Creating Breaking Pressure With Travis Stevens
Judo is known for producing players that excel at Juji Gatame (cross armlock, or armbar) and securing Juji Gatame from unexpected positions or during transitional phases of movement. The application of Juji Gatame has shown it to be a high percentage technique across grappling disciplines and in MMA contests, so it’s clearly a technique worth knowing in detail. Who better to show us those details than Olympic Silver medalist Judoka and John Danaher black belt Travis Stevens?
When first starting a submission grappling discipline there can be a tendency for some people to overlook details. As Travis notes here the concept of juji gatame might seem simple (bend someone’s elbow the wrong way) but actually there are many details to the technique that together will create breaking pressure and conversely not understanding these details will reduce technique efficacy.
Travis starts in the basic armbar position with legs over his opponent and both arms isolating and wrapping around one of his opponents arms. The first mistake Travis sees from here is people pulling the arm straight backwards and into the crook of the arm at the inside of the elbow. To demonstrate how mechanically weak this pull is Travis gets his opponent to let go of his grip so that Travis is pulling against his opponents single arm with his arm and his body. Nothing happens!
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What this demonstrates is that the grip his opponent uses to block the juji gatame attempt doesn’t even need to be there! From here however Travis makes a small adjustment and straightens the arm with ease. So what changed? Firstly we don’t want the blade of our forearm going into the inside of our opponents elbow. Travis makes an adjustment so that the blade of his forearm is going into the inside of the frame of their forearm a few inches down from the elbow joint. From here Travis pulls upwards, not backwards, against his opponents forearm. The ability to straighten the arm with just this adjustment is night and day difference.
The second detail is the angle of the arm. We don’t want to pull straight back against the arm. We want to create a crank and an angle against the arm so that it’s mechanically weaker. We do this by rotating the forearm against our chest by using a pistol grip on the gi to pull their elbow into our far side hip (the hip near their hip) and then locking their wrist with our other arm against our body. This crank helps Travis to elongate the protective grip his opponent is taking with their other arm, again making this grip mechanically weaker and therefore harder to use successfully.
After changing the angle of his opponents arm with the pistol grip and crank Travis can now fall with his body towards his opponents head and keep their arm tight against his body at the wrist by keeping his arm close in against himself. We don’t want any gaps that our opponent can exploit in order to escape. At this stage our leg pressure comes in so we can get an extension in our opponents arm.
A common mistake at this point Travis sees is people letting go of the arm in order to climb up towards the wrist. We don’t want to risk doing all the work to get in such a strong position, only to lose it by letting go of our opponents arm! To make sure this doesn’t happen we want to lock the thin blade of our opponents forearm at the wrist into the crook of our elbow so we get a really tight control of the wrist and arm. At this stage our opponents thumb is pointed away from us and if they try to roll out of this position to defend its very difficult for them to do so as the skeletal frame of their forearm is being blocked by the skeletal frame of our forearm, which is reinforced by the wedge of the ‘V’ of our arm.
From this position of tight control of our opponents wrist Travis notes that we don’t want our back to be rounded. Instead we want to sit up tall and keep our opponents wrist as high as possible because this is what is going to elongate his arm and stretch the space in his joints, thereby weakening them. If we think of the arm mechanically we want to stretch the two ‘sticks’ at each side of the elbow away from each other so that an increasingly small amount of pressure will be enough to separate them at the fulcrum of the elbow. What we don’t want is for our opponent to be able to compress their arm and thereby make their arm mechanically more difficult to break.
The way Travis keeps this elongation through the joints of the arm is that when he’s sitting upright and has control of the wrist it is up high by his shoulder. A mistake people make here is leaving a hole open in their wrist control so that when they slide down to attempt completion of the juji gatame their opponents wrist slides down at the same time. Travis doesn’t let this happen and keeps tight control of his opponents wrist in the ‘V’ of his elbow so that when he sits back his opponents wrist stays by his shoulder and his joints are stretched out. This is the perfect position to be in to apply force against their elbow as even a relatively small amount of force now has breaking power.
Another detail to keep in mind for successful juji gatame is the placement of the arm relative to the centre line of our own body. Many times people think the opponents’ arm should go straight down the centre of our body but if it’s placed here or to the side near our opponents head it helps them use the Hitchhiker escape. We want arm placement on the side of our body nearest to our opponents hips and that way if they try to use the Hitchhiker escape they run into the inside of our knee and it doesn’t take much pressure against their elbow to get the tap.
For more game changing armlock details from both Olympic Judokas Travis Stevens and Jimmy Pedro see their full course at Judo Fanatics here!