What’s an Armbar?

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An armbar is a martial arts technique that hyperextends an opponent’s elbow, used in sports like MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It involves placing the opponent’s arm between the attacker’s legs and straightening it, causing strain on the elbow joint. The main defense is to keep the elbow bent and pull the attacking arm out. The technique is difficult to counter and can result in bone fractures. It is known by different names and was famously used in a UFC match where the opponent’s arm was broken.

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 wrestling, the technique is applied with enough pressure to cause discomfort, then slowly builds in intensity until the opponent submits. For this reason it is considered a submission technique. Combat disciplines such as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the US Army’s Modern Army Combatives system also use the technique to debilitate opponents in life-or-death situations.

An armbar is 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 drawn down against the attacker’s body and straightened, and the attacker’s hips are driven forward into the opponent’s arm and elbow. This position puts strain on the elbow joint and arm bones and can eventually result in hyperextension or bone fractures. The attacker’s feet and legs can be placed across the opponent’s chest for additional grip and leverage.

The armbar is a very difficult technique to counter. The main defense at the armbar is to keep the elbow bent and pull the attacking arm down/out from between the opponent’s legs before the submission can be fully applied. Grasping the attached arm with both hands can slow down the application of the technique, but can usually be overcome with time. Once the technique has been applied, mixed martial artists often attempt to slam the person applying the submission onto 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 over so that the tip of the 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 June 19, 2004. In the heavyweight title match between Tim Sylvia and Frank Mir, Mir put Sylvia in an armbar. Sylvia resisted, attempted to escape, and ended up breaking her arm when the grip was tightened. Although most viewers didn’t see the initial break, the slow motion replay showed Sylvia’s arm bending and then arching as his bone broke.

The armbar is known by many different names. In judo it is called juji gatame; in wrestling, the armbreaker. Versions where the attacker leaps 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 referred to by just that name.

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