(This piece appeared in my now defunct fight blog, Pinoy Fight Scribe, in 2013.)
by Mark Lorenzana
My friend Jasmine earned her degree in Accountancy, cum laude, at the University of San Carlos in 2006 and her degree in Law at the University of the Philippines–Diliman in 2010. As a certified public accountant and an attorney, she currently works as a Junior Associate specializing in litigation, tax and corporate advisory, and corporate housekeeping at a high-profile law firm in Makati. But when she’s not being a CPA lawyer, you can find Jasmine in a gi, on the mats, trying to choke people out. Jasmine, who has a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, took up the sport a few years ago when she decided that she needed to lose some weight. Now, aside from successfully shedding off the extra pounds, she’s also quite adept at—to put it mildly—making her opponents tap out on a regular basis.
“I used to run, but I noticed that I wasn’t losing as much weight as I wanted to,” Jasmine tells me one warm Sunday night at the Cebu branch of the jiu-jitsu gym she trains at, in between training sessions. “My first day doing jiu-jitsu, I was lying in a pool of my own sweat. That’s how intense the training was.”
I see what she means. I look around and about ten pairs of trainees, their gis all soaked in sweat, are getting busy on the mats, changing their positions and holds as Norman, the head instructor, belts out instructions.
“Kimura!” Norman yells in a booming voice. “Choke! Arm bar!”
Norman, who has earned his brown belt early last year, is all business. And as he keeps on belting out instructions to his students, he sounds like a man on a mission. “Pick up the pace, execute right away!” Norman shouts. “Let’s go, a little bit faster. Move faster!”
The arm bar may very well be the most frequently used joint-lock submission in mixed martial arts (MMA) today. This particular submission is commonly performed by placing your legs across your opponent’s chest, with one of his or her arms positioned between your thighs and with the elbow joint against your hips. From this position, you will grab your opponent’s arm and position his or her forearm against your chest. When you lean back and arch your hips, you create intense pressure in the elbow joint, which forces your opponent to tap out. If the tap doesn’t come soon enough, the results can be nasty: torn ligaments and torn tendons in the elbow joint. In fact, it is not rare in some cases for the arm bar to result in a broken bone if there is sufficient leverage, power, and angle.
On the other hand, the kimura—which is named after its inventor, Masahiko Kimura, widely considered as the greatest judoka of all time—is a submission that essentially involves cranking your opponent’s arm away from him or her, which puts intense pressure on the shoulder and elbow joint, resulting in the tap. Of course this is the most simplified description of the submission as it can be—like most submissions in jiu-jitsu—executed from almost any position and angle.
In the case of chokes, Jasmine explains that there are actually two different types: a blood choke and an air choke.
Blood chokes work by compressing the carotid arteries, therefore cutting off the supply of oxygen to the brain. A properly executed blood choke can render a person unconscious in as little as three minutes. Air chokes, in contrast, cut off air flow down the trachea. As such, an air choke generally relies on strength rather than technique to be effective. Air chokes are typically inefficient or ineffective for use in martial arts. And besides, air chokes are extremely dangerous and can cause major damage to an opponent—they can actually fracture a person’s larynx.
There are quite a few blood chokes employed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA, but the most common is the rear-naked choke. Out of curiosity, I ask Jasmine how to do a properly executed rear-naked choke.
“Why don’t you show him so he knows what it feels like?” Norman, who has overheard our conversation, says.
* * *
“When you choke someone,” Norman tells me while I’m seated on the mat, with him behind me, “you’re basically cutting off blood supply to the brain. That’s why you pass out.”
He adds, “A rear-naked choke works like this. What I’m doing right now, what I’m doing is that I’m wrapping my arm around your neck like so, and then I put my other arm over the other arm like this and behind your head to try to cut off the blood supply. What you feel right now is that I’m not actually choking you yet. If you do feel a bit of sensation where it feels like you are losing a bit of light in your vision, that’s basically you panicking. At this point. Don’t worry about it, don’t tap just yet. Just relax. Now I’m just tightening it just a bit slowly. Feel that?”
“Yes,” I say.
“I don’t even need to tighten it suddenly,” Norman says. “I just have to count from one to ten and each count it’s going to be tighter. So why don’t we do this? Why don’t we count to five, don’t tap, and let’s just see if we can reach five before you fall asleep. Okay? Okay.”
Before I could protest, I start to feel Norman’s arms tighten around my neck, a predator squeezing the life out of its helpless prey. Instinctively, I move my hand next to the forearm that’s cutting off blood circulation to my brain, ready to tap.
I could feel the blood draining from my face, my vision blurring, everything starting to turn black. The telltale signs someone feels before passing out.
I tap Norman’s forearm furiously, my hand slapping as hard as I can before I completely lose consciousness, which—in my estimation—won’t be too long from now.
Surprisingly, by this time, the urge to keep on tapping is replaced by a feeling of utter surrender, of complete helplessness. I feel my arms go limp. Then my entire body. By now the room is almost completely enveloped in darkness. At once falling asleep doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all. And at this point, believe it or not, it’s as if you welcome it. Sleep beckons. You give in to the inevitable.
Norman lets go.
Suddenly the floodgates to my oxygen-starved brain are opened, blood is pumped back, and the darkening gym is slowly bathed in light. I slowly regain strength in my limbs, in my entire body. I try to sit up.
“A little bit of zooming out, it’s just how that feels,” Norman says. “Now that’s a rear-naked choke. That’s how a choke feels.”
“Not quite but almost,” I manage to croak out, referring to the fact that I hadn’t totally passed out. And because I’m still conscious, I feel pretty good about myself. But not much—my throat feels like it’s been crushed in a vise.
“Yes, I know,” Norman says, smiling. “I let go before we reached five.”
Jasmine says she passed out once before, from a choke. “I was competing with this Korean guy, he was very physical, and he had me in a choke,” she tells me. “And he was talking so he didn’t notice I was already tapping out. Maybe I was tapping lightly so he didn’t notice. So I passed out. When you wake up, it’s like you wake up in the morning after a long sleep.”
She smiles, and adds, “It feels so refreshing.”
* * *
I’ve known Jasmine since our college days at USC, and needless to say, this is the slimmest I’ve seen her, ever. She also looks incredibly strong (she regularly does fireman’s carries on guys weighing 130 to 150 pounds at the gym). Jasmine loves to compete and has won bronze, silver, and gold medals in various local and international Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments, which include the Rollapalooza Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tournament, the Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Championship Trials, and the Pan-Asian Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Competition, among others.
Jasmine trains four days a week after work, Monday to Thursday, and also teaches an all-girls jiu-jitsu class on Saturday mornings. She tells me that if given the chance, she also plans to do cross-training in striking and eventually progress to full MMA.
Jasmine may be on to something. In November of last year, Ronda Rousey signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and successfully defended her UFC women’s bantamweight title against Liz Carmouche in an action-packed bout that saw Rousey survive an early standing face crank attempt by the game Carmouche, only to submit the challenger in the final seconds of the first round via arm bar.
And just a couple of months ago, at the Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, two women also figured in a thrilling fight as Cat Zingano beat former Strikeforce champion Meisha Tate via brutal TKO in the third round in what was perhaps the most exciting bout on the twelve-fight card. It wasn’t surprising that Zingano and Tate bagged Fight of the Night honors for their efforts and pocketed fifty thousand dollars in cash.
It seems that the UFC has discovered an untapped resource for pulling in more fans—women’s MMA, which could potentially create new stars for the organization. And as the first couple of fights in the UFC involving women have shown, the ladies are more than capable of putting on a great show for the fans.
When I visited Jasmine during her training session, she had rolled and sparred on the mats with guys bigger and heavier than her. She had given those guys a hard time. At the risk of sounding clichéd, Jasmine’s current skill level on the mats is very impressive. Factoring in the numerous medals she’s won in tournaments throughout the years, everything Jasmine has accomplished as a jiu-jitsu practitioner is a testament to her hard work, dedication, and drive. Undoubtedly the same hard work, dedication, and drive that have taken professional fighters like Rousey, Carmouche, Zingano, and Tate to where they are now.
And looking at Jasmine as she practices her different submissions and holds during a break in my interview with her, and as the sport of MMA pulls in more interested viewers and practitioners, I can’t help but imagine a jiu-jitsu or MMA gym here in the Philippines dominated by hardworking and talented women in the near future.
“Arm bar! Choke! Kimura!” Norman screams.
* * *
“What’s an arm bar?” Norman asks me. “An arm bar,” he says, “a lot of people think that it’s dislocating the shoulder. It’s not. It might look very fancy, but you’re actually dislocating the elbow. So this is how it’s going to look like.”
Norman sits beside me while I lie down on the mat, him stretching my arm out and slowly twisting my elbow outward, a few inches away from the breaking point. He says, “I’m putting pressure. This is very simple, this is very basic, this is a very crude idea of an arm bar. I’m putting pressure on the elbow, I’m putting pressure against where it’s normally not supposed to be stretched. That’s how it is.”
Norman lets go of my arm, and he sits on my chest. “Now when I get to the mount, I grab your right arm in my right hand, I push your face away with my left hand, I go to your side, move your face to the side so I can put my foot over, just like this.”
By now Norman’s upper legs are both wrapped around my left arm as he grabs on to my forearm, making sure my thumb is pointed up and away from him. One of his calves rests on my neck, the other rests on my chest. He sticks my wrist against his chest and slowly lies down on the mat, stretching my elbow outward.
“Now this is nothing yet,” Norman says. “There’s already tension, but it’s not gonna break anything. When I bump my hips upward like so—”
I feel a sharp pain. My elbow feels like it’s about to pop.
He taps my elbow lightly with his free hand and says, “This is where it’s going to break. I’m using all my body’s leverage to break this part of your body.”
And I can feel it. It’s is a very efficient way to twist the elbow upward and dislocate or break it while, at the same time, immobilizing your opponent on the ground. With his calves pinning my neck and chest, pushing my back against the mat, all Norman needs to do is arch his back and move his hips a bit further upward, just a few more inches, so he can snap my elbow like a twig. By now I could feel an intense pressure against my elbow. I brace myself.
Norman lets go.
“And that,” he says, “is how you do a properly executed arm bar.”