Disclaimer first – this article is not for the faint of heart. In most cases, BJJ submissions end in victory via taps or even refer stoppages. However, sometimes, things end up going all the way, which is not something that is easy to see. In the case of chokes, people go to sleep, and it usually ends without consequences, given the nature of blood chokes. They’re immensely dangerous, but very hard to be abused. On the other hand, going for limb submissions in the form of joint locks provides us with some of the most painful BJJ submissions in existence. And, the evidence of how effective they are is out there, it just may not be pleasant to watch.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is extremely powerful as a martial art. Even though most people view it s as spot nowadays, or even just a form of physical exercise, you can actually do some real serious damage to people. Plenty of BJJ moves, like takedowns or pressure positions, can cause injury even unintentionally., However, it is submissions that are the most dangerous weapons Jiu-Jitsu has to offer. In short, painful BJJ submissions are all submissions that you can actually pull off with success. Pain is the premise upon which you get a tap from a partner. But, what happens when the tap doesn’t come? Well, if your submission technique is on point, you get a snap, crackle, and pop and some pretty graphic images.
What Are The Most Painful BJJ Submissions?
Every submission that hurts and gets a tap is a painful one. Obviously. However, pain is not a really relevant factor when it comes to the effectiveness of submissions. In terms of pain itself, everyone has a different threshold. Of course, nobody wants to go home with a broken leg from class, so we tap at the earliest possible discomfort when training. This oftentimes causes us to thnk our submissions are much tighter and better than they really are. Competing helps clean this aspect up, as you’ll find out just how painful BJJ submissions are (or aren’t) when in a tournament.
Another thing to consider is flexibility. People have different levels of dexterity, and most often, have a certain body part that is more flexible than others. For example, some people have extreme ankle flexibility making them seem impervious to leg locks but will tap before you even connect your hands for a Kimura due to extremely immobile shoulders. That said, while all of these factors need to be taken into account, they do not determine whether a submission is effective or not.
The thing with painful BJJ submissions is that some of them are painful after the fact. Our bodies do not have the same amount of pain receptors everywhere, which, along with stubbornness and stupidity are often the reasons we see just how effective and painful BJJ submissions can be. To that extent, the most painful BJJ submissions are the ones that can break a limb without the person executing them having to exert extreme amounts of force. Conversely, those happen to also be the highest percentage submission that brings about a lot of taps anyway.
19 Times BJJ Submissions Went All The Way
Where do we start with all the examples of painful BJJ submissions that we’ve seen so far? In the examples below, you’ll find plenty of situations that have taken place in different competition settings. Some are Gi BJJ matches, others are in No-Gi submission-only situations, as well as some of the worst (or best, depending on how you see them) joint breaks in MMA that are a result of BJJ submissions. We even threw in a couple of street fighting/self-defense situations where submissions proved to work a bit more than they probably should have.
Roger Gracie Breaks Jacare’s Arm
As things stand, straight armbars are the biggest culprit when it comes to broken bones in competition as a result of a submission. Conversely, guess what is the highest percentage BJJ submission ever in both Gi and No-Gi?
This match took place at the 2004 Mundials and is the stuff of BJJ legends. Roger Gracie met Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in the final of the Worlds that took place in Brazil. While Jacare is up on points, Roger managed to sneak in an armbar from the closed guard, using a high guard setup. Obviously, Jacare though he could take it, but Roger set it up so tight, it ended up snapping Jacare’s arm. Incredibly enough, he kept fighting despite the arm break, and actually managed to see the match to the end and win. Would you have kept on going?
That Time When Romulo Barral Got His Foot Removed By A Toe Hold
Speaking of painful BJJ submissions we have to include toe holds. Remember when I said some submission become painful after the fact? Well, the toe hold definitely falls into that category. And the fact that it is world champion Romulo Barral suffering the break further shows how effective the move can be.
At the 2017 Worlds, Patric Gaudio managed to slap a toe hold on to Romulo Barral’s foot. Romulo didn’t seem to be in much trouble as long as Gauido was belly down. Once Patric turned to face the ceiling, though, there was suddenly a lot of room to twist Romulo’s foot, so much so, that his foot seems to have separated from the rest of his leg, hanging on just by the skin. Nasty, and with picture-perfect technique.
A Cringe-Worthy Amrbar Finish
They can’t all be world champions breaking each other’s bones. Some fo the submission featured here today took place in different divisions of different tournaments. That doesn’t make them less cringe-worthy, or less effective. Take this armbar for example.
The guy in the white rashguard went for a takedown that didn’t work but had a nasty guard game to fall back to. He started hunting for a Kimura and then did a slick transition into an armbar. The opponent did try to do a stack defense, but only ended up deeper, and the arm broke before he even had the chance to tap. The armbar is definitely the king of the most painful BJJ submissions at all levels.
The Ffion Davis ADCC Armbar
Now, this is an armbar finish that is still fresh in our minds. At the 2019 ADCC, we saw a lot of upsets, but in the female divisions, the biggest one came via this Ffion Davis armbar. Bea was a favorite to win the division, but Davies had something to say about it. In one of the biggest upsets, she got to a very tight triangle-armbar position. Having long limbs certainly helped her hold on to it, and follow Bea’s rolling escape attempts, eventually putting so much pressure on, that Mesquita’s arm snapped in a very nasty fashion.
A Heel Hook Break
Heel hooks are the boogeyman of Jiu-Jitu, and we do not actually see too many injuries as a result of these submissions, because people are afraid of them. That means people tap early. If there was ever a submission you need to tap early to, it has to be the heel hook. Yet another one of the painful BJ J submissions that don’t seem to bad at first.
At the Atlanta NAGA in 2015, we see the now usual, butterfly guard toa straight Ashi Garami entry where the bottom guy (the one in the black rashguard) needs a few attempts to finally get a proper outside heel hook grip. Once he gets it, though it is easy for him to follow the opponent’s turn, put a stop to it, and pop his knee wit the pressure.
The Frank Mir Armlock Frenzy
Frank Mir is notorious for his use of the armlocks. Talk about painful BJJ submissions! He managed to break not one, but two arms with submission, and did it against some of the baddest people on the planet, inside the UFC octagon. One is against Tim Sylvia when Mir used an armbar from the guard so snap Tim’s arm in two. And, as if that wasn’t scary enough, he took it one step further.
When Mir battled Big Nog, who is a legend of BJJ as well as MMA, he managed to slap on a top side control Kimura that had the seasoned grappler in trouble. How much trouble exactly, became apparent the moment that arm snapped, a moment clearly visible after Nogueira’s failed rolling escape.
Bent Arm Lock Break
At what appears to be an in-house tournament, we witness one of the nastiest arm breaks in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Whenever I teach this armlock from the scarf hold I make it a point to discourage people from using it in live rolls. competition is different though, and though I wouldn’t use it at an in-house tournament, it is an effective way to end a match.
Form the scarf hold, one of the toughest things to stop is having your arm straightened, and placed under pressure by the opponent;’s legs. However, bending the arm like for an Americana lock while trying to defend a straight armlock will only make things worse. Just like in this case.
Biceps Slicer Forearm Fracture
This is an unusual and rare submission at best and can be devastating at worst. As it turns out, a biceps slicer doesn’t only threaten to snap a biceps muscle in half, it can also break the forearm in the process as well. This one happens inside a cage during an MMA fight when the bottom guy (red tape on the gloves) sets up the sneakiest possible biceps slicer form the bottom. Although not visible at the beginning, it is clear that the pressure managed to break the forearm bones before slicing through the biceps. It makes you wonder if we haven’t stumbled across the most painful BJJ submission right there.
Ankle Lock From Hell
For those that don’t believe ankle locks can cause trouble, think again. Apart from the fact that you can use the ankle lock position to break a baseball bat, you can definitely destroy an ankle, and in more ways than one.
After quite the leg lock exchange, the guy in the red shorts, who obviously had his mindset on winning via ankle lock, finally managed to get a tap. It came too late though, and it is baffling as to why the opponent thought he can withstand the pressure of the entire body against his ankle joint. Ankle locks can be some of the most painful BJJ submissions around, so be careful!
Sub Spectrum Kimura
A Kimura finish at the Sub Spectrum Grappling tournament. Hannah Sharp from Renzo Gracie Portland did a great job setting up a beautiful Kimura form the top. Seriously, she had that arm perfectly isolated from the get-go! Okay, she might’ve gotten a bit overzealous and in combination with gravity, definitely took the arm too far. So far, in fact, you could almost see it come out on the other side. Not intentional, but also extremely painful to even watch!
Michelle Nicolini vs. Tammi Musumeci Omoplata/Armbar Break
Back at world-class level, it seems that black belts are just as stubborn at tapping out, as white belts are. We all know that Michelle Nicolini is one of the best out there, but so is Tammi Musumeci. When the two met at the 2014 Worlds it was the finals, and Michelle got the upper hand, (pun intended).
Nicolini patiently waited for the perfect moment to set up a submission going from closed guard to Spider guard all the way to a crazy Omoplata position. However, instead of attacking the near arm, Nicolini went for the far arm doing a straight armlock that clearly snapped Tammi’s elbow. To her credit, Musumeci, who had a two-point lead at the moment, did not tap, similarly to Jacare. However, Michele used the fact her opponent was injured and racked up an incredible 9 points in 30 seconds to secure the title.
Tye Ruotolo’s Desperate Kneebar
As far as painful BJJ submissions go, this certainly was painful, although it does not technically count as a submission, as there was no tap. In fact, this was a huge one for Paolo Miyao, who clung on to ADCC bronze by not tapping out to young Tyre Ruotolo’s kneebar attempt. Although not apparent in the video (much) Miyao took significant damage to the knee and was not able to use the leg later on. Luckily, he had no more matches left so he could hide the extent of the injury well. Kudos to the 16-year-old who had one of the most seasoned grapplers in the tightest possible spot. Anyone else would’ve tapped.
MMA Kimura From Closed Guard
Yet another Kimura, and once again, in an MMA match. This time, MMA fighter Aaron Strawmier is the “culprit” really snapping Jonathan Riffles’ arm with a gruesome Kimura finish. The attack is a closed guard Kimura, but with a variation. Obviously, Strawmier is a lanky guy, as he had his opponent in a body triangle from the front, isnte4ad of the usual closed guard. Apparently this makes the Kiimura work way better, as the hips remain locked. The result speaks for itself, with this rocketing to the top spots for most painful BJJ submissions ever!
AJ Refusing To Tap To Tonon’s Kneebar
In a situation similar to the one with Ruotolo and Miyao, Gracie Barra’s AJ Agazarm, how is notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to submit, managed to survive a leg lock attack. It was not just any leg lock attack, but an extremely tight kneebar. What’s even more impressive is that it wasn’t just anyone doing the leg lock. But Garry Tonon himself!
There’s no tap and AJ did manage to get out of the position, but at what cost? The question was never answered as AJ claimed he was alright. See for yourself whether or not he managed to get out injury-free, or had some rehab and recovery to do.
Belly Down Amrbar In An MMA Match
If there was ever a nasty armbar to look at, it has to be this one! Once again it takes place ina an MMA match and it shows the power of the belly down armbar. It also shows why you should never lift up when defending an armbar because now you’re allowing your opponent to use gravity against you as well. In this instance, the arm snaps, and stays snapped for one of the all-time most painful BJJ submissions ever pulled off in a fight!
Omoplata Arm Break In A Street Fight
For everyone who thinks BJJ is not effective in self-defense here’s something to change your mind. A guy is on his back in a street fight situation, and he manages to slap on an Omoplata. Suffice to say, he takes it all the way, leaving the opponent in agony and with a painfully distorted and very much broken arm.
Fight Like A Girl, Break Like A Girl
Another street fight example of how BJJ makes you superior ina one-on-one situation. Whatever this girl did wrong, she won’t repeat any time soon. Obviously, her opponent knew how to grapple, and then some, because she gets a beautiful armbar from mount finish, with the elbow popping and all, before continuing to beat on the girl and eventually choke her unconscious. Fight likes a girl they say… you wish!
The Latest Example – Craig Jones Breaks Vinny Magalhaes’ Leg
And finally, the latest example happened just last night, in the Submission Underground 13 main event. Vinny Magalhaes, known for his “leg locks don’t work” mantra, came up against one of the nastiest leg lockers ever in Craig Jones. Suffice to say, Vinny won’t be claiming that leg locks are ineffective any longer. Given that Craig broke his leg multiple times, from what can be seen. Although Vinny did not tap immediately, he did verbally tap a bit later. I guess that’s when the pains from these painful BJ Jsubmissions starts to really show.
The Elephant In The Room
You could argue all BJJ submissions are Painful BJJ submissions. There’s a case to be made there, for sure. However, the fact remains that certain submissions really do carry a threat for serious long term consequences, and I’m not just talking about going to sleep. The broken arms and legs in the ways seen above are the exact reason why you should always tap early and often when you’re training, and especially when you are competing. Moreover, it is exactly why you need to watch out what you’re doing when you’re trying to crank on submission holds which power yo do not yet fully appreciate.