There are, fundamentally, two core ways of "locking" an arm. You either bend it over a fulcrum to cause pain or you straighten and stretch it over a fulcrum to cause pain. Juji Gatame is one of four primary armlocks that attack the elbow joint (as well as shoulder joint).
Juji Gatame, the cross-body armlock, has been the most consistently used joint lock for many years in a variety of combat sports and in many different applications of self-defense. Whether it's judo, sambo, jujitsu, submission grappling, BJJ, MMA or anything else, athletes and coaches use and respect this armlock. Historically, Juji Gatame was not widely popular until the sambo grapplers of the former Soviet Union began their innovations with armlocks and ground fighting in general. Other European judo athletes and coaches watched and learned what the Soviets were doing and quickly began an intense development of Juji Gatame as an offensive weapon.
When the Soviets burst onto the international judo scene in 1962 at the European Judo Union Championships and inelegantly took their opponents to the mat and made them submit with armlocks and other submission techniques not previously seen, the world of judo (and ultimately, the world of combat sports) changed forever. This was the first exposure to sambo seen by athletes and coaches of Western nations and the world at large. Sambo, the Soviet hybrid grappling sport, took a decidedly utilitarian approach to all phases of sport combat, and in this case, to armlocks.
Up to that point in history, no major judo champion on the international level had really developed his ground fighting skills to the point that Juji Gatame was a primary method of winning matches. Traditionally, judo has showed preference to throwing techniques over ground fighting techniques. Catch-as-catch-can wrestling, the historical forerunner (along with judo) to some of today's submission grappling, used its version of what we now call Juji Gatame based on early Celtic and Breton forms of European wrestling.
After some exposure to Japanese professional wrestlers who were former judo athletes in the early 1900s, several variations of the cross-body armlock were seen in professional wrestling in North America, South America and Europe. But no one was doing flying armlock attacks or well- practiced rolls, breakdowns or entries to Juji Gatame until the Soviet sambo wrestlers appeared on the scene. The Japanese invented Juji Gatame, but it was the Soviets who developed it and showed the world that this armlock is a viable technical skill in world-class competition.
Soviet Sambo 1964
The Soviet sambo/judo men competed in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and won four bronze medals proving that this no-nonsense form of grappling called sambo was on the international scene to stay. These sambo men were less interested in what the judo world thought of them than they were in winning matches. Judo was in the initial stages of becoming an international sport in the 1960s. It was making the transition from being a martial "art" to more of a martial "sport." Athletes were more interested in results than the aesthetics of a particular technique. The concept that a technique should be performed based on its function more than the aesthetic quality was quickly becoming the standard in European (and eventually international) judo circles. Soviet athletes were winning on a regular basis in international judo tournaments with their variations of Juji Gatame, and in several cases, against established Japanese judo champions. However, it cannot be emphasized enough, that had it not been for the sound fundamentals initially developed by Kodokan Judo, Juji Gatame would not have gained the technical soundness or complexity (and resulting dominance) it has in the world of combat sports.
My Early Experiences
This author's personal appreciation for Juji Gatame took place initially in 1976 after getting involved in the sport of sambo. Having been involved in judo and jujitsu since 1965, I wanted to try something new and my coach Ken Regennitter suggested that I try the rough and tumble grappling sport called sambo. I enjoyed ground fighting and took to submission techniques in particular. Ken had seen sambo before and knew that it placed emphasis on armlocks and leglocks and he thought it might be something that I would enjoy. He was right. Sambo was in its infancy in the United States in those years but I was determined to find someone who could teach me. Keep in mind that there was no such thing as the Internet at that time where someone could learn or research new skills. Often, learning more about sambo (and specifically Juji Gatame) was the result of finding someone who would actually get on the mat with you and personally teach you the fundamentals. This was certainly my experience, as I was fortunate enough to meet the Scotsman Maurice Allen in 1976 through our mutual friend Dr. Ivan Olsen. Maurice was the World Sambo Champion in 1975 and was the first person to expose me to how Juji Gatame could be used as an effective and functional weapon. Later, sometime in the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to meet Neil Adams, the 1981 World Judo Champion from Great Britain, who was (and continues to be) well known and respected for his ability at Juji Gatame. (Neil won his World Championship with Juji Gatame over his Japanese opponent.)
Over the next several years, I was able to spend (all too brief) time learning Juji Gatame from Neil. Eventually, several of us made the trip from the United States to Neil's dojo in Coventry, England to spend a few weeks training with him. I was amazed at the fluidity and versatility of Neil's approach to Juji Gatame and the brief period of time spent with Neil gave me a real appreciation for the effectiveness of this armlock, even against elite-level opposition.
For the record, Neil informed me that Alexander Iatskevich, the world-class judo/sambo man from the Soviet Union, heavily influenced him in his thinking, training and development of Juji Gatame. Iatskevich, like Adams, certainly deserves a good share of the credit for exposing many people all over the world (this author included) to the functional effectiveness of Juji Gatame. Of course, there have been many other exponents of Juji Gatame who have added tremendously to its development, but the people previously mentioned are the ones who motivated me in my personal journey.
For reasons that still cannot be explained, the study, research and practice of Juji Gatame became a significant interest of mine. Most likely, at least from my perspective, Juji Gatame represents the functional, gritty, no-nonsense and utilitarian approach that I identify with. There are a lot of other people with this approach, too. Over the years, as a coach, it's been my goal to have my athletes use Juji Gatame as a primary offensive weapon.
The above is an excerpt from JuJi Gatame Encyclopedia by Steve Scott, publication date May 2019 by YMAA Publication Center, Inc. ISBN: 9781594396472.