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What is an Armbar?

By Brad Cole
Updated May 23, 2024
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An armbar is a type of martial arts technique that primarily hyperextends an opponent’s elbow. In sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and shoot wrestling, the technique is applied with just enough pressure to cause discomfort, then slowly increased in intensity until the opponent submits. Because of this, it is considered a submission technique. Combat disciplines like Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the U.S. Army’s Modern Army Combatives system also use the technique to debilitate opponents in life-or-death situations.

An armbar is most often applied in a specific way. The opponent’s arm is placed between an attacker’s legs with the palm facing away from the attacker. The arm is held in place against the attacker’s body near the wrist. The arm is then pulled down against the attacker’s body and straightened, and the attacker’s hips are thrust forward against the opponent’s arm and elbow. This position puts significant strain on the elbow joint and the bones of the arm, and can eventually result in hyperextension or broken bones. The attacker’s feet and legs may be placed over the opponent’s chest for additional hold and leverage.

The armbar is a very hard technique to counter. The primary defense to the armbar is to keep the elbow bent and pull the arm being attacked down/out from between the opponent’s legs before the submission can be fully applied. Grabbing the arm being attacked with both hands can slow the application of the technique, but can usually be overcome with time. Once the technique is applied, mixed martial artists often attempt to slam the person applying the submission into the mat and compress them before the armbar can be fully extended. In competitions such as submission grappling tournaments where slamming is not allowed, defenders will often attempt to roll themselves over so that the point of their elbow is away from the attacker’s body, allowing the elbow to bend properly when pressure is applied.

One of the most famous armbars in mixed martial arts occurred at UFC® 48 on 19 June 2004. In the heavyweight title match between Tim Sylvia and Frank Mir, Mir put Sylvia into an armbar. Sylvia resisted, attempted to escape, and ended up getting his arm broken when the hold was tightened. Though most viewers did not see the initial break, slow-motion replay showed Sylvia’s arm buckling and then arching as bone broke.

The armbar is known by many different names. In judo, it is called juji gatame; in wrestling, the armbreaker. Versions in which the attacker jumps onto the opponent and applies the technique partially in the air are called flying armbars. Armbars are also considered a type of arm lock, and are sometimes just called by that name.

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Discussion Comments
By anon277650 — On Jul 01, 2012

You forgot about Judo and Jiujitsu! Also you can find images of Savateurs using it in the "old school" style. Since the armbar used in Savate is different I know it's not of Japanese origin like some people think. There are many combat disciplines that had and have the armbar incorporated.

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