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The Ultimate Joint Lock
The grappling art of Jiu Jitsu contains submissions that can be divided into joint locks and strangles. Each class of submissions has its circumstantial benefits when compared to the other. Within each class however, there are important variances to consider when thinking about which technique is best. In terms strangles, it is clearly obvious that the rear naked choke rules due to its effectiveness as both a submission and for control.
Within the class of joint locks, the question of which is best is much more intricate and less clear. As opposed to strangles, which essentially all attack the neck, joint locks can be utilized against all limbs of the human anatomy, as well as the spine and even neck. Also, joint locks can be separated into hyper extensions like armbars and twists like Americanas, or even both like heel hooks.
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So how do we decide which joint lock is the king of its class? It is based off a few criteria that I think can be used to classify joint locks in a hierarchy of effectiveness holding grapplers equal. The criteria are finishing success, the level of control it provides, transition ability, and the quantity of positions it can be attacked from.
In this article, I want to make the case that the joint lock that is supreme in its class is the kimura. I have been a fan of the kimura for a long time and use it to great success in every rolling session. I will argue this based off of the criteria I discussed previously and attempt to provide as many examples as possible.
The versatility of the kimura is one of its most attractive attributes. This simple shoulder lock can be attacked from nearly every position in grappling including the guard, side control, standing, back control, etc. The most commonly employed version of the kimura is the attack from north-south or side control which is taught to even the newest students. This simple attack relies on the lack of defensive opportunity by the defender forcing them to expose their arm. In the following video, Judo expert Travis Stevens goes over a variation of this attack.
Although Travis starts this variation by attacking with his right arm, the more commonly employed method of getting this kimura requires the attacker using their left arm and getting the underhook. Using the underhook, it is easy to get pull the defender to towards you and end up in the same finishing position Travis ends up in here.
The side-control kimura may seem boring at times, however, it can be very innovative if you think outside the box. There are many ways to grip and finish the submission here but are more complicated than the standard version of it. In the following video, Neil Melanson, one of the best instructors around, shows a version of the kimura from side control termed the power kimura.
Attacking the kimura from side control or north-south against highly skilled opponents can be difficult. If a defender is good at keeping their elbows tight as they attempt a positional escape, isolation of an arm for the kimura attack can prove impossible. When playing from north-south, which is my preferred position to attack the kimura, it is easy to lift the elbows and attack the kimura when a defender rolls to their side to move. John Danaher displays this technique in the following video.
Having a good kimura can be one of the greatest assets for a guard player. The shoulder lock can be attacked from closed guard, half guard, butterfly guard, and so on. Finishing the kimura from these positions is not as easy as it is when on top, however. The reason I like the kimura from the guard is that it opens up many other sweeps and submissions. The following video illustrates a way to setup a kimura from half guard.
The kimura from half guard is a great submission to constantly look for and even use just to threaten the top player to stay back. It is necessary to keep the top player back because if they can smash the guard player flatly on their back or get an underhook, the bottom half guard could become obsolete.
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In the following video, Renzo Gracie black belt and Danaher Death Squad member Garry Tonon will show two ways of attacking a kimura from bottom side control.
As you can see, it is possible to use the guillotine threat to bait the top player into exposing their arm for the kimura. After the kimura grip is grabbed, there are two options: submitting or sweeping. From my experience, it can be difficult to finish the kimura submission from bottom half guard because the top player’s shoulder has a greater range of motion compared to other kimura attacks. I find that the sweep is much more efficient using the position.
The kimura sweep from bottom half guard can be done in various ways. Garry Tonon shows a great version in which he utilizes a butterfly hook to lift the person and finish the sweep. The same sweep can also be done without the butterfly hook but to a lesser degree of effectiveness.
An excellent transition that a student of any level can learn is connecting the kimura to a sit-over sweep. After establishing a kimura grip in from the closed guard, opponents will prevent you from pulling them in by posturing and even leaning back. Because you are already in sweeping position, all one has to do is put their arm behind them for a base sweep.
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If you are a fan of the guillotine from closed guard, the kimura is an excellent way to set it up to open up the neck. Another defense used by people when being attacked by a kimura is to hug and smash their opponents down. By doing this, however, defenders are exposing the guillotine because their head is down and their neck is undefended.
One of the biggest reasons I like attack the kimura while on my back is that it can be used to sweep and roll an opponent to land you in a superior position. Although I don’t recommend this specific technique for everyone, you can set up a kimura from half guard, allow your opponent to pass, and then immediately as they pass use the kimura to sweep them over to the other side. This technique must be done explosively.
Although the kimura is not generally a submission people seek after when attacking from open guards, there are specific scenarios in which the kimura is a great option. A common defense people have against de la riva guard is sit back and place their hips on the ground. Un-countered, this can lead to a quick guard pass. When someone does this defense, however, they often expose their arm.
In the following video, Seth Daniels counters the De La Riva guard defense previously described to attack a kimura on the close side arm. The attack is especially easy when your opponent has a lapel grip as they attempt the pass.
The attack is not one opponents typically see coming as they begin their rotation. To ensure catching the kimura, it is vital to drill this at increasing speeds due to the confusion in grabbing the kimura in this unorthodox fashion.
You do not have to be an expert in the De La Riva guard to have success with it. In the previous video, Seth Daniels confesses to not being very good at it, but has learned to capitalize on it when the opponent begins their defense.
Finishing the kimura against skilled opponents is an entirely different animal than attacking it against white belts. Against newer grapplers we can simply get the grip and begin rotating the shoulder and get a quick tap. When dealing with better grapplers, they will present us with significant issues unless we add the necessary details.
If you are a fan of learning by concept with exceptional input on detail, you will find the following video by John Danaher very beneficial. In this video, John goes over a small yet essential detail when attacking the kimura.
The reason John attacks the kimura in this video against an arm that is relatively straight is because finishing the kimura against an arm with such an open angle is very difficult and easy to defend. He shows that by adding just a few details, you will increase the breaking power of the kimura regardless of the angle at the elbow.
What Professor Danaher does in this video that he doesn’t discuss is controlling the entire torso of the defender. If you notice, his right hip is spraweled out on the close side shoulder. When you do this, you are pinning the defender to the ground and this will allow you to focus exclusively on the arm you are attacking.
Sliding the elbow above the defender’s shoulder line causes a similar effect as when you slide the elbow below the shoulder line when attacking an Americana shoulder lock. This movement eliminates a lot of the shoulder’s rotational ability before the submissions begin to hurt so that when you add just a little amount of pressure, the pain will be great enough to cause a defender to tap. Another thing I like to do when attacking the kimura is use my hand to rotate the defender’s arm forward away from them. This will also eliminate the shoulder’s ability to rotate comfortably.
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Traditionally, the kimura is seen as a simple rotational shoulder lock that can be attacked from closed guard, bottom and top half guard, top side mount, and north-south. Even with this basic description, the kimura is a versatile submission. Recent advances in BJJ show that the kimura is significantly more versatile and dangerous when applied appropriately. The kimura can now be used to pass the guard using either the rolling kimura technique or when passing from top half guard. The kimura can transition to an armbar when attacked from top side control. The kimura can be used to take the back as a successive sequence from the kimura roll. The kimura may also be used as a sweep from bottom guard or escape from bottom side control. There are numerous other applications for the kimura of which a book could be written.
My point is not to list you all the remarkable ways the kimura may be used, but to advise you to be more open minded in how you use it. By creating a mental, and even physical, nodal flowchart of attacks from the kimura position, you will be expanding your opportunity to improve your position against your opponent and submit them. There is strong evidence that learning systems, and not techniques, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be found in the Danaher Death Squard. John Danaher’s ability to create systems of positions that were historically narrowly described is one of the core foundations of their competitive success.
Ultimately, my advice for grapplers is to reshape the way they think about grappling. We often describe it as a physical chess match, but fail to train as such. Open your mind and see what systems you can create from other positions and you are guaranteed to improve your skill level.