Juji Gatame Variations

Ude hishigi juji gatame – the cross-body armlock – has two major configurations in judo. In the first, one leg is over the head and the other behind the back. This is the one that Catch refers to as the “Japanese armbar”. It’s the first one I learned as being the “traditional” way to do it in judo. The second configuration is one leg over the head and the other over the body. I’m pretty sure this is the default in BJJ.

Neil Ohlenkamp demonstrates these two variations in his JudoInfo article on the technique.

The first configuration is generally more applicable in a context where you’ve just thrown uke, especially with an arm or hip throw that places them in front of you in an almost knee-on-belly position already. It’s also good from knee-on-belly for the same reason. It’s faster from here because you don’t need to get the leg over the body. However, if you’re doing this variation you want to be off to a 45 degree angle from their body instead of perpendicular to them. You should actually use the foot behind their back to push slightly and the one on their head should be biting in to make that angle as it lifts their shoulder up, reducing the amount of give and preventing them from being able to sit up into you as an escape. Pointing the thumb toward their hips (as opposed to straight up or towards their head) helps prevent a Hitchhiker escape and will tighten the lock. Some people like to hook into the armpit with the foot over the head. The big reason is that it prevents the escape where they just push the leg over their head. I’m not personally a huge fan of that and as Mike had noted the other night at class being on the head helps keep more pressure in the position. It’s nice for a transition to reverse sankaku though.

The second configuration is better from mount or closed guard because you don’t need to clear the leg to the other side of the body, and in my experience, is probably the better control position. The Spider Web from here is often easier for me, but it’s also a nice position to set up a bicep crush or jigoku jime (which has apparently been renamed to “Hebrew Necktie” by 10th Planet when done for no gi? This is an old technique, the no gi variation was up on LapelChoke back when that was around). I’ve always been taught for this configuration to point the thumb straight up to the ceiling. Switching to sankaku here, I’ll thread the leg that’s over the body through the arms and over the shoulder. Almost everyone sits up thinking that I’ve given them the escape, but really I just had a hard time breaking their grips and decided a triangle would be easier. You can switch the legs (threading the leg near their head through their arms) for the same reverse sankaku you got from the first configuration, but again, it’s more work than threading the body leg.

So, the big differences? When you use it (KoB vs mount), what angle you want (45 vs 90), and the hand rotation (toward belt vs straight up). Everything else is situational so it’s not as clear cut. You can always throw your leg over the body one way or the other to swap between them as you need too.

On Kesa

How I learned kesa gatame in judo is almost identical to how Steven Koepfer shows it. Both legs straight – one at nine o’clock and one at twelve o’clock so that you have dispersed weight and a bolster to stop bridging in either direction or being able to get leverage to take you backwards. Mike was showing for no gi a variation that looks more similar to how Joel Bane demonstrates – one jack leg, one drive leg. However, we were still doing head-and-arm, not kuzure kesa.

Mike’s variation is a tremendous amount of pressure. If you’re not used to being pinned by bigger guys, if you don’t know how to control your breathing a bit, before he even pulls up on the head for the added leverage into the chest you may feel the need to tap just from chest pressure. Using one leg to drive in and one leg to lift your hips off of the ground makes that pressure. However, doing so means that both legs are pushing your body backwards. Without the gi, that doesn’t really mean anything. It just means you’re getting free pressure. They’d have to get the far (non-trapped) arm in front of your face/body to push you backwards in no gi. With the gi, it means they can grab the lapel and do the sit-up escape.

Building pressure with the variation I’m used to necessitates a strong pull on the arm and sinking your hips forward. Your hips should still be off the ground, but subtly low; the lower they are, the most weight uke is holding. Winding in and driving your hips forward still won’t generate as much pressure as the jack/drive system from the other though.

Typically, what we do in no gi is equally valid in gi, but not vice-versa. An armbar, a choke, even a shot you would use in no gi can be used in gi with minimal modification. But a lapel choke, a sleeve throw, or a grip relying on the jacket won’t work in no gi. In this case, the gi version works in both contexts; it’s just potentially suboptimal in no gi given that there’s a better way to generate force there.

Judo Mat Culture

My training partners aren’t paid to show up and train with me. When they lend me their anatomy to practice grappling on, they do so with the trust that I’m going to be careful. I trust them to do the same. Each person has the right to refuse any training partner. Someone who injures others due to recklessness, ineptitude, or intent runs the risk of having everyone refuse to be their training partner. Even if it’s accidental, if you break all of your toys you won’t have anything left to play with.

Judo, at least as I have experienced it, has that mentality of taking care of your uke. If I’m applying a technique and my partner gets hurt, it’s my fault. If they didn’t tap before I applied enough pressure to cause an injury it could be any number of reasons – they didn’t recognize they were in a submission, I didn’t give them a chance to tap, my control/angle was bad so I had to crank it when they felt safe – but I should have had enough control to release the submission before damage was done. It doesn’t matter if it’s drilling or randori. I used to be told something along the lines of “any asshole can hurt someone by using a ton of force. Grappling lets you control not only when, but how and to what extent, if at all, the person you’re working with will be hurt.”

Every time that I have caused an injury to a training partner it has been unintentional and I have felt responsibility to help, as well as to be more careful in that situation. A lot of stuff happens when someone is injured. They’re probably pretty angry, understandably so, at you, at themselves, at the pain in general. They might not want you around, but it’s my opinion that you should still make sure they’re okay, offer any help/supplies you can – including escorting them to urgent care or the emergency room as necessary. The group that I do judo with is phenomenal about this. It’s hard to stay angry at someone or question if it was an accident when they show earnest concern. When they step off the mat and don’t go back to practice until they’re positive that you’re going to be alright. I’ve seen a fair number of injuries over the last nine years. I have seen individuals who others will refuse to work with. I have not once seen a situation where someone took responsibility and tried to help and was spurned for doing so after the dust settled.

I haven’t really seen these practices in BJJ, at least not widespread. For some reason “he should have tapped” is an acceptable answer to someone getting injured, even in recreational clubs. As noted above, you won’t always have the chance to tap – your partner might crank, they might recklessly apply force in a position where you’re not yet able to tap, you might not recognize the danger. To be blunt, I don’t think there’s any place for “he should have tapped” in a recreational club. If you’re in a competition environment, somewhere that you’re training for fights and prize money, train as you see fit; but the club that’s simply training for fun, I can’t imagine such circumstances are acceptable.

That’s not to paint everyone in BJJ with the same brush, there are a few really awesome individuals who I’ve met and have the mentality of safety and wanting to take care of their partners. The guys who when you get injured, even if they weren’t the one working with you they’ll come off the mat to help you and at least make sure you’re okay. Those are the guys I want to work with. That’s the kind of mat culture I’d want to see cultivated.

Japanese Technique Names & BJJ

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uses a weird hodgepodge of naming conventions. Some are Japanese (ashi garami, kesa gatame). Some are the English translations of Japanese (triangle choke, rear naked choke).  Some are Portuguese (Omoplata). Some are the names as they were when taken from Catch (toe hold, figure-four). Some are named after the people who became famous using them or popularized them (Kimura, Estima Lock). Some are just completely renamed to specific situations (stoner control).

In judo, there are two names – the Japanese name and the rough English translation (or I guess, the rough local translation since I’m sure other countries have non-English names for them). You might see some odd positions that get a term from Catch or somewhere else because they’re introduced (or reintroduced) via another art, but those are pretty rare, and they usually get a Japanese name reverse engineered for them anyway (double-leg became morote gari = “two-handed reap”).

So, without speaking any actual Japanese, let’s look at some component terms used in a technique name:

Size qualifiers

  • O – big, major
  • Ko – small, minor

Location/Direction qualifiers

  • Uchi – inside
  • Soto – outside
  • Mae – front
  • Ushiro – behind
  • Yoko – side
  • Gyaku – backward, reverse

Actions

  • Gari – reap (like a scythe)
  • Gake – hook, clip
  • Barai/harai – sweep
  • Gatame – crush, bar, pin
  • Garami – entangle, wrap
  • Jime/shime – choke, strangle
  • Nage – throw
  • Guruma – wheel

Body parts & Clothing

  • Eri – collar
  • Kata – shoulder (different from when we use it for “forms” like Nage No Kata)
  • Ude – arm
  • Te – hand, arm
  • Sode – sleeve
  • Do – trunk
  • Mune – chest
  • Hara – stomach
  • Koshi/goshi – hips
  • Ashi – leg, foot
  • Hiza – knee

There’s some more, but that covers most of the things you’ll run into well enough for you to figure the rest out. There are some exceptions where metaphors are used (yama arashi – “mountain storm”), but generally it’s just combining those words/terms to describe the action that’s happening.

So, a technique like ude hishigi te gatame, broken down is going to be something like “arm hold hand bar” – cleaned up a bit, “hand-holding arm lock”. Pretty much all straight armbars are going to be named ude gatame with some qualifiers in the middle. Because judo just does elbow locks sometimes the name is parsed down to just a qualifier and an action. A couple examples are ude hishigi juji gatame (cross-body armlock) and ude hishigi hiza gatame (knee armbar) which are generally shortened to juji gatame and hiza gatame respectively. Likewise, ude garami is arm entanglements – so Americana, Kimura, Omoplata are all ude garami with some qualifiers.

This also holds for throws too. Osoto gari – “major outside reap” – often shortened to “Osoto“. O goshi – “major hip [throw]”. Sode tsurikomi goshi – “sleeve lifting, pulling hip [throw]”. All just combining body parts, actions, and directional qualifiers. And pins? Kata gatame – “shoulder hold”. Yoko shiho gatame – “side four-corners pin” (side control). Nifty.

Japanese terms are used sort of loosely in this way – consider the fact that ude gatame means any of a bunch of different arm locks – but in BJJ we tend to use very specific names for very specific situations. When someone says “triangle” they generally mean a very traditional triangle choke from guard, but it’s equally valid for them to use this term to refer to a head-and-arm triangle like a D’Arce/Brabo or Anaconda choke.

So here’s the thing – technique names in judo are universal. If I go to any club in the world and want to show a standard armbar from guard I can say “ude hishigi juji gatame” and everyone in the room who’s familiar with the technique will know what I’m going to show. There are some minor variations, but everyone knows that I’d be showing a cross-body armlock of some kind. I wouldn’t be showing the technique for someone to go “Oh! You mean [y]!”

Technique names in BJJ are not. Even worse, techniques which are being rediscovered from multiple sources are getting a bunch of different names. What Renzo’s team calls a leg position will be different from what a 10th Planet guy will call it and that in turn is different from what someone from a Sambo background will call it. If you came to me and said “I want to learn unfair 50-50” I might know what you’re talking about, but chances are I’d need you to show me what the hell you meant. Grappling is universal, but the language for it is not.

Does this matter? Probably not. I mean, it might. You should definitely have a standard set of terms if you’re talking to someone in your gym, and it helps to have a standard set of terms when discussing with other people in your field so that you can all be on the same page. It’s a bitch and a half to try to find something on the internet if most of the world calls it a fork but you learned it as a “dinglehopper”. But it’s not like we’re building a rocket or anything that’s going to blow up if there’s a misunderstanding about the conversion between “reverse scarf hold” and “twister side control”.

If nothing else, it’s kind of cool to see that the naming differences are pretty telling of when, where, and by whom a given technique was introduced or popularized because the name (and how standard that name is) will reflect those things. Arm locks and chokes have pretty standard names. Uncommon pinning positions have a couple names, but most people know all of them. Leg locks are complete linguistic spaghetti right now.

Imposter Syndrome, Entitlement, and Curricula

Imposter syndrome is how you don’t feel like an expert in a field in which you really are a relative expert. Maybe you’re surrounded by people who are so much better than you, or you’re at that point where you’re aware of what you don’t know, or you have this vision in your head of what someone with a given title should be. You question your belt because others with the same belt are doing better, or you feel like you should be able to do that sweep, or you have this mental model that someone of the next rank should be able to handle any situation. When someone says they don’t feel like they deserve their belt or they don’t deserve the promotion they’re up for, it’s usually this phenomenon. They’re fully qualified, but they don’t feel like they are.

Pretty much the opposite is entitlement. Someone who feels that they deserve something, that they are entitled to something. Maybe it’s because they’re surrounded by people who they can tap, maybe they can do some techniques more smoothly than others, maybe they have this model of themselves that’s greater than their actual skill. Maybe they’re right and they really do deserve the thing.

I was an entitled shit as a whitebelt. I always felt like I deserved another stripe or to have my blue belt. I was so confident in my abilities despite getting so easily destroyed by purple belts. Of course, purple belts are gods. They know grappling inside and out and so well that they should be able to beat me. They’re advanced, but certainly I’m intermediate, right?

As a blue belt I felt confident, but like I was always learning – pretty much until it got to the point where I was getting ready for my purple belt test. I was nervous. The test got moved up by almost a month. I spent two weeks going to as much judo, wrestling, and BJJ as I could and tried to roll as much as possible to make sure I had practiced everything I was going to have to do. I probably over prepared. I had in my head that purple belts needed to know and be able to show all of the details. I was super happy with how I did on the test, and having the purple belt felt like recognition.

Fast forward a bit over two years. I have one stripe. I know which positions I suck from and where I keep getting caught, but I don’t know what I need to work on or where I’m supposed to be trying to go. There’s no curriculum. Gains in skill are much harder to come by. I took my shitty leg lock game (that I thought was awesome) and made it okay; I can’t get better without teaching more people how to defend leg locks because what I do now just works (though I know it could be better with the right practice). Passing is slowly improving, but only a couple of guys have really good open guard games for me to test it on and they’re highly sought after rolling partners so I get to roll with them maybe once a month. Guard is… odd. I still find myself trying to just get to the top rather than trying to submit from the guard. Maybe that’s not a problem, but I should have enough dominance as a purple belt to setup an armbar from guard at will, right? I shouldn’t feel like I have to do a sweep instead. But repping feels natural and I don’t have problems when the moment arises – when someone gives their arm.

I have no idea how to get to brown belt, what I need to do, what “ready” would even mean. I just know that I don’t feel ready. I know that I want to be able to go to a tournament and at least win two matches. I don’t know why. It’s kind of an arbitrary number. You have to lose two matches to be out of the double-elimination bracket, so if I win two, then I’m breaking even? Like, if you’re not at least at 50% of the skill of those at your rank, you can’t go to the next one? In reality I know some guys who are really good and never competed, so maybe that doesn’t even matter and it’s just my arbitrary reference point to make myself feel better. I’m going to keep blaming my ankle and my shoulder because they’ll keep hurting and I don’t know if I’ll ever really feel up to competing again anyway. I’ve already counted judo out aside from refereeing. This is just ranting now…

Training For LEOs

Disclaimer

I’m not a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). This perspective is based on my limited knowledge about the situations LEOs and similar find themselves in and the training I have done. Your experiences may vary. There are individuals who are far more qualified to speak to this subject than myself, so if interested I’d advise reaching out to them.

It has become a popular topic as of late about if LEOs should be required to train in grappling (especially BJJ). What follows is a discussion around the considerations of circumstance for LEOs working in the United States, the cost of training, and an understanding of the limitations.

Continue reading