Ultimate Submissions: Breaking down the arm bar


"Ultimate Submissions" is back -- and getting back to basics.

It's time to get more conventional, away from the rarely seen Anaconda Choke and Peruvian Neck Tie to a much more frequently seen submission.

Stretching a limb to angles it was not meant to be twisted to including joint manipulation, pain submission, limb strangulation -- all common terms for the non-choke submissions. A submission like that, which earns the tap out due to pain and not lack of oxygen, requires a real killer instinct to execute due to the possibility of breaking a bone to earn it.

In the first two submissions of this series we focused primarily on cutting off oxygen and blood flow to the brain which would prompt unconsciousness if your opponent didn’t submit. While different in technique and set-up, the Anaconda Choke and Guillotine Choke were similar in its conclusion, tap out or go to sleep.

This time it will be tap out or be subjected to broken bones, injured muscles, tendons and ligaments and at the very least, a really sore limb in the morning.

The arm bar is a very simple submission, often one of the very first techniques shown in many jiu-jitsu programs because it can be set-up and completed from just about every position on the ground. From your guard all the way to having the mount, some sort of effective arm bar is available to your arsenal.

There are so many ways to set up, apply and finish a submission we could make this into a series on its own. However, I will highlight what I feel are the most effective methods and I urge any of you to add your own thoughts or additions in the comment section below.

The arm bar is the most-used joint lock submission in MMA today and it very well may be the most used submission period. This submission is performed by placing your legs across your opponent’s chest, with one of his arms between your thighs and with the elbow joint against your hips. From that position your opponent’s arm is grabbed with your arms and his forearm is placed onto your chest. To lock the arm, you will simply lean back and arch your hips at the same time. This creates intense pressure in the elbow joint and forces the tap. If he does not tap out, he (or she) will risk torn ligaments and tendons in the elbow joint. In some cases, the arm bar may result in a broken bone if there is enough leverage, power and angle.

This is a very painful submission; the bending at the elbow joint is very uncomfortable. Often times inexperienced grapplers will tap out almost immediately because of the discomfort.

Hyper-extending the elbow joint is the key to this submission.

When you begin in the guard position the arm bar is a very dangerous submission. What is important from here is that you first close your guard up. Your goal to achieve success here is to break down your opponent so you have him as close as possible and do not let him gain good posture. From there as a right hand dominated grappler you will reach with your right hand and ideally grab your opponent’s right elbow or high forearm in sort of an arm-drag type motion towards your right shoulder.

This is where good hips play their part.

You want to start picking up your hips, pushing towards your opponent creating more force. From there you want to open both your legs up and you can either grab a high guard which would put one of your legs placed very highly on the shoulder of your opponent or you can go straight to the arm bar if you are quick enough. If you choose to go the high guard route, close your legs tight and squeeze towards your left while placing the left leg up and over your opponents face while continuing to put pressure by pushing your hips towards him. Extend your hips which will stretch out the arm allowing you to complete the hold.

The last tidbit on technique is straightening your body as you move perpendicular to your opponent.

Keep your legs close together and extend them as you drive your hips forward and slightly arch your back. One leg should be on your opponent's neck, the other right below his/her armpit. As you straighten, move both hands to your opponent's wrist and hold it tight. Bend it the way it is not supposed to bend. Be sure his arm hits your leg below his elbow and that his fingers are facing away from you. You don't have to pull hard, just in the right direction.


Getting the arm bar from mount is a little different although it is the same concept throughout. Once you gain wrist control you want to very quickly and very tightly throw over the leg to the side you want to grab the arm. Once there, simple techniques will be needed to complete it.

Stay close to your opponent’s body which will give you the opportunity to gain the most leverage possible. Getting your butt as close to the opponent's head will take away as much space as possible. I was taught never to cross your feet in this submission but I know some teach in favor of doing so, but I was taught to keep your feet flat on the floor which allows more control with a more stable base. That also keeps your opponent from rolling out or sitting up and disrupting the position.

When that is completed, pinch your knees together and grip your opponent's arm tightly. The best place to hold is near the wrist area with both hands, one hand being under the other. There are different holds that are each effective that include hooking the arm as if you were going to choke it which is very good if you are trying to control your opponent’s leg.

And finally, when going for an arm bar you leave yourself open for a number of counter-reactions. The more and more you drill in grappling, the more comfort you gain. Prepare back-up plans, a personal favorite is a transition to an Omaplata which tends to work more often then not.


Oh No! You are in an arm bar and its starting to take a turn towards a tap out. What do you do?

Well before the submission is close to completion I know you made a number of mistakes already. When in the guard an easy tip is to always remain in good posture, if you are in good posture you should be able to arch your head and look straight up. Never leave a hand on the ground because that will allow triangle and arm bar set-ups. If your opponent is strong don’t try and explode out.

But you are already doomed. You are in an arm bar. The arm bar is a difficult submission to escape because it’s so painful very fast. While in other submissions it may take longer to fully set-up, the arm bar is quick and easy. There isn’t a magical escape to this, quite frankly don’t let your arm be bent and hyper-extended.

Turn your thumb sideways towards your head. By doing that you will relieve some of the pressure and give you valuable seconds to escape. Walk away from your opponent's head, by getting your hips off the floor and pushing with your feet you will make some valuable space from you and your opponent. With your free arm, place it under your body after the walk. Slide your knees underneath by using the free arm and your shoulder to lift up and create leverage. This is the time to explode: Propel yourself forward to the side of your opponent’s body opposite of your trapped arm. If done correctly your arm should be free and you will most likely be in side control.

Hughes at the beginning of the gif passes into side control and almost immediately he swings his leg over the face of St. Pierre’s. He gains wrist control with both hands and while he doesn’t use the traditional method of both legs being over the body he instead uses his right leg to get underneath body to push for more force.

George St. Pierre returns the Favor vs Matt Hughes

While not the most fundamentally sound submission, this is notable because it was a payback for the arm bar St. Pierre succumbed to previously to Hughes. Also it shows a very effective transition. St. Pierre starts with the Kimura and when Hughes attempts to power out and scramble, St. Pierre sees a fully extended arm and immediately throws his leg over and begins the arm bar. Due to the scramble Hughes is immediately at a bad angle and it's pretty much a wrap from there.

Frank Mir pulls guard against Tim Sylvia

Maybe the most infamous submission by arm bar in the history of MMA. What you don’t get to see in this gif is that Frank had just pulled guard and immediately began looking for the submission. Frank Mir is one of the best submission guys in the heavyweight division and has always been notorious for having crushing power in his submissions. He uses all hips and leverage to power onto Tim’s arm. He has double wrist control and even though Big Tim was attempting to power out Frank snaps the bone in his forearm. Technical submission victory for Frank.

Dustin Hazelett whizzes through Josh Burkman

Hazelett has been a jiu-jitsu and submission whiz since his start with the UFC. He has always been creative in his subs which include an arm bar/omaplata combination submission finish. In this gif however, Hazelett in a scramble, grabs a whizzer and while standing he throws a leg up over the top of Burkman and immediately falls into a somersault motion with the trapped arm hooked. He uses great hip movement and explosion to put Burkman on the canvas and grabs double wrist control and finishes the submission while Burkman is flat on his stomach.

Fedor Emelianenko submits Mark Coleman

What would a notable arm bar be without at least one clip from Fedor Emelianenko?

Fedor is probably remembered as of late for his KO’s of Andrei Arlovski and Brett Rogers and his blitzkrieg of Tim Sylvia. However, his Sambo background has kept him disciplined and ready to take any limbs given to him. In this fight against Mark Coleman, Fedor has been taken down by the power house wrestler. However, the power house wrestler gets one arm trapped by Emelianenko and leaves the other on the canvas. Fedor powers his leg over and from there it is easy. Fedor thrusts his hips away from Coleman causing a lot of torque on the bent limb and an immediate tap out from Coleman.

That is it for this installment of "Ultimate Submissions." Again, if you did not catch it early in this post these are not the only methods and techniques for the arm bars. Feel free to post any that you may have tried or prefer.

FanPosts are user-generated content that do not reflect the editorial opinions of nor its staff.