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Why the Arm Drag is so Important in Jiu Jitsu
There is one technique that almost every smaller skilled jiu jitsu practitioner uses when rolling with or competing against a larger, stronger practitioner: the arm drag. This move is so powerful that it has determined the outcome of major championship matches worldwide. Why is this technique so powerful? What mechanism makes it so effective?
Unlike many techniques the arm drag doesn’t entirely rely upon manipulation the opponent’s position or posture, but rather is a combination of moving around the opponent while dragging the opponent forward and downward. The idea is to create an off balancing force and then to move around the opponent rather than rely on the opponent’s movement to determine trajectory.
The concept is relatively simple: an off center/off balanced weight pulling even a relatively strong practitioner away from their center of gravity will likely force them to compensate, during that compensation, whether or not it results in them falling, the arm-dragger can move themselves around the opponent.
This is different from most other maneuvers in jiu jitsu because it allows for a greater degree of control on the part of the person executing the move. If, for example, one is executing a sweep it relies on a certain set of mistakes to be made by the person being swept. The arm drag reduces that requirement for a margin of error by providing the arm-dragger the opportunity to contribute to the movement that the technique is intended to generate. This is a subtle yet important distinction.
A crucial element of the arm drag is getting out of the opponent’s way. Very often the rookie mistake is to drag an opponent down but to then be trapped under their weight rather than to move around them. When hitting an arm drag, the most important part of the move is escaping ones hips to the side of the arm being dragged.
The arm drag leads into various opportunities for positional improvement. Even a failed arm drag can put the person attempting it in position for a takedown or another position change in their favor. Resisting the arm drag requires a certain degree of off balanced force by the resister. Think of it like tug-of-war: if both parties are pulling and one lets go, the one still pulling will fall. By this process one can use it to initiate many different transitions to improved positions or opportunities to submit.
The arm drag has different kinds of potential benefits to different kinds of practitioners. A larger and heavier practitioner will be able to use the arm drag to create tremendous force in whatever direction they take the arm and can then use their body to crowd their opponent. The jiu jitsu world has seen some smaller practitioners make remarkably effective use of this move, coupling it with their quickness and agility to use it to outwork even bigger, stronger opponents.
Check out this video of Marcelo Mafra using the arm drag with great effect on MMA star Benson Henderson:
The arm drag is a staple of guard play because it allows the guard player to transition to different positions. An arm drag can turn half guard or open guard into back control. On the other side of things, good wrestlers tend to be great arm draggers, using the arm drag to take opponents down and control them. No matter how you prefer to roll, the arm drag can be a quintessential part of your game.
The more you play with the arm drag the more you’ll see opportunities to use it. The more you understand it, the better you’ll be able to use it to further your own jiu jitsu game. The key with this move is to drill it. No one wants to be dragged to the ground and choked, so fluidity of grip placement is key to success with the move, and drilling aids in innately understanding grip placement. The more you drill the move the better you’ll understand it…
Perhaps one of the most potent places to use the arm drag is inside of the closed guard. You can use the move to set up back takes, arm bars, triangles and kimuras with ease. BJJ Fanatics’ own, Bernardo Faria put together this fantastic DVD set covering the closed guard, check it out if you want to learn how to use the arm drag from this position!