go for the submission (e.g. while attempting an arm lock on your opponent, he grabs his forearms with both of his hands and pulls his arms to his chest.)

Next, you must learn how to control the transitions that occur between the positions and submissions. When you find yourself locked into a position of control and dominance, you feel secure. However, as soon as you begin to go for that submission hold, you struggle with the thought of giving your opponent too much space to escape. Or, you struggle with the thought of taking your weight off of your opponent too long which will also give him an opportunity to escape. So, what do you do? You wait and wait and wait and wait, hoping your opponent will give you his arm or neck. OR, you ballistically shoot for the arm or neck, only to find yourself on your back again, wishing you had not gone for it. Well, all this ads up to is your unfamiliarity with transitions and your inability to set your opponent up.

Transitions are very important to your BJJ game. You must have them at high levels. Too many people become focused upon the positions and the submissions and ignore the transition that occur between the two of them. Just as you practice holding someone down from the mount, and just as you practice finishing a spinning arm lock from the mount, you must also practice the transition that occurs between the two.

The next thing to train is the physical attribute of sensitivity. Sensitivity is the ability to read and feel pressure. Once you obtain this attribute and can apply it from every position, it will make your game much easier. Especially against much larger and stronger opponents. Additionally, sensitivity is one of those attributes that is easily maintained. Unlike speed and power.

Finally, you must have a firm understanding of the principles involved with joint manipulations and chokes. When you apply a joint manipulation or choke, you are applying a certain amount of pressure on a specific location, at a specific angle. If you change the angle of pressure, you make the lock ineffective. If you change the position of leverage, you make the lock ineffective. The same applies with chokes.

As you can see, learning how to effectively apply a submission hold is an uphill battle. You will encounter a variety of difficulties along the way. But keep going, it’s worth the battle. When you can repeatedly make muscle bound guys tap with greatest of ease, you will feel proud of your accomplishments. Don’t worry so much about that big monstrosity in your BJJ class. He is the exception to the rule. He knows the same BJJ that you know. Focus on the new students that come into the class. The ones that are muscle bound. If you can make them tap, you have a lot to be proud of!

I remember the first bodybuilder I made tap. He was 6’2″, and weighed 315 lbs. He was a high school wrestler to boot. His curiosity led him to my school and we rolled. He took me down and I placed him in my guard. He put his hands on my shoulders to pin me down and I took his arm and made him tap like an experienced conga player. he asked to go at it again and I obliged him. He took me down again and I immediately placed him into my guard again. He reached under my leg to pass my guard and I triangled him. Again he tapped. He asked to go again and I said, “SURE!” (Smiling like a Cheshire cat!) I took him down this time and mounted. He rolled over to his knees and I choked him. He tapped again, but this time he was angry! He said, “You can’t do that!” I said, Sure I can. I just did.” He said, “That¹s not allowed in wrestling.” I told him, “Of course it isn’¹t. That’s the Jiu Jitsu stuff you said would never work on you. How did it feel?” He said, “Man, I’ve never felt anything like that before. Can you teach me some of that Jiu Jitsu stuff?” Sure, I said. I’ll never forget that day. I was still a blue belt at the time.

So my point in saying all of this is:

Learn and master your mechanicsLearn and master the positions of controlLearn and master the transitions that occur between the positions and submissionsDevelop the physical attribute of sensitivityDevelop your understanding of principlesThey will turbo charge your current skills!

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About the author

Roy Harris