Thursday, May 19, 2011

Elbows In?

If you have been training long enough, you have heard the saying "elbows in." Or the more catchy, "elbows in you will win, elbows out you'll tap out. Now for most of us we won't hear that or figure that out until we get tapped and beat up for a long long time. And even after we learn it do we fully understand it? It's too simple and easy to say elbows in. It's not even about your elbows. It's about attachment, detachment, centered-ness, and isolation. If someone explained this to me on my first day of BJJ, my whole world would have probably changed.

So here is what it means. Things that are close to the center stay close to the center, things that are far from the center go further away from the center. Like a centrifuge. Things in close spin close to the center. Things far keep moving further out.

Now what the hell does elbows in mean? Into where? Into my hip? To my knee? There are guys who have been training forever and still don't know where to put their elbows. So let me get back to centered-ness. It's like a tree branch, a branch hanging out is easier to break then a branch that is close to the core.

So in BJJ, prying a limb or head that is close and tucked into your center is much harder than breaking a limb that is already outstretched from the center. My goal than is to open up your center, and pull your neck or limbs away from it and create a detachment, then isolate it away from your center and submit you. Your goal in not getting submitted is to keep yourself attached to your center, and prevent any of your limbs including your neck from being isolated.

Now if all you are thinking is elbows in, and don't understand centered-ness, I can mess with your balance or your legs may be far from your center, which will force you to base with your arms, then it becomes easy to take. Or I can simply take your legs, because you only thought elbows in, not get close to your center.

There are a lot of ways to attach your arms or legs to your center, turtling is one, or bringing your elbows to your hip, putting your hands to your neck, arms to your sides, etc. Things that connect to your center stay glued to your center, things detached from it move further out from it. So prying someones arm away from their sides is much different than taking an outstreched arm.

This physics theory doesn't apply to just the ground, it applies everywhere. Like in striking, when you pull your arms in, tuck your chin, your are pulling things into your center. Sometimes you will even bring your knee up as well to defend an attack, standing on one foot, creating a standing turtle. Which is how a lot of Thai fighters may block a kick they can't read. One thing about centered-ness is, you gain strength but lose stability. Its why when someone turtles it's easy to roll them around like a ball.

Now let's say someone punches, that limb is now away from the center, that means they can get hit on that side of the face. Or they are coming at you like a gorilla, swinging out wide, then they have completely pulled their arms away from their center, which makes it easier to take advantage and hit them.

This doesn't only work with your limbs, it can work with your opponent. If for instance you clinch your opponent in any variety of clinches like a plum clinch, you have now attached their head to your center. What attaches to your center stays glued to your center. Which makes it now easier to bring my knee up to my center, which can generate a lot of power and hit them in the head.

This can also work with an armbar. If I am mounted and I go back for an armbar, and try to break your grip and pull and pry with your my arms, it's a losing game. Now if I just lower myself and attach your arm to my center, then just use my arms to keep it attached to my center and not pull with it and use my center and pull my center away from you, your arm will come with me. It's based on physics and physics is hard to deny.

There is a lot of trickery in martial arts, but there's a reason the Thai kick is the standard kick in MMA. Because it relies on physics, its the most powerful way to kick. So you may know all these techniques to parry or block a kick from whatever martial arts, but the kick will kick through your hand, forearm, and all your tricks and hit you. Breaking everything in it's path. Physics can overcome any trick with brute leverage.  It's also why a boxer's punch can punch straight through a lot of hand blocking techniques from Eastern martial arts. Their techniques are based on aesthetics, flow, style. A boxer's punch is based on physics. It's the same way a machine would work. If in mechanics things work one way, why change it for the human body when the human body and machines both exist in the physical world? And every object, living or not obeys the same rules.

Now think of trying to submit a leg, which is probably more powerful than your arms. You will only be able to take it with attaching their leg to your center. Instructors will say hug the arm, or grab your own collar, or keep it tight. Those are all expressions of attaching to center. If someone just explained the power of centered-ness, man it's a total game changer for a beginner.

This can also be used in a sweep. If you mount me, I pull you down and attach you to my center, wherever I go, you go with me, wherever I point my center, which is up and over to the ground, whatever is attached is coming with me. If I take the back and attach you to my center, and cling to you, wherever you go, I go. If I try to lift your head to sneak my hand in with my arms, you won't go anywhere. If I use my arm to attach your head to my chest, then pull back using my back (my center) then your chin will lift up every time.

The applications are endless. Like if you hold a child with outstretched arms, its much harder than holding a child close in. Even though the child weighs the same. People who are close to you get closer to you over time, people who are acquaintances tend to become strangers over time. I can go on and on, it's a much longer and detailed explanation than just, elbows in. Now if you can understand this as a beginner and I guarantee other beginners won't, you can capitalize on their mistakes. You can do a move 80% wrong, but if you get the 20% of the core concept right, you will get 80% of the move.

Now in someone's closed guard, you pull everything in and tight, you will be hard to submit but you are also attached to their center so you may get swept. If you can figure out how to pull your center backwards and not rest it on them, then it doesn't matter what they do, you won't move anywhere. Like Roger Gracie's mount. He is on top of you, but not actually resting on you. He sort of hovers over you, suffocating you, like a slow mudslide. His weight is more on his knees than it is on you, so if you try to move him, only you will end up moving underneath him. That's when it gets invisible. Slight adjustments that change where my center is, where it's resting, etc. Like in a mount, if I lay flat on you, I have to base with my arms and makes it hard to submit. If I am sitting up, I can base on my knees and it frees my hands to choke. A small but powerful difference.


  1. Thanks for this great post, Sam.

    I think it goes in line with your previous post regarding "Concepts."

    As a relative beginner -- and you may have to pardon my French here -- THIS IS THE SHIT I WANT TO HEAR!! Not the latest fancy submission, or the latest bullshit open guard that will never work in the street with a 250 lb. guy trying to punch you in the fucking face!!

    I am infinitely grateful that at our school we have one Black Belt with "old school" lineage, that realizes the benefits of learning "self-defense" and "concept-based jiu-jitsu," if you will. I find myself drawn to his style and to his instruction.

    But I ask myself, have we gotten so far away from the original BJJ concepts and lineage that what BJJ we find out there is a weak, undisciplined, un-real BJJ? A BJJ filled with people that not only don't know how to teach BJJ (which bricks will make the foundation stronger), but have never learned the concepts to teach it properly in the first place?

    Again, thanks for the post, Sam. It truly was a lightbulb moment for me. I will go on to apply this concept for the rest of my BJJ/martial arts path.

  2. Hey Daniel! Thanks. I appreciate your comment. You had that "aha!" moment as I call it. If you like it, please spread the word and let others know about the blog. It always motivates me to add more musings.

    BTW I am glad you have an old school teacher. It's not about fancy stuff. Even as an upper belt, I tend to only like taking the beginner or basics classes.

  3. This was an amazing post, Sam.

    You definitely gave me an "aha!" moment, that's for sure! Concepts are so important because the steps can be taught to anybody, but they won't really 'know' anything the as much as they would if they were taught the concepts instead!

    I'd say, having a good mix of both is necessary, and your blog is definitely a potent source of concepts, man!

  4. Thanks man. To me details sometimes become like choosing the color scheme and wallpaper for a house. Concepts are how to build a house.



Affiliate links are used and I may receive a commission if you click.

Inner BJJ is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to