Don’t you just love those tight and efficient submission holds that just spring out of nowhere? The Squirrel Lock is just such an attack and is sure to surprise almost everyone the first time you use it. This attack is essentially a kimura shoulder lock, but instead of using your arms to attack, it uses your legs instead! Keep reading to see how to add this sneak attack to your game.
Basics Of A Kimura
Before I attempt to talk about a crazy legs-only Kimura lock variation from bottom side control (which is basically what the Squirrel lock is) I need to explain a thing or two about shoulder locks and the Kimura BJJ submission.
The principles of the Kimura are the same as with any other arm or leg lock. Your goal is to apply pressure to a certain joint with your body, forcing it to bend, twist, or both in a direction opposite of its anatomical capabilities. The result is a tear of all the soft tissues in a joint (ligaments, joint capsule, cartilages, and if the pressure is strong enough, even tendons).
There is one really fundamental principle that allows us to “break” limbs in Jiu Jitsu. That is the principle of controlling the two neighboring joints in relation to the joint you are attacking – above and below. In the case of the Kimura, we are attacking the shoulder joint. That puts the elbow and the neck as the two neighboring joints on each side.
Just to clarify the point – when you are attacking the elbow with an armbar you will need to have control of your opponent’s wrist and shoulder. All joint locks rely on this principle.
In most cases, the Kimura grip (figure four configuration) locks the elbow in place. However, people often forget about the neck, and that allows their opponents to mount a Kimura defense and ultimately escape.
The way you break a shoulder is by twisting it. Since there is no real good way of simply gripping the shoulder and twisting, you have to use leverage in order to achieve a shoulder lock that can result in a catastrophic injury.
The Kimura mechanics involve control over the arm with a figure-four grip that provides you with a lever to rotate the shoulder. In simpler terms, you’re using the opponent’s own arm to twist the shoulder in the same way you would use a wrench to turn a screw.
A lever acts as a force multiplier which means by easily turning the forearm, you are applying several times the amount of force on the shoulder.
The Squirrel Lock Kimura Variation
The Squirrel lock is a submission I learned from a Roger Gracie black belt named Oliver Geddes and is at its core just a Kimura lock. The one notable difference is that for a Squirrel lock you are using your legs to entangle, control, and finish the shoulder lock instead of your arms.
From bottom side control (or North-South), your goal is to get a wrist grip with one of your arms. If it is a side control bottom, then you need to grab the wrist with your inside arm (the arm closest to their hips) since you’re going to be attacking their far side arm (their arm closest to your legs). The grip will help you get in the all-important knee, which makes everything work.
Your aim is to bend their arm at the elbow, so that you can sneak your near-side leg knee inside the crook of the opponent’s elbow. This provides direct elbow control and attaches you to your opponent, making it very difficult for them to posture up.
The next part is where things get tricky, at least until you’ve had a chance to get a few reps drilling the motion. You need to get your outside leg (the leg not currently controlling their arm) over your opponent’s upper arm. A good checkpoint is to touch the knee of the leg that is already inside the elbow with your other foot.
In essence, the top leg’s mission is to reach inside the elbow, hamstring on the upper arm, and use your flexed foot to hook the opponent’s wrist. Sounds weird, I know, but it is incredibly annoying and really difficult to get out of. As long as you lay on your side slightly, facing your opponent, you’ll have no issue reaching.
While this is enough to finish the submission against an inflexible or unskilled opponent, you still haven’t got good control of the neck yet. This is where your outside arm (the arm further away from their hips) comes into play. Your goal is to reach across their back with it, grabbing the wrist of the arm you have trapped with your leg.
Now you have a Squirrel lock ready to go.
To wrap up the Squirrel lock from the bottom, you need to force the opponent’s trapped arm to rotate. While you can achieve this with some success by extending the leg that has their arm wrapped, you’re much better off using your entire body.
To do this, shift your body so that it faces away from the opponent. This will open up space for your leg to extend all the way, easily creating breaking pressure on the shoulder.
Finishing from Top
What happens if your opponent has been caught in the Squirrel lock before, or has extremely flexible shoulders? Once your leg configuration is in place, there’s no backing away from the Squirrel lock. The top person can, however, roll forward.
Far from being a problem, this actually is a boon for you. First of all, you will end up on top, which is a pretty sweet deal given that you were in bottom side control to start with. Secondly, once on top, you still have the squirrel lock configuration in place.
From there, however, if you lift your hip, slightly off the mats, you now have a lot more range of motion for your leg. That just means more pressure on their shoulder.
A common thing that will happen when the top person is sick and tired of your Squirrel locks is that they will posture up lighting fast as soon as they notice you threading the legs in place. Congratulations, you just got a free side control escape without having to frame, hip escape, and do all the usual exhausting stuff from below.
Other Leg-Based Kimura Variations
The initial impression people have whenever I show them the Squirrel lock is that it is a low percentage, one-off move that might work on a rare occasion. The argument I use is to point out well-established Kimura submission holds we already do with the legs:
A staple of BJJ, the Omoplata is just another Kimura BJJ variation you do with your legs. Just picture where the arm goes during an Omoplata, and you’ll see that it is literally the same as a Kimura.
To be fair, the Omoplata is done from a different angle, with a different configuration, and set up from a guard position. The finishing pressure is applied by the entire body via the hips. However, it is a bit more difficult to set up than the Squirrel lock because it is well-known and has a few more steps and mechanical nuances to master.
You can learn everything about it in this article.
The Tarikoplata is another popular Kimura variation that utilizes the legs. In fact, it uses a combination of one arm and one, or even both of the legs, depending on whether you secure it from the top or bottom.
For a Tarikoplata, you are actually substituting the arm that usually grips the opponent’s wrist in a Kimura with one of your legs. The end result is a lot stronger torsion on the opponent’s arm, which results in more leverage.
Another variation of the Kimura, which is a lot like the Tarikoplata, just done with the other leg. From mount, you can hit a Barataplata by trapping a wrist, sneaking your arm underneath the same side forearm.
You then sit on the wrist, facing away from your opponent, their trapped arm in between your legs. Holding your own thigh with a deep hook (like in a Spider web armbar) ensures they can’t sneak their arm out. The finish comes via your hips once again.
Attacking from “Bad” Positions In BJJ
The success of the Squirrel lock, and its unfair exclusion from the same high rollers table as the Omoplata, Tarikoplata, and Barataplata is due to mindset more than mechanics. The traditional belief is that you should only attack from positions of control – and that attacks from disadvantaged positions are ‘bad form’ or ‘sloppy.’
However, I believe that developing a mindset to attack directly from “bad” positions will make you a lot better at submissions, as well as help you learn not to panic in bad positions and increase your likelihood of escape.
The Squirrel lock has had success even in high level competition, so is definitely a worthwhile addition to your game!
Be a Trapper Not a Hunter
This is a good piece of advice for going after submissions from anywhere. However, when you’re looking to pull off a submission from a “bad” position, it becomes a necessary mantra.
If, for example, you are actively hunting for the top person’s arm, trying to get your legs over as soon as possible, they won’t let you get to the squirrel lock position. Instead, you should be looking to lure them to give you the necessary space to set the submission up.
For me, I like to try and force the arm they have near my legs across my body. Overhooking it there opens up the ghost escape, which ends in a Darce choke from the bottom. I usually do this quite openly, so when they pull their arm to the other side of my body, my knee is waiting to trap their elbow for the Squirrel lock.
To add the Squirrel Lock to your arsenal, remember that it is just another armlock. You just need control of two adjacent joints prior to attempting a break. The fact that you’re using your strong legs against the much weaker arm is another thing working in your favor with this Kimura BJJ variation.
If you like sneaky attacks from the bottom, then be sure to check out our article on the Buggy Choke!
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.