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Chapter 2: Arm Drag

The armbar is a great starting point for discussing 3-D Jiu-Jitsu because it’s a simple submission that any grappler, even very new ones, can understand. You can see how using your bones instead of your muscles strengthens your technique. You can see how it’s easier to trick your opponent into moving for you and then moving around him than it is to force his limbs into position where you want them. We also looked at the rewind principle and the way that thinking 3-dimensionally can help you to form an efficient web of techniques, creating a familiar funnel for you to push opponents into.

But the armbar, because it’s such a basic technique, can make 3-D Jiu-Jitsu seem a bit underwhelming, so let’s look at an application that’s much more fun: the arm drag.


Greater grapplers than I have written about the arm drag. Marcelo Garcia—the undisputed king of the arm drag—dedicated a significant portion of his book, Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques, to the technique. My intention is not to cover the same ground that other, better, instructors have already detailed. Instead, I want to explore the arm drag as a concept, going a bit more abstract than the usual instructional might.

The Path to the Back

In the simplest terms possible, one obstacle blocks you from taking the back: one of your opponent’s arms, in the form of an underhook or an overhook. If your opponent neglects to keep his arm in the way, you would slip right to his back, and this is why taking the back of new or inexperienced grapplers feels effortless. They don’t know to block that path.

It doesn’t take long for grapplers to learn to keep the path to the back blocked, so the game becomes finding ways to trick or force your opponent to leave that route unprotected. The arm drag has become a popular tool for making this transition happen because of its simplicity and speed. Since most grapplers understand the basic idea of an arm drag, we can use it as a tool for exploring taking the back on a more conceptual level. We’ll cover the technical details shortly, but the arm drag essentially repositions your opponent’s arm just enough so that you can swing around into back mount.

Virtually every back take scenario, with the exception of the more esoteric back taking techniques like the berimbolo, starts with your opponent’s arm repositioned as though it has just been arm dragged. This is a topic that I could wax on poetically about for much longer than a chapter, but hopefully this brief insight will give the foundation to explore this topic more deeply on your own.

Key Principles

  1. Despite its name, the arm drag is less of a drag and more of a subtle redirection of your opponent’s arm. If you insist on dragging your opponent around, you will miss out on the power of the arm drag.
  2. Move into your opponent when you execute the arm drag. Do not pull away.
  3. The arm drag is an effective threat for setting up sweeps and takedowns, so be ready to follow-up your attempt with another attack.