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Judo Chop: Omigawa Gets a Tap With a Straight Armbar aka Ude Gatame

DREAM 16 featured quite a few treats. Sure it wasn't a return to the glory days of PRIDE, but it was a very fun card, primarily because of all the great featherweight action. None of the little men on the card put on a better performance than Michihiro Omigawa who finished Cole Escovedo with a submission that rarely gets the tap out in MMA: the straight armbar or Ude Gatame. 

Omigawa's rebirth as a featherweight contender is one sign that Japanese MMA is not dead yet. Here's Tony Loiseleur talking about Omigawa's rough start and his career turnaround:

Omigawa debuted in 2005 inside the Pride Fighting Championships ring -- a direct result of his connection to Yoshida -- and was smashed by veteran Aaron Riley. His career started with a 1-4 mark. Because of his powerful J-Rock management, Omigawa was one of the UFC's few Japanese recruits in 2007, but decision losses to Matt Wiman and Thiago Tavares made for a short tenure.

A sub-.500 afterthought, Omigawa decided to cut to featherweight. Lifestyle and dietary changes soon followed, as he stopped "spoiling himself" and adopted an attitude befitting a prizefighter.

"I was really tired of losing. I thought about doing something else for a living, but the only thing I can do in life is fight," Omigawa says. "Anything in my life I could eliminate that wouldn't help my fighting career, I tried to get rid of."

And here's Jordan Breen with more on Omigawa's renaissance:

Omigawa's recent turnaround isn't just a personal success story; it a success story for Japanese MMA. His improvement can't be attributed to any one single factor but rather a holistic process of fighter development that is normally absent in Japan. For starters, after racking up a 4-7 record as a lightweight, he finally cut down to the featherweight division -- a weight class that actually physically suits him. Typically, Japanese fighters don't realize they're a poor fit in their weight class until about a decade into their career, if at all.

Secondly, he's been wise enough to realize that his determined but unskilled stand-up can't cut it. He has recently started working out at the Watanabe Gym responsible for several Japanese national and Ocean Pacific boxing champions, as well as where K-1 Max star Masato worked on his hands before his 2003 World Grand Prix victory. Omigawa's transformation since beginning to train there earlier this year has been dramatic, with a rich demonstration this weekend as he bobbed, weaved and battered a high-quality fighter in Nam Phan with his boxing.

He hasn't simply fallen in love with his hands -- the pitfall of many grapplers who improve their striking. His upset wins over Davis and Phan required gameplanning, another aspect of Japanese MMA that is sorely lacking in many regards. To talk to many Japanese fighters and trainers about fight preparation simply boggles the mind, especially given the likes of Greg Jackson bringing hyperspecific strategy en vogue in North America. Credit is due to Omigawa's team for helping him transform from a judoka windmilling punches at his own detriment to a fighter who, in his last two fights, has transitioned seamlessly between the feet and the ground and controlled his opponents tactically throughout.

Now let's talk about the move Omigawa used to win the fight. It's sometimes called the inverted armbar, but that term is used to describe a number of arm bar variations, so I've chosen to go with straight arm bar or as they say in Judo, the Ude Gatame. 

Here's BE member Dan Pedersen, aka judonerd, describing the hold:

The Ude Gatame is an old-school (read: 19th century and earlier) submission that can be used standing or on the ground, and can even still be found in the traditional Judo kata forms. It's a tough one to pull off live, but it's certainly not impossible. I've been on the receiving end of a few and they aren't pleasant. In a live-fight situation, typically the attacker is on his back with some sort of guard in place, and the man on top has left an arm dangling wide (instead of keeping his elbows tight like he should).

Let us say you are on your back with an open guard, and the man on top has hung his right arm open, away from his body. Step one is to roll onto your left side, towards the arm. Underhook the opponent's right armpit deeply with your left arm and come over the top with your right arm to trap it. The next motion is crucial-you have to create distance between yourself and the opponent and slide your grip up towards the elbow to strip the arm away from him. Simultaneously, you have to roll the opposite direction, towards your right side. This roll in the other direction helps you guide his hand, with the thumb down, into the space between your left shoulder and your neck. His thumb must be facing downward (like a bad Ebert review) towards your neck, and you have to pinch your head and shoulder tight to trap the wrist.

If everything went right, both of your hands are clasped together just above his elbow, below the tricep, and the sub is locked in place. "Locked" meaning the man caught won't even be able to rotate his own hand because of the pressure to the elbow. A hard squeeze with both hands, and pop go the tendons.

Unfortunately, many times if the opponent has a little bit of bend in his arm, or if you haven't created enough distance, or if his hand isn't positioned correctly, you wind up in a stalemate. You cannot make adjustments because both of your hands are committed to the arm, and the man defending can feel he is in trouble so he just stops taking risks and freezes. He can also shove the arm through as if to wrap it around your head, which will give him the space needed to bend the arm and escape immediate danger.

Ken Shamrock describes the move in his Beyond the Lion's Den as a "shoulder posted arm bar". We'll look at Ken's breakdown of the move in the full entry.

We'll also look at gifs of the action with more commentary by Dan as well as BE member Patrick Tenney (aka AboveThisFire) and see a video by judo legend Isao Okano demonstrating one variation of the grounded Ude Gatame.


Gifs by Chris Nelson.

Here's Patrick Tenney aka BE member AboveThisFire breaking down Omigawa's technique with additional commentary by BE member Dan Pedersen, aka judonerd:

Michi1_mediumPatrick Tenney: We're starting off here with Omigawa in side control, using his outside (left) arm as an overhook on Cole's head to prohibit Cole from being able to hip escape or reestablish guard. Omigawa is snaking that arm deep potentially setting up some submission options. Cole's in a bad position here as his right arm isn't tucked inside (hello arm bar) and he can't shrimp out or in because his head is wrapped.


Cole has a few options here:

  1. Use his left arm to try and pry the head wrap off (unlikely, doesn't look like Omigawa's right arm is going to allow that) so that he can hip escape or get his guard back.
  2. Bridging hard and rolling Omigawa to reverse the position, he needs to post his feet (not letting them dangle in the air like he is) and force his body up hard and onto his left shoulder so that he can take advantage of Omigawa's arms not being able to post at this moment.
  3. As a last ditch effort he can try to get enough space to get his right arm under Omigawa and to the opposite side, force himself into a north south position and attempt to either set up an arm triangle type choke or a barrel roll side control escape.


Tenney: Omigawa's started a transition to mount, Cole's able to block it by getting a knee in the way and Omigawa doesn't want to keep trying for mount and opts to focus just on getting the guillotine from bottom instead.

Cole's trying to pry the grip off to free his head. When Omigawa drops to his side Cole recognizes this and comes up and starts moving as much as he can laterally so he can avoid being caught in full guard; Omigawa does manage to shoot his left leg inside though and get that open guard type position that Nate Diaz prefers to finish the guillotine from (see Diaz vs. Guillard).

Pedersen: Reviewing the fight again, it seems that Omigawa was intent on catching that submission from the beginning. Watch for every moment where Escovedo's arm is wrapped over Omigawa's shoulder. Omigawa immediately starts trying to isolate the arm and strip it away to straighten it.

You see what led to the first Ude Gatami attempt in the last few frames of GIF #2. Escovedo, in his attempt to get to his knees, pushes Omigawa's head and shoulders away and puts his arm, thumb down, right into the crook of Omigawa's neck. Omigawa goes to work on the arm but can't get the angles in place, and by GIF #3, it has stalemated.


Tenney: I can only postulate as to what happened between the 2nd and third gif images here as I didn't catch the fight (I like sleep ) but I can assume it went down something like this:

Cole pried the grip off and freed his head using proper posture but when he came up out of the guillotine Omigawa reestablished full guard and immediately went up to break Cole's posture. Cole, instead of using his back and core to maintain posture posted an arm on the mat and pushed off, Omigawa went up over top of that left shoulder to start a hip bump but decided to slide down the arm and go for what I was taught as a "cutting straight arm bar".

This arm bar is pretty easy to teach/drill, but really difficult to pull off in a live roll; Omigawa's going for it correctly by creating his grip where the tricep of Cole reaches the protruding elbow joint (this is going to be the fulcrum and where Omigawa is applying the pressure, think "reverse arm bar").

Omigawa is using butterfly guard here and if Cole makes any mistakes here it's likely that he's going to be swept or lose his arm to the submission, smart move by Omigawa in that keeping Cole in full guard might allow Cole to push his arm through the submission and then end up flat in Omigawa's guard; instead Omigawa is keeping Cole at distance using the butterfly guard.


Michi4_mediumTenney: Cole tripods up and tries to apply enough forward pressure to get his arm through the lock, Omigawa switches his butterfly guard to post his feet on Cole's hips and pushes Cole back to retain control of the arm and keep working the submission, Cole collapsing in trying desperately to get his arm out (he uses his other arm to try and halt Omigawa's backward movement by cupping the left shoulder) and take the pressure off his elbow while Omigawa keeps scooting back to maintain distance and the possibility of submission. Omigawa squeezing Cole's arm between his neck and shoulder (using his head to pinch down) while still going for that straight arm lock. Keep in mind here that Cole's posture is completely broken and both of his arms are extended and on the mat, which is a gigantic sin in grappling.


We've got two camera angles of the finish here, and it's definitely something you'll want to see from different angles as Omigawa has given up on the left arm of Escovedo to switch to the same submission on the right side instead!

Omigawa takes advantage of Cole's terrible guard posture and brings his left arm around the side to cut in on Cole's right arm at the elbow joint (Cole's fault for leaving his arms extended in the guard like that). Initially Omigawa's right arm and left arm are fighting on the shoulder applying pressure by cutting the forearm into where the deltoid muscle is on the shoulder, using a gable grip (think of it as applying a gable grip rear naked choke but that pressure is on the arm/shoulder instead of the neck)

Personal note: it's painful and feels like someone is digging into and slicing the muscle

Pedersen: GIF #5 (above right) is where Escovedo seals his fate. He appears to get frustrated with Omigawa constantly trapping the arm or head, and he just tries to yank it out. This is totally the wrong direction to go. Omigawa has been trying to create this distance with his open guard the whole fight, and in the end, Escovedo just gives it to him. His head pops out, he tries taking the arm with it, and Omigawa finally has the arm fully straightened and his hands in the right place. He locks it up and the fight is over.

One more thing. Most of the more seasoned submission players know: When your arm is fully straight in an armbar, if you try yanking or pulling it out, it just rips the tendons faster. I guarantee, in the moments before he was saved by the ref, Escovedo heard the sound of his own ligaments popping


Tenney: Cole falls into a trap and pops his head out to his left side allowing Omigawa to create that distance again and slide the grip down lower on the arm to the cutting straight arm bar again, hipping out and coming down with his right leg over top of Cole to shut down potential posturing and escape. Cole in the end is forced to tap as Omigawa torques the lock against the fulcrum that the elbow has become, applying immense pressure/pain and because Cole can't maintain defensive posture or relieve pressure on the arm Omigawa comes away with the win.

Some slick submission work using what's typically considered a lower % sub from the guard. Definitely shows that Omigawa was quite a few steps ahead of Cole just about everywhere on the ground.

Here's judoka Isao Okano showing how to do Ude Gatame

Here's a diagram of the move from


Here's Ken Shamrock breaking down his approach to the submission from his Beyond the Lion's Den:

Shamrock1_mediumAlthough this technique is rather simple, it can be quite effective when your opponent places one of his arms over your shoulder. Your opponent's best defense will be to pull his arm free before you can lock in the hold, so it should be done as quickly and tightly as possible.

1. I have Jason in my closed guard. My feet are locked together behind his back, and I'm controlling his arms by grabbing both of his wrists. 

2. I tug Jason's right arm up to the left side of my face with my left hand. To lock his arm in place, I slide my left hand down his arm and grab on to his triceps. I then place my right hand on the right side of Jason's face and push his head to the outside of my body. 


Shamrock2_medium3. Running my left forearm across Jason's left triceps jsut above his elbow, I clasp my hands together. To lock in the arm bar, I pull my arms into my chest. 


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