What’s an Armbar?

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The armbar is a martial arts technique used to hyperextend an opponent’s elbow, often resulting in submission. It is difficult to counter, but defenders can keep their elbow bent and attempt to roll over. The technique is used in various combat disciplines and sports such as MMA and wrestling. It is also known by different names such as juji gatame and armbreaker. A famous example occurred in the UFC® 48 match between Tim Sylvia and Frank Mir, where Sylvia’s arm broke.

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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