Armbar Defense 101: How To Escape From Top And Bottom

Last updated on 20.12.2020 by

Getting caught in armbars left and right? It is time to brush up on your armbar defense. Since there’s no better place to start than the fundamentals of defending and escaping armbars, that is exactly what we will go over today. Every great defense begins with understanding the move you’re defending against first. You then need to know the direction in which you’re moving, which in Jiu Jitsu always starts with defending and then moves towards escaping. Finally, we’ll go over four armbar defense and escape maneuvers that will give you the most bang for your buck! 

Armbar Defense 101: What Should You Focus On? 

Well, the first thing would be, not ending up with a broken arm. The only 100% armbar defense, (after you’re caught) is to tap out. That’s when your arm’s integrity is in question, of course. Since this tap is exactly what we want to avoid in BJJ, there are ways to get out of armbars, but only if you understand how they work first. 

An armbar is a submission hold that targets the elbow joint. The hips of an opponent will push against your elbow, looking to force it in a direction it doesn’t anatomically bend to. At the same time, the opponent has to hold both your shoulder and your wrist tightly in place. If you manage to deny them any of these three things, you’ll be able to execute an armbar defense, and eventually, get out of the position to resume the roll or match. 

In terms of armbar defense, the general principles of defensive BJJ apply again – you can escape early, or late, not in the middle. Early escapes mean you won’t allow people to ever get to the armbar position, which is outside the scope of this article. Late defenses, when you’ve been caught in an armbar are what we’re interested in here today. That means that your arm is either fully extended or very close to being extended. It just so happens, the best armbar defense and escape options present themselves at precisely those moments. 

As I said before, the focus should be on either removing the pressure of ht hips from the elbow or releasing one endpoint of your arm (shoulder or wrist) so that you can get the arm out. These are the universal principles that will help you get out of both top and bottom position armbars, given that the mechanics of the submission are the same even though the positioning is vastly different. 

4 Proven Ways Of Escaping Top And Bottom Position Armbars

In the interest of full disclosure, there are plenty of different ways you can setup armbar defense and escape tactics. The following four are the ones we chose because they’ve been proven to work over and over again at all levels of Jiu Jitsu. We’ll start with defending an armbar when the person attacking you is on the bottom, seeing as that is a position where you often might end up when executing armbar escapes against top position attacks. 

The one main thing to remember when you’re practicing armbar defense is to be ready to tap at all times. Don’t practice escapes against people that will spaz and crank on your arms. Instead, carefully choose the partners that’ll help you figure out the finer details of the eclipses which you’ll then be able to apply against anyone, regardless of how fast or hard they come after your arms. 

Escape #1  The Stack

First up, the one armbar situation you’re bound to find yourself in quite often – people attacking from the guard. The armbar from the bottom will only work if they have your shoulder and wrist, though. In most cases, it is the wrist that is more difficult to extract, given the setups for bottom position armbars. This is where the stack armbar defense comes into play. 

The goal with it is simple – use the fact that your shoulder is unrestricted on one side to get the entire arm out. Before doing so, though, you’ll have to ensure your elbow is not in danger. Two main things help you accomplish it – first, grip the forearm of the arm under threat with your arm, bending the elbow as much as possible. Even the slightest bend will do the trick.

Secondly, you should aim to raise the opponent’s butt off the ground, and place a knee behind it. The aim is to wedge the hips off the ground so that there’s no pressure for your opponent to finish the armbar. That’s the defense part. For the escape, you simply wiggle your arm free, being vigilant not to turn your torso too much so that you open up triangle choke or Omoplata follow-ups. 

Escape #2 Pry Open The Legs

This is my favorite armbar escape, mostly because it really pisses people off. It has to do with top position armbar defense, given that anytime a person is attacking from the bottom you simply revert to the stack defense. From the top though, you can react before they extend your arm, or afterward. Prying the legs open happens somewhere in the middle. 

 This escape is actually really simple and very logical. Lookign at armbar defense first, if you have your arms tied together, there’s no way for an opponent to finish a straight armbar. I recommend a palm to palm grip here because it actually gives you the range of motion to pry the legs open. The best positioning of your arms is like a frame, with the free arm’s elbow tight to your ribs. 

This is the elbow that will help you lift the leg that’s over your chest. It acts an underhook really, creating just enough space to snake your leg around the opponent’s ankle. Once you have the legs open, it is easy to turn towards the opponent, getting your elbow to the ground. No more armbar! 


Escape #3 The Hitchhiker Escape

The hitchhiker is a very popular armbar escape, but it does come with a certain dose of risk. That’s what makes it both attractive to perform and highly effective, though. I just have to caution you that you’ll tap out to plenty of armbars while learning it and perfecting the finer aspects of this armbar defense maneuver.

Whenever people attack an armbar from the top, they’ll be looking to use their entire body against your arm. This means that with the correct angle, you can actually use the position to escape. Given that the hitchhiker is a very late armbar escape, teh defense, and escape parts blend together in this one. 

Once the arm is extended, you’ll have to use your legs to position your body as close to a straight line as possible in relation to your opponent. The extended arm acts as a pivot point, and turning it in place will get your body into place. The goal is to turn completely over on your belly, ending up on top with your arm safe from the submission threat. 

Escape #4 Roll-over

The roll-over is probably the riskiest defense of them all, given that you’ll be using two modes of armbar defense to get out. It still does come in handy though. You can set it up from different grip positions when defending top position armbars, but the rear-naked choke grip configuration works best. That’s when you grip your free arm’s biceps with the arm being attacked. The palm of your free arm should grab the opponent’s triceps. 

The maneuver will have you position your legs and hips to the outside, as far as possible. This will provide you with momentum for executing the escape. For the roll-over, you’ll need to swing both your legs so that they’re as close to the opponent as possible. From there, you can bridge to them, using the momentum to swing the legs over into a roll and end up on top.

 Note that you’ll end up in a stack defense situation most of the time, so be ready to apply it immediately after you roll, or the opponent might get shot at a bottom position armbar finish. 


Armbar defense can e a tricky thing, especially when facing armbar specialists. If you ask me, late escapes are gar more effective at beating top-level opponents than any of the other ones, but whatever works for you – use it. An interesting thing about the four different escape options above is that you can connect them together, virtually ensuring you’ll be able to mount the best possible defense against most armbars. Still, you’ll end up tapping to a few armbars here and there in your career. It’s the BJJ life.