How many times have you heard, “Do not cross your legs when applying an armbar”? Most commonly referring to an armbar from mount, quarter-mount, or side control. A few times? I have several times. More frequently eight to 10 years ago, but to this day, I still hear a few people make that statement.
They argue that when you cross your legs, you lose control and could lose it if the bottom player uses your momentum when you lay back to hyperextend the elbow. I’ve heard other reasons, but this one is the most common. I think the downside and most convincing reason to avoid crossing your legs is that you do lose tension on the north leg that is applying downward pressure on the opponent, thus allowing him to posture. That almost sounds the same as the first reason. Except, it is not the momentum that causes the loss of control and the opponent to posture, it’s the lack of pressure with the north leg.
On the other hand, leaving the legs open, while it provides excellent head control and pressure, it leaves the south leg vulnerable to being picked and half-guarded. To a half-guard player such as myself, this is easy-pickings! See the video below as Black Belt Ranger Oliveria
demonstrates this defense.
So, to cross or not to cross? There lies the question!
Similarly to any approach that you take in Jiu-Jitsu, you must be versatile when applying a technique. Cross or don’t cross; this is a matter of feeling for your opponent’s position and defense as he struggles to defend. Starting with your legs apart and applying as much downward pressure as you can exert to secure a fast submission is an excellent place to start. If you feel your south leg is being grabbed, you can cross them to stop the half-guard defense.
A nifty trick to ensuring your open legs will not be half-guarded, is to grab his near-side leg. This extra layer of control makes it harder for your opponent to trap your south leg in a half-guard. A short conclusion to this dilemma is not to treat Jiu-Jitsu in literal form, but in conversational form instead. Rather than scripting your match, learn to adjust as the pieces move.