If you’re a regular reader, you already know that my focus in the martial arts is primarily self-defense oriented. That being said, I do enjoy training skills that are more oriented towards competition, like ground grappling skills. Because so many people do it, I can’t afford ignore this phenomenon as a self-defense instructor. You have to learn what they do so you can better understand how to defend against it.
A visiting Shorinji Kan Shodan asked me for tips on improving his ability to complete a submission when doing ground grappling. I like these kinds of questions because it gives me the chance to focus on fine tuning the overall approach rather than just demonstrating the basic application. These days, anyone can piece together how to do submissions from the myriad submission grappling videos all over the Web, but this doesn’t teach you the finer points that helps you actually complete these moves against a live, resisting opponent. Ultimately, it all boils down to 3 basics.
1. Using Effective Body Control. It is almost always easier to complete a submission if you first establish body control. “Position before submission” is one of the golden rules of grappling for a reason. You use your body weight and position to establish the most control over your opponent’s body to minimize their ability to effectively use their body to defend. For example, if applying an Americana (or ude garami) from mount (or tate shiho gatame), you’ll have a better chance of applying the lock if you press your upper body weight into your opponent’s chest. This gives them less room and mobility, which are necessary for effective defense.
2. Knowing When to Speed Up or Slow Down. Timing is vital when applying submissions. When you have a dominant position and you’ve established good control, it sometimes makes more sense to slow things down to let your opponent struggle and tire him or herself out so that when you do go for the submission they’re too tired to mount an effective defense. If I end up on top, sometimes I’ll just coast there switching from side control (mune gatame) to scarf hold (kesa gatame) to reverse scarf (gyaku kesa gatame) to mount (tate shiho gatame). This gives me a chance to slow down and rest while my opponent expends his or her energy trying to get out from under me. That being said, if I get a prime opportunity to do a submission, I’ll speed up to quickly capitalize on the opportunity before my opponent realizes what’s going on. For safety purposes though, only speed up to get into the position but once you have the lock on, slow right down so your opponent has time to tap out.
3. Keeping Your Opponent Guessing. This is the hardest of the 3 concepts to develop. When setting up a submission, you want to hide your intentions from your opponent to the best of your ability. If you get into mount, for example, and immediately grab their wrist, most people will realize that there’s a good chance you’re going to go for an arm bar (or ude hishigi juji gatame) and as you drop into it, they’ll be more prepared to counter. There are ways to make it less obvious though. Instead of grabbing the wrist or sleeve, try hooking around the arm at the elbow and grabbing your own hip. This secures the arm in a less obvious way. To make the approach even sneakier, switch the opposite arm at the last second if you think they’re on to you. If I’m going for an americana from mount, drop your upper body weight into your opponent’s chest and start driving your shoulder into their neck. Make them think you’re setting up for some sort of choke or just make them uncomfortable so that they’re distracted. Then when they’re pre-occupied with that, go for the arm and apply your lock.
To be a truly great grappler, you have to develop ability to fake out your opponent then effectively capitalize on the resulting openings. Of course, everyone will develop different ways of doing this based on their body types and skill sets. That’s what makes it all so fascinating. Now I know that there are plenty of submission grapplers out there. While my book When the Fight Goes to the Ground
is primarily focused on self-defense applications on the ground, it also offers tips that are useful for submission grappling too, so check it out for more info. Please feel free to share your insights on this topic in the comments. 🙂