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Diagnose Your Arm Bar Deficiencies with John Danaher
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Diagnose Your Arm Bar Deficiencies with John Danaher

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We all learn the arm bar early in our training. It’s a critical component of your BJJ foundation, and can not be bypassed in the learning process.

Though the arm bar is a fundamental technique in BJJ, many practitioners struggle with what makes the arm bar tick.

There are certain problems that present themselves over and over again, and certain elements of the arm bar that are always in question. WE search for the “proper” ways to execute our arm bars, but it's likely that you’ve had difficulty in the quest for the best knowledge.

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For me, I find that these troubles are greatly exacerbated when dealing with the arm bar from closed guard. When I was first introduced to the arm bar from guard there was quite a bit of emphasis placed on only controlling the arm. This led to 100’s of failed attempts to acquire an effective arm bar from the bottom.

There’s a deeper level of control that must be applied to this scenario, and it took me nearly giving up on the technique to realize this. When a proficient player is on the other end of your attacks, it can be incredibly difficult to apply an arm bar. We must create a setting where our positioning is just right, and we can apply the best controls possible to keep our partner in danger, and ultimately execute the arm bar.

John Danaher has released his final installment of the “Enter the System” series, and he has chosen the topic of the arm bar. If you’ve been exposed to any of Danaher’s other instructionals, you’ve no doubt enjoyed some light bulb moments, and game changing details. Danaher is restructuring how we look at some of BJJ’s most popular positions and submissions.

Let’s look at some excerpts today from Danaher’s arm bar material. He answers some age-old questions, goes into detail on a few of the biggest problems we tend to encounter while attempting to apply our armbars, and gives us insight into how to better control and finish our partners.

This first video deals with a question that we’ve been asking for years. When do you cross your feet? There are certain scenarios where we see people cross their feet when working the arm bar, and somewhere we don’t. I remember being yelled at for this in my early training days. I would ask why, and be shown why. But when I asked when, the answers were sometimes very unclear. Let’s put this issue to rest once and for all. Have a look.

So, who’s right and who’s wrong? No one really. But Danaher does make an interesting point here. Many high-level athletes have broken arms using both methods, so clearly there is validity to individual opinions on the matter. But I like the general rule that Danaher offers. When he’s implementing the arm bar from the top, generally this is where the crossing of the feet may come into play and benefit the situation. When he’s on the bottom, he doesn’t normally cross the feet. He gives some examples.

Example 1 – In this situation, Danaher is on top, He enjoys an a-symmetrical configuration of his legs for control. He can achieve this by leaning towards his partners hips, or his head. He states that he generally leans towards the hips. But from a more symmetrical position, he can employ the crossing of his feet, creating stress and constriction on the far shoulder.

Danaher feels we do sacrifice a bit of control here of the head. With the feet crossed, his partner is able to turn in to him with a little more ease. But, with that being said, Danaher is also able to stave off one of the most common arm bar escapes in BJJ. With his feet crossed and control over the far shoulder, his partner will have a great deal of difficulty walking his hips away, or attempting a turning style escape, commonly known as the hitchhiker escape.

This makes a ton of sense. If we can take away our opponent’s ability to turn away from us in the bottom position, our success rate will likely increase.

Example 2 – Danaher now changes the scenario and travels to the bottom position. From the bottom position, head control becomes paramount, and the crossing of the feet does not aid in the control of the head. Posture in undoubtedly one of the great arm bar killers, and it seems that controlling the head with open feet, is a much better choice here.

I like that Danaher’s approach doesn’t offer a definitive answer, but rather a generalization with room for improvising, though it seems the top and bottom theme will hold true in many situations. This is a good thing to keep in mind.

Let’s take a look now at the arm bar from the guard. This submission has taunted me for years. I have always encountered a great deal of difficulty when trying to apply it. With gravity on the top players side, there’s a whole host of ways to dismantle your efforts to secure a successful arm bar from the bottom. Let’s have a look at Danaher’s arm bar from the guard and see if we can pick up some details to make the process work in our favor with a little more ease. Check it out.

Pause. Danaher begins straight away with instilling something very important. The relationship of our opponent’s head and elbow and our hip. Don’t forget this.

Danaher first explains exactly how I first learned the arm bar. It was all predicated on very arm-based control. This is a mistake, as this does not place any importance on the controlling of the head and the posture.

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For optimal positioning, Danaher looks to bring his partners head over his own elbow. Achieving this perfect position can be difficult but using this theme as a guide can help us attain more proficiency. Hess also careful to keep his partner’ elbow on the inside of his hip, at minimum. Creating a setting where the elbow is closer to centerline or even more across the body is better, but can be difficult to accomplish.

Danaher also uses a collar tie in combination with the control of the arm. With his partner’s posture in check and the elbow in the right place, he can now apply a top lock over his partners shoulder, creating a very tight connection that also makes it very difficult for his partner to begin defending.

With everything now in place, Danaher can abandon his collar tie in favor for an under hook on his partners thigh. This will assist him in rotating his body to at least 90 degrees (sometimes greater) and put him in position to finish.  He configures his feet so that they’re optioning in the same direction, and makes a switch to the other side of his partner head with his outside leg. Danaher can choose to finish here, or simply put his partner to his back and continue to work for the submission.

This is phenomenal, and you can see how effective putting all of these vital components together will be. Pay close attention to the head, elbow, and hip relationship as you continue your pursuit of the arm bar.

Let’s flip from the bottom to the top once again and have a look at the mounted arm bar by Danaher. He offers us some great tips here to help acquire, maintain, and finish the arm bar throughout the course of the attack. Have a look.

Beginning in mount, Danaher secures a good cross face, cupping the armpit of his partner. He uses his opposite arm to scoop under his partners elbow, and begins to walk the elbow away. This walking of the hand will only last so long until you encounter some resistance. When Danaher reaches the maximum amount of hand walking distance, he then straightens his arm and paces his head over his partners head. Danaher continues this process of walking the hand and straightening the arm until he can get his partners elbow to break the plane of his own shoulder. Once the arm has reached this point Danaher crosses his arms, and places his head on the other side of his partners arm locking it in place.

He follows up by sliding his knee north, and then inverts his opposite leg. As he tilts toward his partners legs, Danaher looks to touch his ear to his partners thigh. He couples this with a base on the same side of his body near his partners hip. This makes his cross-face leg extremely light and mobile. He can now easily transfer the leg to the front side of his partners body and gently et his hips down on the floor.

Danaher will now look to separate the hands. In this particular situation, his partner is using an s-grip style defense. To unlock the hands Danaher begins by making a switch. As he sits with the arm, his right arm is loop through and performing the control. He now switches this control to the left arm, and then re enters this space again with the right arm, but this time much closer to the hands. This provides a great way to break the grip, but the job is far from over.

There is always the threat that your partner will turn away from you as you break the hands apart and continue to pursue the lock. To remedy this, Danaher cups the inside elbow area of his partner arm, preventing the turn.

Danaher now straightens the arm with a half hand grip and reinforces it with his opposite hand. Focusing all of his energy at the end of the lever, Danaher uses opposing pushing and pulling forces of his elbows to create a very strong break. If this is not sufficient enough, Danaher takes the break to another level by feeding the arm in to his armpit and grabbing his own shin and thigh. This applies some incredibly powerful breaking pressure to the lock. It almost seems excessive, but we all know there are cases where this will be necessary.

From start to finish, there is no lack of tremendous control and incredible detail here. This is a highly systemized approach that covers all the bases.

I’ve enjoyed breaking these videos down, and I’ve had some great moments of clarity during the process. I know that everything contained here will help everyone from the greenest BJJ pupils to the avid and seasoned veteran practitioners. I hope you enjoyed these videos as much as I did!

Join John Danaher with the latest installment of his systematic approach to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Check Out "Enter The System: Arm Bar" and get to work on improving your armbar game! BJJ Fanatics has it here!

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