Limb Control: Rethinking ‘Position before Submission’

Note: This is a guest post by Reilly Bodycomb, with T.P. Grant as a co-author. Reilly represented the United States in the 2008 Sambo…

By: T.P. Grant | 8 years ago
Limb Control: Rethinking ‘Position before Submission’
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Note: This is a guest post by Reilly Bodycomb, with T.P. Grant as a co-author. Reilly represented the United States in the 2008 Sambo World Championships, was the 2011 Dutch Sambo Open Champion, and was the 2014 New York ADCC Pro Division Lightweight Champion. He is a Sambo and Submission Grappling coach at NOLA BJJ in New Orleans.

Traditionally, when we as American grapplers talk about ‘position before submission’ we have a very specific idea as to what that word ‘position’ means. Typically we are referring to some sort of static control of the upper torso, or ‘core,’ of the opponent’s body. This could be gravity-assisted pins (mount, side control, etc.) or gravity-independent entanglements such as ‘back control’ or closed guard. We will call both of these types of positions ‘core control’ for the sake of this article.

There are other ways to ‘have position’ on an opponent however, and they function considerably different than the aforementioned types of control. Instead of isolating the trunk, they focus on isolating a single limb of an opponent. Rather than holding the opponent immobile, these ‘limb control’ positions are designed to direct the opponent’s movements in a way that expose a submission on the controlled limb. This type of behavior is not new to the greater world of grappling. This style had a lot of prominence in the Japanese Combat Wrestling ranks and in Japanese MMA in the early 2000s.

To achieve limb control, one must first attain a dominant grip that gives superior control over an opponent’s limb. While limb control doesn’t provide the crushing control of a pin in all cases, it does limit the opponent’s options and funnel him or her to a few predictable choices. Below are two examples of this idea of guiding opponents into predictable movements from a pair of FIVE Grappling matches featuring 10th Planet Black Belt Nathan Orchard.

In both matches Orchard attacks a rolling kimura while standing over his opponent’s guard. Once Orchard is able to lock in his grip it allows him to maintain his connection to his opponent despite going to the ground with no core connection. The threat of the submission forces them to move in a way Orchard is ready to counter. He leads them to the point where he brings his legs into play to further control the arm. Orchard is then able to transition his grips to the armbar and finish both matches.

Of course when speaking of the kimura grip there was likely none better at controlling and manipulating opponents with it than Kazushi Sakuraba.

This idea of establishing control of the limb and then transitioning grips to find the submission applies to more than just the arm. Here is a clip of the co-author of this article, Reilly Bodycomb, sliding into a leg control position and then using it find an outside heel hook at a NAGA competition. Notice how Reilly uses a combination of his arms and legs to maintain control of his opponent’s leg and limits their ability to move.

Another excellent example is Reilly’s Rdojo team member Denny Lenormand achieving control of the leg through a scissors takedown . Denny transitions grips and then breaks down his opponents posture by kicking out a leg to get the heel hook finish.

In MMA there have been many fighters who have leveraged a superior ability to find limb control into impressive submission victories. Masakazu Imanari’s feared leg lock offensives; Rumina Sato’s amazing transitions; and Megumi Fujii’s 19 career submission wins all have their roots in this concept of limb control.

Here you can see Japanese Combat Wrestling standout Takefumo Hanai. In both Combat Wrestling and in ADCC rules Hanai will attempt to bypass the traditional positional progression with sliding and rolling entries into limb control. He is willing to take core control, but he doesn’t pursue it to the point of passing up submission attacks. The combination of the two approaches makes him a constant danger and unpredictable to his opponents.

Submission Grappling tournaments tend to have some of the most open rule sets in all of grappling, which allows for a greater diversity in styles. The resulting influences from these various styles can be more clearly seen in Submission Grappling than in those competitions with more restrictive rules.

There are a slew of instructional videos being made on what would qualify as ‘limb control’. Leg lock and kimura DVDs are pretty common these days. The information is out there, and athletes are using it at all skill levels of American submission grappling events.

Despite the growing use of ‘limb control’ in American competitions, the concept of what it means to have ‘position’ is still needing a redefinition in most American grappling schools. The key to understanding the differences between ‘core control’ and ‘limb control’ is to understand the attacker’s relation to movement. As stated before, restricting movement is the main concept of ‘the pin’ method, or trunk entanglement method of core control. Holding someone down so they can’t move, then extracting out an armlock or choke is the name of the game when in most top positions.

Concordantly, when controlling someone from bottom closed guard or back control, you want to keep their trunk tight to you as you maneuver out a submission. Leg control and the Kimura (the two most common examples of limb control) don’t really work like this. You don’t need to stop someone’s entire body from moving when you control one of their limbs – you simply need to direct their movement in a manageable way. This amounts to a fairly wild-looking exchange to the casual observer, and in some cases it is. But to those who are starting to deeply understand these types of control, there is a method to the madness. Understanding this could lead to both an evolutionary and revolutionary change in the American grappling community’s vision of what it means to be in a ‘winning position’.

This type of grappling has been used to foil traditional grapplers who are unfamiliar with this unorthodox approach countless times. Of course, we often see some ‘core control’ grapplers squash the outliers with slow, methodical, and patient ‘basics’. Thankfully, rather than argue over which approach is superior, we are seeing a few submission grapplers who were traditionally trained to fully understand the concepts of ‘core control,’ but are freely implementing ‘limb control’ into their games. With both of these methods in a grappler’s arsenal, the potential ‘safe places’ for their opponent dwindle to nearly zero.

A grappler of such dual discipline could potentially transition from core to limb and vice-versa as needed until the submission appears. Anyone who watches Garry Tonon in action would see a clear example of this.

It’s likely that more athletes and coaches would benefit from rethinking what the idea of ‘positional grappling’ means. Moreover, if the two methods are more universally taught, some grapplers ‘positional grappling’ may give way completely to a smoother, less dogmatic ‘transitional grappling.’ In many cases, this could potentially be more effective. In all cases, it is certainly exciting to watch.

Share this story

About the author
Bloody Elbow Podcast
Related Stories