The first time is cognition. The second time is recognition.” –Marshall McLuhan

Juji gatame is a core skill for all combat sports. The study of this armlock teaches fundamental skills that go beyond simply stretching an opponent’s arm. It is a useful, reliable tool with a high rate of success used in all combat sports and can be used by both male and female athletes in all weight classes.

Juji gatame is also a fighting skill. The intention behind learning how to fight is of learning how to fight is different than learning any other sport or activity. Sports (and life in general) can be stressful enough, but the stress that is present in a real fight or a fight in a sporting context is much greater. How a person trains, practices, or learns directly affects how he or she will perform under pressure. People sometimes say that they will “rise to the occasion” under a stressful situation. That’s not true. You don’t ever rise to the occasion. You rise to your level of training. The better you prepare in your training, the better you will do under stress.

There’s a lot of stress in any form of fighting. Whether it’s a combat sport or real combat, stress is always present. Only a person who is a sociopath or a person who is totally oblivious or naïve about the situation will not feel stress in a fight. The better we train in a realistic, functional manner, the better prepared we will be for the real thing.

Fundamental, core skills are vital as a basis of all training and skill learning, and the serious, realistic study, and practice of these fundamental skills in functional and efficient applications prepare an athlete or student for the real world of fighting, either in sport combat or in real combat. Effective practice produces effective results.

Train Hard—Be Smart

A major key to success is structured, disciplined, and effective training. Train hard, but be sure to train smart. Simply showing up to the dojo or gym and rolling with the other guys may be fun, but if that’s all you do, you are not getting the most out of your training time. The main point here is that drill training and working on technical skills of new (and already-learned) moves and techniques, along with structured free practice (call it what you want: randori, rolling, going live, or any other term used in your sport) get the best results. Structured training also keeps injuries in training to a minimum and focuses the athletes and coaches on the ultimate goals they have, both immediate goals and long-term goals. Training time is limited; we all have lives to lead, so getting the most out of the time you are on the mat or in the gym is vital to your success.

TECHNICAL TIP: A major key to success is structured, disciplined, consistent and effective training; that means effective and constant, drill training is essential for making juji gatame an effective weapon in your arsenal of skills.

Coaches: Teach Juji Gatame as a Core Skill

When I started my judo career in 1965, the contest rules of judo only permitted black belts to perform juji gatame. There is an old, and true, adage that people tend to learn and practice what the rules of the sport allow. What is not allowed in the rulebook is often neglected in terms of learning, coaching, and practicing. This was certainly true for armlocks when I was young and starting out, and in some cases, it still is. Armlocks were considered “dangerous” even though there were few injuries resulting from them in either competition or practice. As a result, few people learned armlocks, and even fewer still were skilled enough to use them in competitive situations.

Even when a person achieved his or her black belt, scant attention was paid to the study and practice of armlocks. When my personal learning progressed into the study of jujitsu and eventually sambo, the awareness of armlocks (as well as other submission techniques such as leglocks) opened up to me. As the world of combat sports has expanded and evolved in the intervening years since my first involvement in 1965, armlocks have gained the recognition they merit for their effectiveness and versatility.

As a coach, I teach juji gatame as a core skill. My belief is that novices should “learn from the ground up,” and juji gatame is usually the first thing a new person learns in my club. As the novice learns the safety of breakfalls in preparation for throws and takedowns, he or she is also immediately introduced to spinning juji gatame. The spinning application of juji gatame not only teaches the actual armlock, it also teaches fundamental skills of ground fighting such as learning how to move from the hips and buttocks, the shrimping or curling movements necessary for good ground fighting, learning spatial awareness, learning how to use the opponent’s (and one’s own) body or training uniform as handles to manipulate and control the opponent, and a variety of other skills. The underlying premise of juji gatame is to force an opponent to surrender to you. Learning juji gatame as one of the first things a novice does teaches that person the aggressive, hardcore, and serious approach and attitude necessary for the real world of combat sports or the real world of self-defense.

Armlock Safety

The old saying, “When in doubt, tap out” applies to the study of juji gatame, or any submission technique for that matter. Especially in training, don’t make the mistake of being macho and refusing to submit when you are caught in an armlock or other submission technique. In many combat sports, tapping an opponent or verbally submitting (either by a recognized word or phrase or simply by yelling out) is the safety valve that separates injury from non-injury. A good idea is to tap your opponent or partner and not the mat when submitting. In a busy practice room or gymnasium, you may not be able to hear your opponent tap out as quickly as you feel him tap out. But, in a fight or match, make sure the referee also sees your opponent tap out or hears your opponent verbally surrender. Remember, in a sport combat fight, it doesn’t count unless the referee says so.

There is also an old saying, “He didn’t tap, so it went snap.” This implies that the athlete who has the armlock applied on him (or her) has the responsibility to submit and signal surrender before his arm is injured. Injured pride takes a lot less time to heal than an injured elbow.

A mature attitude is required when practicing and using armlocks or any form of submission techniques. One has to be physically, mentally, and emotionally mature enough to practice armlocks, and those who are not are wasting your valuable time on the mat. Take care of yourself and take care of your training partners.

Teaching Armlocks to Young People

Armlocks are safe for young people who are mature enough to understand that injury could result from poor attentiveness, horseplay, or not taking a mature attitude in their study, practice, and application. But then that can also be said for throwing and takedown techniques, as well as most any aspect of judo, jujitsu, sambo, grappling, or wrestling. My approach is to introduce juji gatame to students who are physically mature enough, as well as mentally and emotionally mature enough, at about eleven or twelve years of age (or at about the onset of puberty), making sure that they learn the correct fundamentals (same as an adult would learn) in a structured and controlled training atmosphere.

Neil Adams once told me, “Judo is an adult activity that we allow children to do.” Neil is right, and that advice applies to a variety of other combat sports as well. This is certainly the case when teaching young people juji gatame.

The above is an excerpt from The Juji Gatame Encyclopedia: Comprehensive Applications of the Cross-Body Armlock by Steve Scott, Pub Date May 2019, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 13-978-1-59439-647-2.