I’ve been obsessed with the spiral armbar ever since I saw Marcelo Garcia effortlessly tap somebody out with it in one of his many sparring videos on YouTube. It’s different to a regular armbar because you don’t try to lever their arm vertically against the elbow joint, instead you set up a position where you’re causing a break (presumably leading to a spiral fracture, if applied to completion) on the arm by trapping it against your leg and under your armpit and applying sideways pressure.
To me it seems a superior armbar, because you can apply it on an opponent who is defending very well. Regular armbars often rely on the opponent making some sort of mistake in their arm positioning. Or, alternatively, you have to force their arm into the wrong position. With the spiral armbar you attack a well defended position and still get the armbar. There’s also the option of a triangle if it fails. To me it’s also a much more interesting submission than a regular armbar, because it’s more challenging to get, and I like a challenge.
There are lots of different ways of setting it up. It can be done from side control or mount. I’m quite drawn to Rafael Lovato Jr’s version of it, which he sets up by pinning their other arm with their gi first. He also shows some nice follow ups, like a triangle option, if they manage to sit up. (In my experience the finish is the point where you’re most likely to lose the submission when you’re getting used to it.)
Here’s his version:
Let’s break it down into steps:
Secure the arm:
Rafael first secures a strong side control, then uses the opponent’s lapel to trap their far arm in place, passing the lapel through to his left arm with his right arm, over their elbow. This is not the arm you’re going to be arm barring, but taking it out of play cuts down their chances of defending the spiral armbar significantly.
Push the legs to turn them sideways:
With the arm secure he turns their legs to the side – this has the effect of starting to expose their near arm.
Bring your left knee in towards their head to trap their arm, and then sit back:
He slides his left knee up to trap the arm. Note – at this point your weight is going back onto your left leg. This frees up your right leg to step over. Their near arm is now completely exposed and trapped.
Throw the leg over:
Now you can throw the leg over, as if you were going for a mounted triangle. Note he’s using hie right arm for extra base.
Trap the arm under your armpit:
Grab their elbow and pinch your own elbow tight, trapping their arm under your armpit.
Sit back and finish:
Now all you need to do is sit back and apply sideways pressure by turning your torso to the left, and applying pressure with your left knee the other way. Be careful not to lie flat on your back, as you would in a regular armbar because the arm will pop out from under your armpit.
Of course, there are lots of variations on the technique, including mount variations. There’s also a lot of crossover between the mounted triangle and the spiral armbar. For example, look how similar the set up is for this mounted triangle by Nicolas Gregoriades. I’d suggest having both in your arsenal of techniques.
And finally, here’s Marcelo doing it as an opportunistic counter to the underhook escape from side control: