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Sprechen Die Wrasslin'? The Armbar

Diaz by <strike>armbar</strike> reverse arm-scissors? via <a href=""></a>
Diaz by armbar reverse arm-scissors? via

"I don't know Pro Wrestling terminology and I think I'm probably a lot more informed because of it" - Luke Thomas

Yes, another semi-irregular feature is back with the second installment of Sprechen Die Wrasslin' to once again show Pro Wrestling's corrupting influence of the English language to the point where the fight media are using it without even realising it.

The last (and first) time in this series I covered the origins of the word Suplex, and you can read about that here.

The Armbar is slightly different, in that the term existed in legit Catch Wrestling before Pro Wrestling warped its definition. In wrestling you see, an arm-bar was a hold but not necessarily a submission, and it wasn't the straight armlock we all believe it to be.

Armbaroriginal01_mediumSo what is it? Well, first we have to look at what a bar is. A bar is what wrestlers referred to as the forearm - the radius and ulna bones between the wrist and elbow. Wrestling in the English speaking world often named moves and holds after everyday tools because of the shape they made such as scissors, hammers and so on. Bars of differing varieties were useful tools or instruments - the cross bar of a horse drawn plough and harness for instance, or a prise bar (now largely known as a crowbar) used as a sturdy lever to help move and remove cumbersome objects such as large rocks for example.

In wrestling you'd use a bar - a forearm - to help secure a body part for control and leverage. Wrapped around the opponent's arm, you have an arm-bar. A gable-grip waist lock would be a waist-bar, around the leg a leg-bar and so on. You can even have a face-bar when using a gable grip to lever the forearm across parts of the face such as along the jaw. Basically wrapping around any body part you can where the forearm is working like a lever gives you a bar hold.

So how did the original arm-bar become appropriated with the classic submission? In Judo we know it as a Juji-gatame which translates to "cross arm lock". In Wrestling though, the position was more commonly known as a reverse arm scissors, again because of the shape the legs made around the arm.

However some setups of the hyper-extending submission could include a bar around the arm as well. Rather than saying an "arm scissors with an arm bar" professional wrestlers unsurprisingly got lazy and preferred brevity and shortened it to arm-bar and it benefited the eventual 'calling' of a worked match where the two wrestlers could quickly and quietly communicate the next move or sequence without the audience picking up on it. Some matches began being worked as early as the first years of the 20th century. Because of its prevalent and increasingly incorrect use in Pro Wrestling and adoption in the submission arts some circles of Amateur Wrestling now call an arm-bar a bar-arm in an attempt to avoid confusion.


But how come arm-bar was adopted by the English language Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fraternity? One theory is when Mitsuyo Maeda traveled from Japan to America in 1904 on his 'Judo world tour' he picked up on what the English speaking wrestlers called the Juji Gatame. Maeda travelled with Tsunejirō Tomita  who was the first black belt in Judo under founder Jigorō Kanō, but was also fluent in English and would have been Maeda's means of communicating to begin with. Through Judo being setup and spread in America and Europe Tomita could have used 'arm-bar' as the preferred name for English speakers, despite not being a direct translation of the Japanese name for it.

Maeda's travels in America, and then into Europe would have him encounter other martial arts such as catch wrestling, boxing and savate and others which would influence his fighting philosophy and even some of his technique which helped form the combative elements or Gracie Jiu Jitsu (named after Kano Jiu Jitsu as it was known long before it became known as Judo in Japan.)

When Maeda settled in Brazil now capable of conversing in English, and the Gracie family knowing both Portuguese and English - since the Gracie heritage can be traced back to George Gracie who emigrated from Scotland to Brazil in 1826 - it's possible Maeda having learned 'arm-bar' from his experience in Pro Wrestling taught it as such to a young Carlos Gracie.

So, there you go. The next time you see an arm-bar in MMA or submission grappling, unless a bar is in place you may actually just be seeing a reverse arm scissors or a 'cross arm lock'. But just as with the pro wrestlers over a hundred years ago, arm-bar's going to be the easier name to say despite being technically inaccurate the majority of the time its used.

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