I always find it interesting the way people find their submissions in jiu-jitsu. Some people just have a physical makeup that makes it easy. For example, if you are a person who has long legs than chances are that from day 1 people have told you that you should be going for triangles.
I do not have a physique that made it obvious for me to find a submission. I have short arms and legs, I am shorter than most of the guys I train with and I cannot rely on my strength for much. I spent a long time trying to find my submission (to be honest I spent at least the first year of my training being smashed from bottom and it never occurred to me to think of doing any type of offense). Eventually I found that I was good enough at shoulder pressure to make it my “thing” and I learned how to build submissions off of that.
For me that is largely how jiu-jitsu training has gone. Many times I have gotten it in my head that I was going to be good at something and tried to force it when I trained. I have been largely unsuccessful at this. However there are things I never set out to be good at but I found while I was training and learned how to use to my advantage. I find myself in positions over and over again and then it forces me to learn how to deal with them. I play half guard a lot but that is not something I set out to do. I just kept finding myself there (I think that I am just incapable of passing guard or escaping guard all at once, I have to do it little by little). I very often have told people “I didn’t choose half guard, half guard chose me”.
So a few months ago, I discovered that I was catching people’s arms a lot when they posted on the ground or after a sweep and I realized that there were straight armbars to be had from there. I continually went after them for a while. I think that I only ever finished one and that was on a fairly new white belt (still counts!) but it was fun to catch arms and at least threaten them. Around December-ish I was stuck in traffic and thinking about jiu-jitsu (as I do) and it occurred to me that even though I wasn’t having much luck finishing the straight armbars, I could transition to a belly down armbar from that position.
Ever since then I have been consumed by this transition. It haunts me. I think about it when I wake up, while I am at work and before I go to bed. I asked Santa for this transition for Christmas but the fat bastard did not deliver. A few times during rolling I have gotten so far as to get into position for the belly down armbar but I have not been able to finish.
That belly down armbar has eluded me for months which has only made me more obsessed with it. I can’t explain why but in my heart I know that someday that finish will be mine.
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.
One time after rolling with a purple belt at my gym, he asked me what my go to submission was. I stared at him with a confused, blank stare. Submission? How often do I go for submissions? If I do go for submissions was there one I felt I was good enough at to consider my go to? I told him that I guess I spend more time playing defense than offense and didn’t really have a solid submission. He said that was normal because I was smaller and I would get one eventually.
I started thinking about the other guys I roll with and how I would often know what submission they were going to go for because that was their thing. I didn’t have a thing. It made me realize that I was not attacking enough and was instead content to play defense. I decided that I had to start thinking more offensively when I rolled. I made an effort to do this for a while. I liked how my playing offense meant that my opponent had to play defense and I wasn’t getting smashed and submitted. However, I did find it frustrating that I very rarely finished a submission. Recent events have found me playing defense again and I haven’t thought of finding my submission in a while.
That all changed this week though. After losing at the tournament last weekend, the purple belt coach at my weekend gym told me he thought I should pick a submission and just drill it, work it and make it mine. He suggested it be something quick, like a wristlock, since I am very often overpowered.
I liked the idea of this. Most of us have heard the saying that you shouldn’t fear the person who practices 1000 moves 1 time but instead fear the one who practices 1 move 1000 times. But once again I was faced with the problem of not having a submission I felt I was solid at. I don’t land any submission with enough regularity to think I can own it.
I talked to my main instructor about this idea and he agreed it was a good one except he suggested picking one from the bottom and one from the top. Lately when I get to mount my favorite thing to do is go for an arm triangle (or head and arm choke if you prefer). As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of shoulder pressure which lends itself well to this submission. I have also recently learned an americana transition from here and have discovered that if I get rolled I still have the option to finish the arm triangle or go for an ezekiel (in gi at least).
Now I just had to think of a submission from bottom. I asked my coach if he had any idea what I should choose and he suggested I work triangles as mine are pretty tight. I will humbly admit that I can throw on a nasty triangle. This is contingent of course on my partner giving me their arm and not trying at all to resist as I lock up the triangle. I said as much to him and he showed me some setups and suggested I work them while rolling in the coming weeks.
This weekend I got a lot of work in with my purple belt instructor and he helped me drill wristlocks. As a fairly new blue belt, I have not had a lot of experience with going for wristlocks which is why I dismissed them as my go to submission when he suggested it. I rolled with him a long time before class this morning and tried to work those triangle setups with minimal success. If I did get into a triangle position he would defend it (I hate when people do that). I feel like I can work armbars and omoplatas off of it though so I don’t want to give up on triangles yet but I want to be able to finish a submission now!
After having minimal success with the triangles I started thinking about the wristlocks he showed me. At one point I was in technical mount and about to swing around for an armbar when I noticed his arm was in perfect position for a wristlock. I went for it. I didn’t finish but it surprised him so much that he even admitted after that he went right to muscle mode to escape it and he told me at the time that I had almost got him. I kept going for them throughout our various rolls and had much the same experience, I almost got them but he managed to just escape.
If I am almost catching a purple belt after one day of trying I figure there is something to this wristlock thing. So I am going to make an effort to go for them as I roll from now on. Well except I guess I can’t with white belts. Can I? They have to learn sometime…
I am excited to possibly have a submission to make my own. I hope to have a running tally of people I submit via wristlock very soon 🙂