A couple of months ago I went on a mission to find a submission (read all about it here). This was fueled by the fact that I realized I did not have a go-to submission but more than that by a desire to change the style of my game. My BJJ is largely reactive. I tend to wait for my opponent to do something and then play defense. This is something that is not uncommon for someone who is smaller and weaker and is not necessarily a bad way to practice BJJ. However if you want to compete, this is not a style that is going to get you the win a whole lot.
My coach suggested that I pick a submission from the top and one from the bottom. So because I am fond of getting on top and mashing my shoulder into people’s faces, I decided to try to work on the arm triangle (or head and arm choke if you prefer) from top and wrist locks from bottom (well from everywhere really). I will admit that my wrist lock quest has more or less ended. I just never got used to looking for them. But I really liked working the arm triangle. So I did.
But of course you are rarely going to get to start in mount with your shoulder in someone’s face so I couldn’t just work the arm triangle. I had to first learn to get to a controlling top position. For me this usually means getting to top half guard (I don’t know why but I seem to end up in this position all the time), starting to work the shoulder pressure and control, transitioning to side control and then finally to mount.
So finally I learned to get to mount with my arm in position under my opponent’s head. So naturally I became an arm triangle machine right? Well not exactly. I found that I was getting rolled over a lot when I got to mount. This is somewhat expected since you are giving them an arm and making the bump and roll super easy. But I knew I could stop it if I learned to control the top position better. So I did. I learned how to better distribute my weight (the bump and roll is even easier if I leave all my weight on that side) and utilize hooks to block the bump and roll. Sometimes I would not go for the finish and just let me partner try to roll me over and over again so I could practice keeping the mount.
OK so now that I learned how to get to mount and how to hold it, it was nothing but arm triangles right? Yeah, not quite. I was getting successful with them but the thing about training with the same people and going for a submission over and over again is that eventually they catch on. So while my arm triangles were getting better, so too were their escapes.
But because I was constantly going for the same thing and because there are only so many ways to defend it, I found myself in the same positions over and over again. Because I was there so much I started to figure out what I could work from these other positions. If they bring their arm up to block the choke (the “answer the phone” defense), I can trap the arm and go for an Americana. If they roll away from me I can transition to technical mount and go for a collar choke or bow and arrow. If I can’t get their arm up, why not go for an Ezekiel?
When I decided to find my submission my only goal was to get good at arm triangles. I didn’t intend to build a whole series around it but that’s what happened. First I had to learn to get on top, then I had to improve my top game to even have a shot at the submission and then I had to work with the reactions of my opponents when I didn’t get the finish.
So what did I really get by going on my submission mission? Have I turned into an arm triangle machine? Not really. I go for them a lot, sometimes I can finish them, sometimes I cannot. If I get to top half guard though I know there is a better chance than not that I am going to get to side control. If I get to side control, it is very likely I will get to mount. If I get to mount, you better believe I’m going to try to isolate your arm, slide off and work that arm triangle. You know how to successfully defend it? Well I am waiting with some other stuff to try too.
So, no, I don’t always get the finish when working my arm triangle but I keep my opponent defending the entire time. That’s a lot more than I was doing a few months ago. And by stubbornly going after one submission all the time, I was forced to tighten up a lot of aspects of my game. This has been useful in many ways, not just when going for an arm triangle.
So if you haven’t found your go-to move yet, I encourage you to pick a submission you like or one that plays well to something you are already doing and go for it all the time. You will be surprised how much your offensive game improves. If you do have a go-to move, keep training it! Better yet, start training another! I am almost to the point that I want to pick a new go-to move (maybe start thinking about those wrist locks again). Although I will never abandon the arm triangle, I am excited to see what other types of series I can build.