The Almighty Armdrag

The arm drag is one of the simplest and most effective techniques ever employed in grappling. It doesn’t take more than a few videos of watching Marcelo Garcia to realize this. Due to this, every great grappler wants to improve and enhance this technique. It only takes a few tournaments however to realize hitting one in a live competition is far more complicated. Especially when every opponent violently pulls back any time you get a hold of their arm. On the other hand, Marcelo isn’t most wrestlers’ first introduction to the arm drag. In fact, in the early 1900s wrestlers from the U.S.S.R. perfected the use of the arm drag as both a single technique and most often to set up a shot. I’ve even compiled some of this footage into my analysis and juxtaposition of wrestling and BJJ’s use of the technique:

In its most basic form, the same side wrist is blocked and in the words of Mr. Miyagi “waxed off” in an effort to feed the opponents hand through. The tricep is then grasped firmly and pulled, while one moves their body towards their opponent. This often results in your opponent quickly pulling their arm back. This opens up a perfect single leg. The perfect single leg is for another post.

So you’ve tried the arm drag and it doesn’t work.

Let’s see what the experts do differently. Wrestlers use simple techniques and explosive movements but what many other grapplers do not see are the nuances or set ups. For example, wrestlers who use the technique effectively often drag the non dominant arm. In most individuals this is the left arm. Using the common method of dragging with the opposite side arm as the arm you’re dragging, this means pulling with your left arm. Most people are right handed and implementing the technique with the left arm takes a great number of reps. Another important aspect of wrestlers successfully dragging the arm involves circling towards the opponents arm they want to drag. The arm drag is almost never used as a first move. Often times wrestlers will set up the drag using other techniques such as a 2 on 1 on the opposite arm or same side arm to be dragged. While the opponent addresses the 2 on 1, the drag can then be initiated. A few individuals will even fake ankle picks to bring their opponents center mass lower and therefore more easily pulled upon. Lastly, as seen in Lincoln McIIravy’s  (one of the best wrestlers of all time-if you don’t know him look him up) 3rd NCAA title championship match, sliding inward allows maximum force to be applied to your opponents arm including your weight and the associated inertia. Pay attention to the fact that Lincoln drags the same arm as he has the 2 on 1 on, something he calls a low arm drag. This of course, takes complete commitment.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners have found equal success using the technique with similar nuances. They’ve also found success in using the techniques from not only a standing but seated position. In fact, almost all high level black belts have a great arm drag in their repertoire. Set ups and positioning are still of upmost importance. When his opponent is kneeling, Marcelo traps the arm, lifts the butt to generate as much force as possible and jumps into seatbelt as quickly as possible. Also opponent kneeling, Rafael Mendes takes advantage of the fact that his opponent is grasping his ankle. Then he explodes forward coming to stand or almost fly through the air. Complete commitment, set up, and timing are all of upmost importance to finishing the drag, as is his opponents kneeling position. Often times a strong drag will cause your opponent to sit guard and concede the sweep rather than expose their back. Other times it can be used as a transition to standing and directly into a takedown as Dean Lister uses. When your opponent is not kneeling or crouched in some similar configuration, finishing the drag is often challenging as the distance between you and your opponent is too great. This can be seen in Andre Galvao’s ultimate absolute match against Rustam Chsiev.

Standing arm drags in BJJ are similar to those seen in wrestling. The set ups are similar and good for exposing single legs. Many times the arm drag is further enhanced by adding an inside leg trip to the same side that is being dragged. Pablo Popovitch is famous for this technique and Lincoln McIIravy calls this dragging with the leg.

Maria Szkvarunets also uses the technique to set up her belly down armbar. If you’ve never seen a female tap guys in grappling matches, check her out.

The arm drag can also be used in the gi. Marcelo even claims that his transition to arm drag in no gi was quite easy as his gi game was largely based upon the 2 on 1. Grip breaking is an absolute necessity if one is trying to drag in a similar format to no gi, as shown by Ryan Hall. However, the 2 on 1 is far higher percentage. Jordan Schlutz often implements this technique from the closed guard. The drag is further optimized with as much leverage as possible in what MGINACTION has popularized as cross arm and belt control. This nearly guarantees the arm drag, shown implemented in the highlight by the brown belt Master’s World’s champion John Piper.

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