Right before my gallbladder operation, I stumbled onto a method which got me way better at hitting arm locks. The experiment was supposed to take a couple of months, but that darned gallbladder had other plans for me. Still, I made enough progress in a week that I thought it might be worth writing about.
Enter The Roy Harris Plan
I've been a purple belt for almost two years now, and was doing some thinking about how to get to the next level. I came across an old article written by Roy Harris.
He has a talk with his purple belts when he thinks they're about a year out from getting their brown belt. He'll tell them that for the next two months they're only allowed to go for arm-bars. No chokes. No leg locks. Only arm-bars.
Once the student is done with his two month journey, then he's only allowed to go for leg locks for the next two months. Then two months of only chokes. Then a month of only attacking the right arm. So on and so forth.
Everyone in the gym catches on pretty quickly that you're only allowed to finish with arm-bars. This makes it even tougher on you. After all, it's a whole easier to defend a submission when you know which submission is coming. So you're forced to get creative with your setups.
This sounded like as good a plan as any so I thought I'd give it a try. I was only able to do it for a week before my gallbladder surgery, but are the top ten things I've noticed so far:
- I tend to use chokes to set up arm locks.
- Attacking one arm can set up the other.
- One arm lock can set up another on the same arm.
- Chokes are everywhere!
- It's easier to hit arm locks from top positions.
- If I can isolate an arm, I have an arm lock.
- My new favorite position to hit arm locks from is side control.
- There's really no safe position for your arms on bottom side control.
- Hunting arms from side control makes it far easier to mount.
- Grip breaks are key
I tend to use chokes to set up arm locks.
I had no idea how much I use chokes to set up arm locks. Initially I found myself going for a choke to set up the arm bar. Then I remembered I'm not doing chokes, followed by this long awkward pause on my part. It eventually got to the point where training partners would chuckle a little every time I'd start digging into the collar. Once everyone figures out chokes are off the table, it gets a whole lot more difficult to get the arm. You have to find other ways to set up the arm lock.
Attacking one arm can set up the other.
When my opponent defends one arm, a lot of times they'll leave the other one open for attack. For instance, when I attack my opponent's left arm from mount he'll sometimes roll to his left side to defend. When he does this, he'll often open up his right arm to attack.
One arm lock can set up another on the same arm.
Other times when someone defends an arm lock, that arm will be open to a different type of arm lock. For instance, when I attack the left arm with an Americana from mount, sometimes they'll point their elbow toward the sky. From there I can turn to the left and switch to the straight arm lock.
Chokes are everywhere!
An unexpected side effect of all this is I'm noticing all kinds of opportunities for chokes. Honestly, it's driving me nuts! Have you ever found yourself wanting that thing you know you can't have? I think it's kind of like that. I'm noticing chokes all over the place. Now it could be that everyone in the gym is just leaving their neck open with me since they know I'm only going for arm locks, but I think there's probably more to it than that. I suspect that when it's time to switch to only chokes, this two months of arm locks will end up being more helpful than I would've thought.
It's easier to hit arm locks from top positions.
Honestly, I've never hit a whole lot of straight arm locks from guard. It's never been my thing. I'll hit Kimuras and omoplatas, but not a whole lot of straight arm locks. And now that I'm only going for arm locks, I prefer to just sweep, pass, and work for the arm lock from there. You have more control. You have gravity on your side. It's just easier to isolate an arm and go to work without having to worry about getting your guard passed in the process. I'll take an arm lock from guard if my training partner is careless, but otherwise I'll just take the sweep.
If I can isolate an arm, I have an arm lock.
Any time I can wedge something in between my opponent's upper arm and his rib cage, I have an arm lock. I may not always know which arm locks are available to me at that point, but there's always one available to me at that point. And if I'm able to think about it long enough, I can usually figure it out.
My new favorite position to hit arm locks from is side control!
I used to hate side control. Especially when I was a blue belt. I had a hard time controlling it against wrestlers. Had an even harder time finishing from there. Mainly I'd just mount from there. As a result I got pretty good at mounting. And my mount was better than my side control. Not anymore! It's just too easy to isolate an arm from side control.
There's really no safe position for your arms on bottom side control.
After playing this way for a week, I've come to realize that I have a way to isolate an arm from pretty much any arm configuration my opponent chooses.
Hunting arms from side control makes it far easier to mount.
Once people realize that isolating the arms is the key to staving off arm locks, it's soooooo much easier to transition to mount. I was pretty decent at it before, but now people are so focused on keeping their elbows glued to their rib cages that it's easier than ever. Although side control is such a target rich environment now that I only transition to mount to add a little variety to my game.
Grip breaks are key.
I always had difficulties finishing from the straight arm lock position. I would finally get there, but then my opponent would establish an annoying collar grip, S-grip or figure-4 grip to defend. And against a bigger, stronger opponent I just couldn't break it. I've attended classes where we'd learn grip breaks, but I'd either forget them the next day, or they wouldn't really work for me during live rolling and I'd have to switch to something else. Often times they'd be so focused on defending the arm lock that I'd be able to switch to a choke and get the tap. But that's not an option for me right now. Luckily, I took some time prior to this whole experiment, researched different grip breaks, found a handful that actually work for me, and memorized them. Now I kinda like it when they grip up to defend that armbar. There's a certain satisfaction that comes with breaking those grips.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. By limiting yourself to only arm locks for the next two months, you force yourself to find new ways to get that arm. If jiu-jitsu is creative problem solving under pressure at its finest, then this takes it to a If you're a mid to advanced level player and want to get better at arm locks you might consider giving this little experiment a try. I've seen a significant improvement in just a week. It might help you too.
- Big Mike
P.S. If you're interested in reading a little more about Roy Harris and his ideas, be sure to check out his book, The Jiu Jitsu Answer Man.