Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a uniquely diverse Martial Art, which has numerous avenues to attack an opponent. There is an abundance of intricate details surrounding every aspect of the game, from high velocity takedown maneuvers, to the powerful systems of submission attacks.
What this article covers:
- What Is the Americana
- Who Invented the Americana
- Is the Americana an Effective Submission
- How to Apply the Americana
- How to Flow from The Americana to Other Submissions
- How to Defend the Americana
The modern athlete has become well versed in the leg entanglement game, as the ashi garami jiu jitsu position is one of the more popular ones. This leg lock entry has changed the playing field, as submissions like the heel hook, the toe hold and the bjj knee bar have become substantial during professional competition.
They say out with the old and in with the new, but in terms of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the old traditional moves can be just as deadly as the new. BJJ can be a simple game, and fundamentally attacking more traditional submissions like the bjj omoplata, the triangle or the arm lock can still make a practitioner's game extremely deadly. The americana is one of the first arm lock submissions that a beginner will learn in their journey. But don't be fooled by this extremely simplistic arm lock, it can be an extremely brutal submission hold, as it will cause a significant amount of pressure to the shoulder region of an athlete.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ARM LOCKS IN BJJ
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an extremely well rounded Martial Art. It has a wide variety of defensive, and offensive positions and maneuvers. It is one aspect to try and neutralise an opponent, and an even greater challenge to submit them. The choke is the king, and all competitors want this ability in their arsenal. The modern day grappler will attack with leg locks like heel hooks, and calf slicer bjj techniques. However, arm locks are the most valuable asset in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu combat system. Arm locks can be achieved from all positions, and it is a lot easier to use leverage on an opponent's arm, than it is to administer a choke on their neck. Arm locks are crucial to achieving many submissions, and this is because they can be the primary target, or the bait to set up other attacking submissions.
There is a huge variety of different arm locks like basic arm bars, and arm cutters, and these types of moves use hyperextension of the elbow to achieve the submission. Other submissions like bicep slicers, and tricep crushes use compression within the lock to put pressure onto the arm, and the elbow joint. Another style of arm lock is the kimura, the omoplata, the monoplata, the mir lock, and the americana, as all of these styles of submission rely on a rotational movement to impinge the shoulder joint. Arm locks are extremely important, and can be really dangerous if an opponent escapes too late. All athletes need to have a comprehensive arm lock game, so they can access a wider range of submission maneuvers.
WHAT IS THE AMERICANA
The americana is an old school traditional submission move that all students learn in their first few months of training. As a beginner student, learning positional control is basic bjj building blocks, and this is fundamentally important, with positions like side control, the mount, or back control, as they are all crucial to the makeup of a beginner's development. After learning how to neutralise, and control an opponent they will begin to learn how they can effectively submit them. There are a vastly different range of submissions that can be applied, but one of the first submissions to learn is the americana from side control. From side control the first step is to remove the cross face, and reach across to the opposite side of their opponent's body. The practitioner will use their opposite hand to secure the wrist, and feed it to their original cross face hand. Once they have a tight grip on the wrist, the other hand will go around the back of their opponent's elbow, threading back through, and securing a grip on their own wrist. This is a figure four lock, which is basically like a reverse kimura grip. From here the practitioner will pull their opponent's elbow in towards their side, as they begin to rotate their wrist over, which will cause significant rotational strain on the shoulder joint.
WHO INVENTED THE AMERICANA
There is no definitive history surrounding the americana technique, all that is known is that the figure four grip was utilised in catch wrestling, and was the ude garami in Judo. This bent arm lock was a major part of the catch wrestling repertoire, which was transferred down into the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu art form. The technique was used in early Gracie Jiu Jitsu by Helio Gracie, and was one of his weapons he used during his career. There have been some fables surrounding its birth, as some people think it was created in the late twentieth century. An American grappler named Bob Anderson had apparently shown Rolls Gracie the technique, where Rolls then named the technique the americana in honour of his American friend. The fact still remains though, that the americana technique was being used much earlier in Martial Arts history, as Judokas, and catch wrestlers were already well versed in the bent arm lock, and the figure four grip.
IS THE AMERICANA AN EFFECTIVE SUBMISSION
Even though the americana is one of the more basic submissions in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu arsenal, it can be extremely effective. This technique can often catch an opponent off guard, as it is not commonly used at the high level of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition. Sometimes during the middle of a transition, an opponent may leave their hand wrapping around a waist, as they attempt to wrestle their way through, and this can be the perfect opportunity to secure the americana submission. To use the americana effectively the practitioner really only needs a small avenue of attack, because this submission only involves a wrist grip with a figure four thread through it, and a slight rotational pressure to get the tap. This is one of those submissions that can be easy to defend, but once a practitioner has their opponent deep in the trap, it can be really easy to submit their opponent too.
HOW TO APPLY THE AMERICANA
There are different ways to apply an americana in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This bent arm lock can be secured from the side control position, the mount position, the guard position, and also from the kesa gatame position. To secure this submission from side control the practitioner will move their cross face, and trap their opponent's head in between their elbow and their knee. Their opposite hand will secure a wrist grip, before feeding it to their other hand. From here the practitioner will thread their free hand through the back of the elbow, and onto their own wrist, creating a figure four grip. To finish the americana the practitioner will simply pull the elbow in towards their opponent's ribs, as they start to apply a rotational strain to their opponent's shoulder, by raising the elbow, and angling their figure four grip down towards their opponent's hips.
Applying this submission from the mount position is quite similar from side control. Quite often when an opponent is in the mount they will try to escape by turning onto their side, and using their hands as frames. When an opponent tries this movement the practitioner will shimmy their knees into a higher mount, as they force one of their opponent's arms up higher then their shoulder line. By doing this it will create a weak point, making this hard to defend for an opponent. From this position the practitioner will apply the figure four grip, and begin angling their elbow into their ribs, as they circle the wrist grip down towards the mat.
This submission can be applied from the guard, although it is a higher percentage to go for the kimura instead. To achieve the americana from the guard the practitioner needs to secure a wrist grip. From here they can reach over their opponent's head as if they were about to lock in the kimura grip, but instead pass the wrist grip to that hand. Now they can use their free hand to thread in behind the elbow, securing a grip on their own wrist. To finish this submission the practitioner will simply apply rotational pressure, circling their opponent's arm towards the mat. In most cases this will force their opponent to give up the top position, so even if the submission doesn't quite work, it can result in an easy sweep movement.
Another way to secure an americana is from the kesa gatame position. This is a control position that a practitioner can use by switching their hips from side control, as they face their opponent's head, and apply pressure to their sternum. From this position the practitioner will control the wrist closest to their own hips, by using a wrist grip, and pushing it towards the mat. From here they will secure their opponent's wrist underneath their own bottom leg, and for some opponents this may already be enough pressure to get the tap. If the opponent has more flexible shoulders, then the practitioner will adjust by locking a triangle around the arm, and using their hips to lift their opponent's arm upwards, creating an americana with their legs.
HOW TO FLOW FROM THE AMERICANA TO OTHER SUBMISSIONS
Sometimes using the americana submission is a good way to start off a chain of submission attack. The americana submission can be easy to defend, especially for a high level opponent, so using it as a bait is a great way to achieve some of the signature submissions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. As a practitioner secures the americana from the mount position, a common way to escape is for an opponent to straighten their arm. From here it is an easy transition for a practitioner, as they slide up higher on the arm, and switch into a straight arm lock. During this flow of movement the practitioner may also look to grab their own wrist, and pull their elbow over into their chest from the americana position. This will give a great angle, and opportunity for a practitioner to hook under the elbow, and bring their knee up high, either behind the neck of their opponent, or swinging their leg over the top of their face, and locking into a traditional arm bar from side control.
There are also chokes available from the americana position, especially if the opponent is desperate in escaping from the americana. Sometimes when an opponent is highly focused on escaping from the arm lock they often forget about defending their necks. When the practitioner has an americana from side control it is an easy transition to let go of the wrist, and slot it in behind the neck of their opponent, as they regrip into a head and arm choke. All that is left to do for the practitioner is to jump across the body, as they look to trap their opponent's tricep with the back of their head, and sink in a tight head and arm triangle from the opposite side control. This kind of choke can catch an opponent off guard, as they are usually more focused on surviving from the arm lock.
HOW TO DEFEND THE AMERICANA
Defending the americana must be done with early prevention, as this can commonly cause rotational injuries to an opponent. An important tip to remember when defending these kinds of submissions is to battle the grips from the start. This means once an opponent secures a wrist grip the practitioner should instantly be looking to free their hand from that grip, and this will alleviate any chance of the americana submission. It is also important not to leave their elbows out, or stay on their back underneath side control. Instead a practitioner should be actively seeking to turn on to their side, keeping their elbows tucked in, as they look at utilising the full force of their frames, with their elbows connected to their knees. This kind of defense will ensure that the opponent cannot use any kind of grip to set up the americana.
Early prevention methods do not always work, because there are many ways that an opponent can use sneaky set ups to administer the americana submission. When a practitioner does find themselves trapped inside of the americana from underneath their opponent's side control, there is an easy way to escape. A good way to break this grip is to take the practitioner's hand from pointing their thumb up, and quickly turn the wrist pointing their thumb down, as they shoot their arm low. This will break the americana grip, and even though this may give the opponent an opportunity to secure a kimura grip, they still have to actively change the angle of their grips to secure the submission. This is when the practitioner can quickly switch their hand to the thumb up position again. This can become a game of cat and mouse, but is an easy way to stay out of harm's way. If the practitioner times this technique well, when their opponent looks to switch into the kimura position, they can simply push on the armpit creating a lot of space, and an easy avenue to escape. This defense can be extremely frustrating to an opponent, as they may give up and look at other avenues of attack.
There are other ways to defend the americana, but these do come with a higher element of risk attached. An easy defense from the americana is to straighten an arm, but the downside to this defense is if a practitioner knows many different techniques they can easily transition into a straight arm lock. Another good defense is to grab hold of their own wrist, and wrench it across their body, but once again there is another downside, as this will create an opportunity for an opponent to attack an arm bar from side control. The good part about this defense is that it can be much safer to defend an arm bar, then it is to defend an americana. Most practitioners would rather keep their shoulders safe than their elbows, as a shoulder injury is far worse than a hyperextended elbow. Either way defending the americana is crucial, because being on the end of a torn rotator cuff can be detrimental to the future career of any grappler. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all about longevity, and training safely involves tapping early, or using proper defenses to escape from these types of situations.
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