Why We Omit Arm Bars and Triangles

By | March 15, 2017

womens self-defense triange chokeOur women’s self-defense classes in Phoenix don’t include training in arm bars or triangles. An arm bar, usually executed on your back, is an elbow hyperextension that will cause an opponent to submit (tap out or in a fight, break the arm). Arm bars are introduced in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo white belt techniques. MMA fighter Rhonda Rousey executes arm bars so expertly that they are virtually unstoppable.

The triangle, also introduced in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo white belt techniques, is a choke meant to cause the opponent to either submit (tap out) or pass out. In a triangle leg choke, the attacker wraps their legs around the opponent’s neck with one arm inside the legs and the other arm out. When positioned correctly, the pressure of the thigh across the neck restricts blood flow to the head, which, if held long enough, will cause the opponent to lose consciousness.

The curriculum in some women’s self-defense classes does include arm bars, although it is technically an offense, not a defense. Our women’s self-defense techniques do not include arm bars for a number of reasons. First, successfully positioning, especially in self-defense situations, requires body movement that most people need significant repetition to acquire. Secondly, a much bigger and stronger opponent (attacker) can potentially rip his arm out of the submission, and even body slam a smaller woman. Thirdly, an attacker whose elbow you have broken is still in between your legs. You still have to get away, and someone who is angry enough may still deliver blows despite the broken elbow.

Women who have the best likelihood of successfully executing an arm bar in a self-defense situation are those who have committed to training in sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Judo. Not every woman can or wants to engage in the rigors of sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It is a tough sport that requires tremendous commitment. But every woman should be able to successfully defend herself if attacked. This means the techniques provided in women’s self-defense classes need to be both easy to learn and tremendously successful for creating the space that will enable you to get away.

Our reason for omitting the leg triangle choke as a women’s self-defense technique is much the same. Successful position for a leg triangle choke requires body movement that most people need significant repetition to acquire AND it can be tremendously challenging to successfully execute a leg triangle choke on someone who is much larger, especially if you have short legs.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it is said that there are counters for every attack and counters to every counter. There are literally thousands of self-defense techniques for thousands of attacks. When a mother observing the kids Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class I was teaching asked if I would teach a women’s self-defense class, I started by attending every women’s self-defense class I could find. I found that:

  1. Scenarios presented in the self-defense seminars are geared to how men are attacked. Women are attacked very differently than men. In viewing more than 400 videos of assaults on women, including abductions, the haymaker punch that most of the women’s self-defense seminars teach to defend really does not occur.


  2. Most women’s self-defense seminars do not discuss, or do not accurately portray how violence against women really occurs. Only the police R.A.D. women’s self-defense seminar addressed realistic scenarios. Knowing how attacks occur helps women see them when the assault or abduction opportunities are developing. Forethought about how to respond to different threats and attacks also helps women deliver appropriate measures to escape safely.


  3. Some self-defense techniques taught in some seminars will escalate, rather than de-escalate, a physical confrontation. If you are not in a striking confrontation and you deliver the first strike, you are now in a striking confrontation with someone who is probably bigger and stronger than you are. While escalating to a striking confrontation may make sense in some situations, if the attack is simply a wrist grab, you should always be able to safely escape the grip and create space between you and the attacker. Once you have created space, there is a better likelihood that you can convince the attacker to leave you alone using physical posture that conveys a readiness to put up a serious fight along augmented with strong voice commands.

The one thing all of the women’s self-defense seminars had in common was telling the women who attended to keep practicing, but none of them don’t provided a forum for ongoing practice of the specific techniques taught. Self-defense seminars taught by martial arts schools are usually designed to recruit new students, not coherently teach women how to get away safely. While there is nothing wrong with sport martial arts, again, not every woman can or wants to invest the blood, sweat, and tears to pursue excellence in martial arts. Women should not have to master a martial art to be able to successfully defend themselves.

Our women’s self-defense classes begin with a short presentation on a type of attack, followed by self-defense technique practice. Class instructors are women, and the only man allowed to attend is a co-instructor. Each of the self-defense techniques taught, which come from numerous martial arts disciplines, have has selected by a group of martial arts and self-defense experts as the most efficient and effective. The classes designed to teach women how to successfully avoid attacks, and to successfully escape if attacked, not entice them to become a martial arts student. It’s the way women’s self-defense classes should be done.

About “Brutal Barb”

brutal barbMy name is Barbara, and I’ve been training in mixed martial arts with an emphasis on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since 2004. “Brutal Barb” is a nickname bestowed on me by a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu professor years ago that stuck. I began training when I mentioned to my son, who had recently returned from serving as a Marine, that I was thinking about pursing martial arts. He said “If you do, do Jiu-Jitsu, because you’ll always be able to get away.” I took his advice. While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an exceptional sport with a large self-defense base, it is a very demanding sport, not women’s self-defense training. Violence against women has been and remains a serious problem. Empowering women by teaching women how to successfully defend themselves a mission.

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