Check out the first part of this series, The Language of Jiu Jitsu: Posture.
Leverage is probably the most common term thrown about by Jiu Jitsuka. It is a principle we understand well, but not completely. Leverage is very important as it allows us generate more force than our muscles can produce.
A lever is any rigid object that transfers our physical effort from one end of the lever, about a pivot point (called a fulcrum), to the end of the lever where we are aiming to affect a load. Depending on where the fulcrum is located along the lever we can either increase (or even decrease) the amount of force that arrives at the other end of the lever.
The classical example of leverage in Jiu Jitsu is the arm bar, and it’s an extreme one. The armbar attacks the elbow joint by treating the entire arm as a single lever. We create a pivot point at the arms weakest point, the elbow. We then attempt to lift our opponent’s entire body mass about their elbow. Making matters worse we exert further force through our hips and legs to increasing the resistance on the opposite site of the lever. Inevitably the biceps cannot handle this compound load; the force is then shared on the elbow joint and supporting tendons and bone. The elbow joint separates catastrophically.
Although submissions are our end goal in any grappling match, for the bulk of Jiu Jitsu the context of leverage is a little different. Our skeletons are a complex frame of levers, but instead of lifting tremendous loads with these levers, we move our body weight to the edges of our opponent’s skeleton so that it’s hard for our opponent’s to do any work at all.
Our knowledge of leverage makes our opponent’s work much harder; this is the science of pinning. Pinning is arguably the Jiu Jitsukas primary use case for leverage.
Moving to the end of the lever:
- To maintain side control, we flatten and hold ourselves perpendicular to our opponent, along their ribs and shoulders, effectively fastening huge weights at either side of our opponent’s spine. Pinning our opponent’s shoulders makes escaping incredibly hard for our opponent. If we become active, the better we get at maintaining side control. We can shift even more of our weight to the end of the lever (shoulder) they’d like to move, making an escape harder than if we statically hold side control.
- The smash pass, our opponent’s hips are the fulcrum. We apply our force on our opponent’s knees driving their knees to the mat; this turns our opponent’s body in the direction of their smashed knees, pinning our opponent so we can pass.
- When performing a leg weave pass we use our fist as a fulcrum, pressing into the mat, our forearm becomes the lever. With our forearm in place we can lever our opponent’s knees to the mat and which stops our opponent replacing their guard.
John Will and David Meyer nail the topic of leverage and side control:
Xande Ribeiro teaches a beautiful and effective smash pass, he collapses his opponent’s knee shield by sprawling at the edge of his knees.
The other part of leverage that needs more attention is the placement of the fulcrum. Often the construction or placement of a lever is out of our control, in this situation we have to move the fulcrum.
Moving the fulcrum closer to the load:
- During scissor sweep, we drop one leg to the mat, at the base of our as a fulcrum for the sweep, their torso is the lever we are working. If we don’t lower our fulcrum leg, we dilute our leverage.
- During reverse scissor sweep, our opponent’s posture is broken over our shin infront their hips. Our hip is the fulcrum, and we shift it in line with our opponent’s center to execute the sweep efficiently.
- When performing a toehold the foot bones act as a lever, their toes are at the end of the lever so we grab them, but it’s where we place our own forearm opposite the vulnerable lateral ligaments that make the submission effective.
Sean Roberts breaks down his reverse scissor sweep with Trumpet Dan, watch Seans hip (the fulcrum) in this luscious sweep:
Deconstruct your Jiu Jitsu into leverage problems. What levers are at work? Where is the load? Where is your fulcrum? Increase your understanding of leverage and you’ll make your opponent work harder, and multiply your own efforts.