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Chapter 1: Armbar

The armbar is where I first began to think about 3D Jiu-Jitsu, though I didn’t think to call it that at the time. As a smaller white belt grappler, I often found myself on my back, so I developed a love for the guard. I played a ton of closed guard and rode the rubber guard bandwagon for a few years—until my knees couldn’t take it anymore, that is. From the rubber guard system, which basically taught me to hunt high guard, I developed a love for the armbar and the spin under armbar.

In that battle, of learning to continue chasing the armbar as my opponent stacked and rolled and sat up and stacked and rolled, I developed an awareness for the finish angle. I found myself getting better and better at aligning the joint and applying the pressure needed to get the tap regardless of how my body was oriented. Even though I had initially learned an armbar from guard and an armbar from mount, sometimes I was finishing the armbar on my side or posting on my forehead or midair as my opponent tried to roll out.

I suspect that most grapplers experience a similar growth in their technical ability, but the point is this: I soon learned that an armbar was an armbar regardless of where my body was in relation to the mat. All that mattered was having the arm trapped between my legs with the pinky against my chest and my hips pressing into the back of the joint.

We’re starting with the armbar because that’s where my thinking started. Because the concept of an armbar is relatively easy to understand, it’s a great jumping off point for exploring 3-D Jiu-Jitsu and for illustrating the concepts that we just recently introduced.


As you work through each technique, notice how the armbar—with all of its counters, recounters, and branching transitions—converges on one common core position. No matter where you start the armbar, you end up in the same fight. If you learn to enter that fight from a variety of different positions, you can very quickly turn the direction of a match down a road that you’re very familiar with. You know the turns and the road blocks and the pot holes. You’ve taken the road so many times that you know what’s around the bend before you even start turning the wheel.

And each time you travel this road, you do it a little bit faster, shaving off of a second here and a fraction of a second there. If your opponent has taken this route half as many times as you, he will soon fall behind.

This efficiency is what makes any gameplan valuable. Taking the fight where you are most comfortable is common wisdom, but there is a gem hidden here that I missed for a long time. If we think about a position or technique 3-dimensionally, we can find a new degree of efficiency. When you realize that the armbar from mount and the armbar from guard are the same technique just oriented differently, your mind does not have to struggle with learning a new technique. You are simply learning to apply an old technique in a new way.


No matter where you are looking to attack the armbar from, it’s the same battle:

  1. Force his elbow in front of your hips.
  2. Create an angle.
  3. Dig your hips as close to his shoulders as possible.
  4. Use your legs to control his posture.
  5. Apply pressure on the joint.