Purple Haze: The “Best” Submissions

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Getting Nerdy

“What does that mean?”

“It means, buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.”

Cypher to Neo, The Matrix 1999

You may have heard your Coach or Professor say to you, “Work. The. Basics.”, when you’ve asked about some cool move you saw on the ‘Gram or YouTube. You may have heard that refrain when you begin to get lost in all the “what if” rabbit trail questions. Maybe a higher belt said something similar while trying to help you get through a discouraging session or problem you encountered on the mat.

Or… maybe you haven’t heard it at all. If that’s the case, then allow me: Work. The. Basics.

As you start to grow in your Jiu-jitsu journey, you learn submissions like an arm bar and a triangle choke from closed guard. As you progress, you begin to learn other cool submissions like the Omoplata and the Bow-and-Arrow choke. The positions and submissions seem to get more technical, complex and well… they just look cooler! You begin to get this impression that the Brown and Black Belts have really, really cool wizard-like techniques and submissions up their sleeve just waiting to be deployed. So it makes you hesistate when you roll with them. You also imagine Black Belt competitions at the highest level, flipping, spinning and throwing down submissions that blow everyone’s minds.

You begin thinking things like: what is the “best” submission? It’s almost like you are searching for one or two submissions to throw down with impunity on your opponents. Maybe there is One Submission to rule them all… (sorry, not sorry for the Lord of The Rings reference)


You also begin noticing that Brown and Black Belts are not pulling out ultra-complex, magical submissions from their bag of tricks, but instead are taking the more “basic” submissions and deploying them from just about anywhere!

Maybe the truth is more simple and yet more profound than you realize…

Maybe there is more to the “basic” submissions that you learn as a white belt than you think…

And as I was pouring over the information I’m going to share with you, the data and my own conclusions resoundingly, emphatically and unequivocally said to me, personally: Study and Improve The Basics, Tom!

We’re truly getting nerdy on this one as we’ll be pouring over some data, as well as providing you with an interpretation of said data and a list of solid takeaways. So, buckle up, because Kansas might just very well be going “bye-bye”.

The Data

IMAGE CREDIT: The first image is from a post by High Percentage Martial Arts and the second image is from a post by BJJ-World.com.


In the first image, the Armbar, the Triangle and the Rear Naked Choke appear to be the Holy Trinity of Submissions with the Armbar being the One Submission to Rule them All (again…sorry, not sorry). In the second image, the Armbar is still the Sub of Power (again, not sorry) with the Triangle in second and the Kimura barely beating out the Rear Naked Choke.

What is really fascinating to me is looking at the first graph where they broke down submissions by belt level. I really wish I had the data from U.S. Grappling showing the same, but I theorize it would show very similar results. Take a look at the first image again and you will see, even at the Black Belt level, the most “basic” submissions are in the majority of what they used. Just looking at the Black Belt submissions alone, the Armbar is utilized at least two times more than the Triangle and Rear Naked Choke. Similarly, the Triangle and Rear Nake Choke are used double to triple the amount as any of the following seven submissions.

This is Mastery demonstrated. And as Musashi would say, “This should be studied well…”

Let me explain.

One of two definitions for Mastery is literally control or superiority over someone or something. The other definition is comprehensive knowledge or skill.

This is Jiu-jitsu.

For Black and Brown Belts to be finishing matches with these seemingly “basic” moves demonstrates comprehensive knowledge and skill, as well as the ability to control someone and something. When they finish matches with a “simple” arm bar or triangle choke, they are demonstrating an understanding of the submission, an understanding of how to shut down counters and escapes, and a deep understanding of controlling someone in the position preceding the submission.

If we wish to be effective and efficient in our Jiu-jitsu, then it should behoove us to follow that example of mastery.

Recently, the Pan IBJJF Championship was held over the course of five days. Though I didn’t drop the money for a Flo Grappling membership to livestream all the fights and spend five days binge watching Jiu-jitsu matches like someone else would binge watch Game of Thrones, I watched the highlights shown by the IBJJF IG account while keeping an eye on my association teammates fighting under the RMNU Team banner. I watched the highlights closely. What do you think I saw? I saw a bunch of Arm Bars. There were a few ankle and wrists locks, but there were Arm Bars, lots of Arm Bars.

Before the Pans began, I was speaking to my Professor about the two articles and the data shown and I told him how intruiging it was to see the Arm Bar not just leading the pack, but dramatically leading. During our conversation, we began talking about arm bars being present when someone is attempting to pass a guard and I asked him why this is. He said,

“What do you need to pass the guard? Arms. So they’re almost always in danger.”

Shane Mount, RMNU Black Belt

Looking back, I “should” have known this, I think… but at the same time, maybe not.

Sure enough, as if the universe wanted to demonstrate what he was saying, as I was watching the Pans highlights a day or two later, I saw a competitor get caught in an Arm-bar as they were trying to pass their opponent’s guard.

I include that small anecdote here, not because you are going to hit an Arm Bar every time someone tries to pass your guard, or vice versa, but like my Professor did to me: to open your mind to the possibility and to start looking for them, to be smarter, to see the windows of opportunities that could be there, to look at the “basics” in a different light.

The Interpretation

Using the first graph, the “Top 10” utilized submissions are as follows:



Rear Naked Choke

Bow & Arrow

Foot/Ankle Lock (almost tied with Bow & Arrow)


Kimura (almost tied with Guillotine)

Collar Choke

Knee Bar


High Percentage Martial Arts: 500 Submission Study

Using the second graph, the “Top 10” vary slightly and are as follows:




Rear Naked Choke (almost tied with Kimura)


Ankle Lock

Collar Choke


Ezekiel (spelled Ezequiel on the graph)

Bow & Arrow

U.S. Grappling Data via BJJ-World.com

What is fascinating here is that given the disparity in matches studied, 500 versus 4000, the results are very nearly identical, save for two techniques that are exclusive to their own lists, namely: The Knee Bar in the High Percentage Martial Art study (the first graph) and the Ezekiel choke in the U.S. Grappling data (the second graph).

For the White and Blue belt, if you wanted a “Top 5” to focus on, I favor the data from U.S. Grappling as it contains every “basic” submission: Armbar, Triangle, Kimura, Rear Naked Choke and Americana. And study each position thorougly to understand how these five submissions relate to each position and how they could potentially chain together as you take away your opponent’s options.

So, let’s talk takeaways, then, shall we?

Ten Takeaways

  1. Improve your ability to deploy High Percentage Submissions. The Armbar, Triangle, Kimura, Rear Naked Chokes and Americanas are far more versitile than you would think.
  2. Position Before Submission – Always. Train to have control in each position so you can effectively hunt for and execute the submission you are working.
  3. Take Risks During Training. Let’s say you are working mount and the bottom person presents an arm or you are able to gather an arm. Try the Armbar! Yes, position before submission, but see how they work together, experiment! It doesn’t matter if they escape, you’re training at the Academy, this is where you want to try things out. What matters is how they escaped. Did you lose control somewhere in the process? What went “wrong”? Gathering that live feedback and data will help during your next attempt.
  4. Try, Try and Try Some More! If a technique or position didn’t work, usually it is something we have done. A detail, a step the wrong way, the wrong grip, moves in the wrong order, whatever. Don’t give up!
  5. Don’t go Rogue. Unless you are an undercover black belt assassin, your Coach or Professor more than likely knows alot more about Jiu-jitsu than you do and they have a plan of instruction, so stick to that. Understand how the technique they are teaching fits in to the ever expanding web of Jiu-jitsu and then see if you can throw one of those more successful subs in there. Let’s say you are learning Spider Guard, work that guard and see how you can put a triangle choke or an arm bar in there. If you can’t see it, ask!
  6. Get Private Lessons. If things aren’t clicking, get a private lesson with your Coach or Professor. Write down what position or submission you want to work and write down specific questions, etc. This will help you get more out of the time you’ve reserved with your Professor. If you are going to compete in a tournament with a more open tolerance to certain submissions at a lower rank, like ankle locks or knee bars, then I would definitely seek out a few private lessons with your Professor to go over those submissions and if you aren’t going to incorporate them in the game, at least get a good understanding of how they work and how to defend them.
  7. Use Open Mats Wisely. I took this advice from my Professor when I started and it has helped myself and anyone on our team who has heeded his advice. Many people use Open Mat as their own personal Fight Club, they just want to roll and try to sub as many people as they can and eventually they stagnate. Instead, the advice is to take 10, 15, 20 minutes with a partner and really dive in on certain technique or a sequence of techniques you wish to hone. Take that closed guard of yours and get those Arm Bar reps in. Do them slowly, do them smoothly, leaving no detail out. Then increase the speed or resistance just a little. Rinse and repeat. Truth be told: I need to get back to attending open mats and start following this advice again! It may not be “sexy” but it is an effective and efficient use of your time – and your partner’s.
  8. Emulate The Top Performers. The guys that have really taken off at my academy, the ones that really push me, they tend to dive deep on a given position or technique. When they find a move that really works for them, they dive deep, studying and funneling that technique into every possible avenue of their game. Let’s say they are diving deep on Arm Bars and Kimuras, once they are done, they will be finding and hitting them from practically everywhere. As Musashi says, “This must be studied well…”
  9. Mind Map It. Let’s say you want to dive deep on Kimura’s. Create a mind map around it. What do you know already that will get you to a Kimura and from what position? Start there. From what other positions can you get to the Kimura? Do you know? This would be a good way to find your focus during an Open Mat or a Private Lesson.
  10. Study. This is where you utilize YouTube, The ‘Gram and books. Dive deep on what your Coach or Professor was teaching. Try to find matches where that position or submission was used and pay careful attention to how it was set up and used. Try to find matches in your weight class, even if you don’t compete, as it can give you a great idea of how people similar in size move and utilize Jiu-Jitsu. A great book to start with is Jiu-jitsu University. It isn’t exhaustive, but covers a wide range of techniques and gives a good basic understanding of each.

If you take a look at these ten takeaways, you’ll notice that numbers 3 – 10 support the success of the first two.

So, what do you think?

Were you surprised regarding what the top submissions were?

Did the data from the two studies open your eyes or reveal something to you regarding Jiu-jitsu and submissions in general, or even how to approach your game?

What did you get out of this conversation?

Let me hear from you, I’d love to get your thoughts!

Until next time, I’ll see you on the mats.

9 thoughts on “Purple Haze: The “Best” Submissions

  1. Really interesting, Tom. I listened to the podcast too. Once again, I’m being made aware of things I don’t yet know. Some terms were new to me. Some moves I’ve heard of but haven’t learned yet, like ankle and wrist locks. I look forward to learning those. πŸ™‚

    Armbar being #1 kind of surprised me. One girl’s go-to is Americana. I’m rather fond of RNC, if I can take the back, of course. Maybe the Triangle Choke is just my instructor’s preference, so he makes a big deal out of it. Who knows.

    I like the idea of studying and perfecting one method so you can do it from all angles. That’s good stuff. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for reading AND listening, Betsy!

      What terms are new to you, that would help me in the future to consider what I’m saying and maybe offer the term and an alternative. My stuff is intended for White and Blue belts so I need to keep that in mind! haha

      Wrist locks and ankle locks are fun, no doubt. I use them sparingly, and most of the time its just “old man treachery” aka “$%&# this, you’re done, I don’t want to fight anymore” lol

      Armbar surprised me as well, but it makes sense as the most deployed/successful submission with how many opportunities there are. That said, it shouldn’t discourage. The point is to understand not only the opportunities that could be all around for one to deploy the Armbar (or any of the “top 5), but also the dangers one presents to be put IN that submission.

      It’s good to funnel your game towards your strengths. So if RNC is your strength, look for the ways in which you can funnel everything to the back. After awhile, you will probably want to branch off and experiment, and thats a good thing. Diving deep is applicable in whatever context your game currently takes. I was really, really into funneling my game towards the North South Kimura – still kinda am. Loved the position as a matter of control as well as the options for submissions.

      The Triangle IS a strong position as well as submission. Using it as a position, you can control them, sweep them, deploy the choke, as well as an americana, kimura, wrist lock and arm lock.

      Keep it up! πŸ™‚

  2. So many things were new to me, Tom. A LOT of those terms on the charts are foreign. Sometimes Instructor mentions stuff being from BBS1 or BBS2, and I have yet to ask what that even means. :/ However, recently the guy I was paired with was doing all sorts of crazy stuff on me. It was fun to see new moves, even if I was the one having them done on. One was the bow and arrow, which I see on your chart and now know! That name makes perfect sense. Yowsa! πŸ™‚

    1. πŸ˜‚ Makes sense, Betsy.

      If it makes you feel better, I have NO clue what BBS1 or 2 is, just be a Gracie system thing…. Yep, just checked. Blue Belt Stripe 1 Course.

      I love the bow & arrow choke!

      As far as the rest of those submission terms, obviously knowledge of them will come in time.


      1. ONCE AGAIN, I reveal my laziness by making you look something up for me. I was just going to wait until I had the opportunity to ask or Instructor simply volunteered that info. But, of course, it’s blue belt stripe 1 and 2. Didn’t put a lot of thought into it other than, if he asks the class who knows what it means, I’ll volunteer: “Betsy’s Best Stuff?” πŸ˜‰

      2. “Does anyone know what BBS1 & 2 mean?”

        Betsy, trying to remain calm, shoots her hand up so fast it almost breaks the sound barrier.

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