Brazilian jiu jitsu doesn’t usually differentiate between different arm bars, which makes arm bars a confusing topic. In this post I differentiate between all the different straight arm lock variations. This should help you understand how to do arm bars in BJJ better.
Arm bars in BJJ – A systematic overview
What all straight arm locks have in common is that they put pressure behind the opponent’s elbow, while applying counterpressure to both the wrist and the shoulder of that same arm. This is what causes the elbow to overextend or break.
Now that we understand that the key point in every arm bar are control of the wrist, elbow and shoulder, we can differentiate between the different arm bars by virtue of what they use to obtain these three control points.
The following table lists the most common arm bars in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and with what part of their body they control the opponent’s wrist, elbow and shoulder.
|Classic arm bar |
(ju ji gatame)
|Arm bar from crucifix||feet||hips||seatbelt|
|Quick collar sleeve |
arm bar (Hiza Gatame)
|hands||top knee||bottom knee/floor|
These are the arm bars that are most commonly used in Brazilian jiu jitsu, but there are more. A lot of these arm bars are staples of Judo and of more traditional martial arts such as Aikido.
Do standing Judo and Aikido arm locks work?
Judo uses all arm bars that are also common in Brazilian jiu jitsu. But, in addition, it uses some arm bars that are also used in Aikido, and these look like they don’t work. They’re typically applied from a standing position, or from when your opponent is lying face down and flat.
The following video shows the Waki Gatame, which looks just precisely like the type of arm bar that we don’t take seriously in Brazilian jiu jitsu.
BUT, we should not judge so quickly! Because this exact arm bar is what Aokki used to break someone’s arm in an MMA match. So this arm bar worked at least once in a realistic combat setting.
Furthermore, this arm bar was banned from Judo because it broke too many arms. This problem was especially big at local tournaments, where competitors sometimes broke their opponent’s arm in every match of the tournament. So there’s nothing wrong with this arm bar from Judo and Aikido, in fact, it works too well!
I’ll close on one more interesting Waki Gatame fact: Segio Ramos used this exact arm bar in the Champions League Final of 2018 to break the arm of his opponent Mohamed Salah. The referee didn’t quite understand what Ramos did so he didn’t give him a yellow or red card. But, the European Judo Union has condemned Ramos for using what they recognize as a Waki Gatame. As far as I can tell, Ramos never did Judo, so he might have pulled this move off intuitively, rather than actually having practiced it.
What we as Brazilian jiu jitsu people should take away from this, is that we can still learn a lot, even from traditional martial arts. We may dislike some of their submissions because they only work when you apply them explosively, but we should still learn them, if only to be able to protect ourselves!
What you learned in this post is that the elbow is a relatively weak joint, and that there are therefore many different ways to break it.
The key control points to perform any arm bar are pressure behind the elbow, and in front of the wrist and the shoulder.
Standing arm bars are surprisingly effective, again because elbows are rather weak joints. For standing arm bars, you control the wrist and the elbow, and use speed of movement as a substitute for control of the shoulder.