The Science Of BJJ Submissions: Understanding The Mechanics Behind Effective Holds

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emerged victorious a few decades ago when mixed martial arts allowed martial artists trained in different styles to compete against each other to determine which style reigns supreme. The early days of MMA were a clean sweep for BJJ as it was established as the best style for one-on-one combat, thanks to the success of ambassadors like Royce Gracie.

A derivative of traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, many BJJ techniques might look simple at first glance. However, a complex interplay of human anatomy, biomechanics, and physics lies below the surface of every submission, pass, and sweep.

“Jiu-Jitsu” translates to the gentle art in English, and BJJ was explicitly developed to allow smaller fighters to defeat larger, stronger opponents. BJJ practitioners don’t rely on brute strength to defeat their opponents; instead, they use leverage to attack weak points in their bodies. Mastering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu requires you to understand the science behind each technique so you can perform them safely and efficiently. This article will explore the science behind some of the most used submissions in BJJ.


Understanding The Science Behind Popular Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Submissions And Techniques

Many BJJ techniques heavily rely on the principle of leverage from physics, where the limbs are the levers, while the joints are the fulcrums. Applying force to weak points on an opponent’s body while using their limbs as levers is the key to pulling off joint locks. Using your opponent’s limbs as levers lets you finish submissions without much force.

Techniques like armbars exploit limitations in our joints’ range of motion. Move someone’s joints to their limitations, and they’ll be forced to tap or risk significant discomfort or worse.

Some of the ways BJJ practitioners use leverage and their understanding of human anatomy to subdue opponents include:


1) Limiting Airflow With Chokes

Many of the choking techniques used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, like the rear-naked choke, compress the carotid arteries to restrict blood flow to the brain, leading to a rapid loss of consciousness. The carotid arteries are a pair of arteries that supply the brain with oxygenated blood. They run alongside each side of the neck, and compressing them can slow blood flow into the brain down to a trickle. Understanding the role of these arteries allows BJJ practitioners to apply chokes safely and effectively.

The carotid artery’s role in keeping the brain supplied with blood and oxygen is what makes many of the chokes used in BJJ so effective. It doesn’t matter how much bigger or stronger your opponent is when you can prevent their brain from getting what they need to remain conscious.

The rear-naked choke is arguably the most powerful choke used in BJJ because of how effective it is, not just on humans but on other mammals as well. The technique is called “mata leao” in Brazil, which means lion killer in English. And yes, the technique would put a lion to sleep if you managed to get your hands around its neck without being mauled to bits.


2) Putting Pressure On Joints With Joint Locks

The idea behind many joint locks used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, like armbars, is to push an opponent’s joints beyond its natural range of motion. The technique involves controlling one of your opponent’s arms while using your legs and hips to isolate their upper arm. Hence, their elbow becomes a fulcrum as you put downward pressure on their arm to get their elbow joint to move in the opposite direction of its natural range of motion.

The armbar also stretches out parts of the forearms and biceps, making the submission even more uncomfortable.


3) Manipulating Opponents With Their Center Of Gravity

Many techniques used in BJJ also exploit opponents’ balance and center of gravity. For example, many sweeps used in BJJ involves disrupting an opponent’s balance, also known as kuzushi, which makes it easier to manipulate their bodies in the desired direction.

For example, the basic bridge and roll used to reverse the bottom mount position to top guard involves bridging your hips off the floor to disrupt your opponent’s balance and raise their center of gravity. The arm closest to the direction you intend to drive the opponent is typically trapped to prevent them from using their arms as a base.

Savvy BJJ players often follow up sweeps and reversals with submissions since there’s a brief window where opponents look to regain their bearings, leaving them vulnerable to follow-up techniques.


4) Optimizing Movements With An Understanding Of Anatomy

One of the reasons why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has emerged as one of the most dominant martial arts around is how students are taught to use their muscles in the most efficient manner possible. Techniques like shrimping leverage muscles in the legs, core, and hips to generate movement and power, allowing BJJ players to escape disadvantageous positions.

A solid understanding of muscle mechanics and anatomy allows BJJ players to conserve energy and optimize movements during matches.


5) Grips

Grips are one of BJJ’s foundations for controlling an opponent’s body. Many techniques in BJJ start by using the proper grips that give you an advantage over opponents. For example, executing an Ezekiel choke requires you to establish grips on your opponent’s lapel. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to finish the choke.

Learning how to break an opponent’s grip is just as crucial in BJJ since opponents establishing the grips they want puts you in a disadvantageous position. For example, many takedowns performed from clinch positions require you to lock your arms around your opponent’s torso so you can manipulate their bodies to the ground. Break an opponent’s grip around you, and their odds of being able to take you down to the ground successfully are diminished significantly.


6) Ability To Adapt To Optimize Body Mechanics

A huge part of mastering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is adapting your style to suit your body type and your opponent’s. BJJ techniques can be modified to suit factors like joint mobility, flexibility, weight, and height.

For example, you might have difficulty pulling off triangle chokes if you have short, stubby legs. On the other hand, BJJ players with long legs would be wise to make the triangle choke one of their primary weapons.


BJJ Is More Scientific Than Meets The Eye

Every submission, sweep, and takedown used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu works off scientific principles like leverage and torque. Top gyms like Evolve MMA understand the importance of teaching students why each technique works instead of simply showing them how to perform the necessary movements.


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