Let’s talk about something more concrete than what it feels like to apply submission holds correctly and effectively.
If you are struggling with a certain submission, it helps to step back a little and figure out precisely what your problems with that submission are.
Let’s say there are three stages to examine.
This may sound too obvious, but you must first reach a position where you can initiate a submission. The question is — can you get to such a position reasonably well? If not, that’s what you need to work on.
This “entry” part is, without doubt, pretty tricky, especially when you are dealing with a skilled opponent. In such a case, you will need to break multiple defensive layers, control your opponent’s posture, and so on.
For example, if we are talking about an armbar from the mount, getting double under hooks from the mount position and sliding into the S-mount and the armbar position would be part of this “entry” stage.
If you can enter into a position to initiate your submission of choice without problem, but your opponent often manages to escape before you go for the submission, you need to tighten your control.
In all honesty, control is required in every step, but here, I’m specifically talking about the kind of control you need between the “entry” stage and the “execution” stage.
This “mid” stage may involve securing your grips for the submission, pinning the right spots of your opponent’s body, and removing any obstacles your opponent might create.
With the armbar example, keeping the S-mount and dealing with your opponent’s defensive grips would be part of this stage.
If you’ve gone through the control stage perfectly, the “finish” part of your submission should be the easiest of all these stages.
It should be as easy as the following situation: imagine you are standing in front of a goalpost with no goalkeeper or any other players from your opponent’s football/soccer team to bother you, and you just need to kick the ball gently to get a score. It might sound like a weird example, especially coming from someone who is actually not interested in football, but this is how I always pictured the ideal scenario for a submission finish.
But some submissions are harder to master, and there’s a good chance you might not be aware of more effective ways to apply some of the submissions you use.
So, it’s always a good idea to understand the mechanics of the submission you want to get better at. When you know how it works, you will understand what you need to pay attention to for a successful finish.
Once you have figured out where exactly you have difficulties, you will have an easier time troubleshooting. Don’t drill mindlessly, but instead, I’d recommend practicing the sub with a training partner who can give you the right amount of resistance and good feedback.
The advice above is general and broad, but I believe it can still be beneficial for some of you.
p.s. On a related note, check out this 4-minute excerpt of a BJJ Fanatics Podcast episode featuring Sean Applegate, where Sean talks about the misconception of joint locks. It’s all about controlling your opponent.