Tonight’s lesson brought us onto the omaplata. This Portuguese word for “shoulder blade” has become the most popular term used to describe a type of shoulder key-lock applied by the legs. Despite the move existing in competitive judo (and especially in kozen judo), where it is known as “ashi-sankaku-garami”, translated as “triangular entanglement”. Apparently catch-as-catch-can wrestlers call it a “coil lock”. The omaplata’s name popularity is probably down to the fact that it is a very common move in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
After our usual process of mobility and muscle activation exercises leading into sport-specific calisthenics we preceded onto the technical work of deconstructing the omaplata. As I have said before, I really like to break techniques down into behaviours. It is important to train a technique as a whole, but what I have often found is that important links and bad habits are easily picked up if this is the only way you drill a technique that requires more than one movement.
This brings me onto the importance of not just copying shapes. At this point I confess I have never been the fastest of learners and it is because of this failing that I have empathy for the person who struggles to make new techniques work under pressure. My martial arts story is not one about a natural who fought his way up showing remarkable ability, amazing physical attributes, coordination and mental dexterity (At this point I hear the enemies one inevitably accumulates through the fickle and tribalistic subculture of martial arts cross-training muttering “you can say that again!”) Therefore, I have had to learn short and dirty cuts to get anything work for me. The metaphorical penny dropped with me when I started understanding certain general body mechanics and the process of scaling back techniques. Usually this means tracing a certain technique back to its driving mechanisms and finding its associaiton with other techniques. The body only moves in so many ways after all. However, we often get lost in a fog of variations, language and ideas about certain techniques based on journeys taken by different people. This just results in students trying to copy shapes, a behaviour reinforced by the way we often look at the extremity of any technique i.e. when we think of a punch we think of a fist despite it being the least important part of the movement. Likewise, when one learns a triangular leg submission technique the main thing an individual typically observes is the way the legs are being used. The student focuses on ensnaring or entangling the area being submitted with their legs whilst forgetting about engaging their core muscles effectively. The result is the submission lacks compressive power no matter how hard the fighter tries to squeeze his legs together.
We took the set up for the omaplata as a given. After all, it is pretty much the same as the arm-bar and triangle choke from closed guard. So we focused on the first movement as the hook under the shoulder using the leg. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the use of angling was crucial. By hitting the shoulder whilst turning the body at a rough 45 degree angle the fighter should be able to disrupt his opponent’s balance very effectively. What the fighter doesn’t want at this stage is to be struggling with his legs wrapped around his opponent’s shoulder in a square-on position. Therefore, drilling this move, ensuring good accuracy, angulation of the body and a strong core is essential.
Next we looked at the sitting up movement, which can be replicated in solo practice as a floor stretch. Here the opponent’s arm is placed in the exact same position as a kimura, only using the legs instead of the arms to execute the hold. The fighter’s arm immediately encircles the opponent’s waist. It is a common mistake to forget about this last movement, often resulting in the opponent rolling out of the hold. Having said that there are certain alternatives to circling the waist, including a neck crank
and a leg lock
Finally we looked at the finishing movement as a classic omaplata shoulder lock, requiring the fighter to fold forward.
The lesson finished with a brief look at a counter involving a bobbing and weaving head movement. At the beginning of the lesson I included a sit-out exercise with a conscious emphasis on using the head. We used an unhung heavy bag on the shoulder to drill this action. This now came into play not as a defence from a sprawl/overhook, but as a counter to the omaplata. The fighter now ducks under the opponent’s legs, stacks him and goes to side control, transitioning into a triangle choke of his own.
Photography by Charlotte Von Bulow-Quirk of Jamie Clubb and Tony Hughes for Jamie Clubb’s books, “Mordred’s Victory and Other Martial Mutterings” and the upcoming multi-volume “Bullshitsu and the Fight to Make Martial Arts Work”.