A One-Armed Guide to Jiu-Jitsu: Part 1

Aaron with Richmond BJJ head instructor Eric Burdo

Aaron Lapointe, Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt

Recently I wrote an article titled “Overcoming your Limitations with Jiu-Jitsu.” In that article I discussed how it’s possible to succeed in jiu-jitsu despite having a physical disability, in my case one functioning arm. In this two-part article, I’ll talk specifically about the techniques, concepts, and strategies I’ve found to be most effective for me during my 16 years of training. Part 1 will focus on fundamentals, guard work, and sweeps, while Part 2 will focus on takedowns, submissions, and immobilizations. Fortunately, you don’t need to have an arm, shoulder, or wrist injury to get something out of these write-ups. In fact, much of what I’ll be talking about is probably similar to things that you’re already doing. Keep in mind that I don’t claim to know the best way to do something with one arm, nor do I believe that the moves I have incorporated into my game are the only feasible options. They are simply the product of my own personal experiences and training. Find another BJJ practitioner who can only use one arm and he or she will inevitably have a game that is different than mine. That’s the beauty of jiu-jitsu. One size rarely, if ever, fits all.

Fundamentals

As you can probably imagine, fundaments are imperative when you roll with one arm. Without a doubt the most important aspect of my game is lateral hip movement. Those hip escapes, shrimping, and snake movements you learned the first day of class are the crux of my jiu-jitsu.  Not only do these movements help keep people’s weight off of you, but they open the door for escapes, sweeps, and submissions. Sometimes a hip movement as small as an inch or two is all you need. Other times you want to create as much space as possible. Because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have an effective guard without having skillful hip movement, I’ve made a conscious effort to practice my hip escapes almost every training session for as long as I can remember.

Guard work

You’ll quickly notice that in order to have a good guard with one arm you need to involve your legs and feet more than you’re probably accustomed to. Because my feet are so active, I rarely spend much time in the traditional closed guard with my ankles crossed unless I am trying to rest or slow down my opponent. Instead, I prefer to keep my guard open so I can use my hooks (i.e., insteps), heels, and knees to create space, prevent the person from passing my guard, and set up my sweeps and submissions. Against heavier people I often play an open guard with one foot on the hip of the arm I’m controlling and the other foot on the shoulder or bicep of that person’s free arm.  Not only does a foot on the hip prevent your partner from smashing you with his or her weight, but it creates ample space for you to stand up or get to your knees if necessary. Oftentimes, a person will try and close the gap you’ve created, and when he or she does, you can use that forward momentum to your advantage to sweep or submit. Another benefit of having a foot on the hip is that it makes it easier for you to move your own hips, similar as to how you use the ground to push off of when you lift your hips up or perform a shrimping motion.

 

Sweeps

The three sweeps I’ve had the most success with over the years are the scissor sweep, push-pull sweep, and elevator hook sweep. At the 2003 Gracie Nationals I used the first two sweeps to beat an opponent who outweighed me by close to100 pounds. When executing the scissor sweep I like to control my partner’s sleeve or elbow and position my right knee diagonally across my partner’s chest. Not only does the knee help keep my partner’s weight off of me, but it is perfectly positioned for the scissor sweep should I chose to use it. The moment I feel my partner is slightly off base I give the arm a quick jerk, drop the knee slightly, and scissor my legs.

I really like the push-pull sweep, sometimes called the tripod sweep, because it works very well against a much heavier opponent. Unlike some sweeps, the effectiveness of the push-pull sweep is much more dependent on the person’s base, or lack of base, than his or her weight. When somebody stands up in my guard I often look to place my left foot on the hip and grab the same side ankle. Being able to move your head and hips to the side is an important detail here since the ankle is not always within reach if you stay facing your partner. Once I’ve secured the ankle I start to push on my partner’s hip so he or she steps back with the other leg. When my partner steps back, I square up my hips, shrimp forward, and hook behind my partner’s knee with my right instep. If necessary, I give the hip an extra jolt. Since this is a backward sweep, I like to have my partner moving backward before inserting the hook so I can take advantage of his or her momentum.

For my elevator hook sweep, I generally control my partner’s right arm and sweep to my left, sometimes pulling my partner on top of me before falling to my side. Occasionally, I start to elevate my partner with my hook before I’ve controlled the arm. Not surprisingly, this is a great sweep to use when your partner moves forward recklessly and does not have a good base.

Another sweep that I use quite frequently is the omoplata sweep. You can see me demonstrate the setups to this sweep in the following video clip.

 

This concludes Part 1 of this article. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I talk about my favorite one-armed takedowns, submissions, and immobilizations.

 

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