Marcelo Garcia is probably the most dominant jiu-jitsu athlete of the last 15 years.
When he was competing he owned both the gi and the no gi divisions (4 x ADCC champion, 5 x Mundial World Champion). As if that wasn’t enough, his amazing performances in the absolute division against giants like Ricco Rodriguez have ensured his place in grappling history.
It’s always a good idea to carefully examine the game of the best players in any sport and copy whatever is applicable for your own body type, attributes, and limitations.
That’s why many grapplers (including myself) have tried to reverse engineer aspects of Marcelo’s successes and add his techniques to their own game.
He has quite a few signature moves, each of which took the sport by storm. Let’s look at 10 examples of Marcelo’s techniques and see if there’s anything you can swipe and use to sharpen your own game…
1: The Arm Drag
Everyone in jiu-jitsu knows that getting your opponent’s back is as good as it gets. Once you’re on his back they are nearly helpless while you have a wide selection of attacks to choose from.
The arm drag is borrowed from wrestling where it’s used as a set up for takedowns. However it’s even more useful in jiu-jitsu because with it you can quickly get to the back and submit your opponent.
If you hit a successful arm drag from standing then you get directly to your opponent’s back, often in a standing rear bear hug position (click here for 4 Takedowns from the Rear Bearhug).
If you apply the arm drag from guard then you get right to rear mount without having to first sweep your opponent and then struggling to pass his guard. Going directly to the back instead of spending time in the guard reduces the risk of getting swept or submitted.
In other words the arm drag gets you right to the top of the mountain.
Here’s Marcelo talking about how and why he developed the arm drag to such a high degree:
Did Garcia invent this technique? Certainly not – he took it from wrestling. But he was the first person to popularize it by doing it successfully and repeatedly at the world’s biggest events; such as the ADCC world championships where he did it to basically everyone.
How is it done?
To do the arm drag from standing you grab their same-side wrist and cup their arm around the tricep, then you side step and swing it past you and end up in a rear-clinch position. Marcelo also uses the standing arm drag to set up a wicked inside trip takedown or to pull his opponent all the way to the ground.
The video below has a lot of Marcelo showing off his arm drag mastery!
Typically the arm drag is done from the butterfly guard although it can also be done from other positions. Start by cupping the tricep just as in standing, bring one of your legs to the outside, and then pull him forward while shifting your hips out to one side. .
If everything goes well then your opponent crashes to the ground right beside you where you can take his back. And even if you don’t get the hooks in, if he turns in time to put you in the guard, then you still get a sweep and 2 points in IBJJF competition.
2: Taking the Back
Marcelo is an absolute master of taking the back from any position.
To pick up from the standing arm drag we discussed above, once you’re behind your opponent in the the rear clinch getting to the back takes another special trick.
Essentially, Marcelo either jumps up onto his opponents’ back to get the seat-belt grip or he steps on the back of both their knees to make them fall then he gets the seat-belt grip. A fine example of this technique was his fight with Ricco Rodriguez at about 2:40 in the video below. Check it out and see for yourself.
In the IBJJF that’s worth four points. In MMA it could win you the fight!
If you’re on the ground with Marcelo it’s absolute suicide to give him your back, even for a moment. First he’s going to get his seatbelt grip and then he’s going to follow you wherever you go; it doesn’t matter if you roll left, roll right or just try to stall – he’s going to get his hooks in and establish the rear mount!
3: The Rear Naked Choke
Alright so you’ve pulled off your signature arm-drag and followed up with the rear mount – congratulations!
But jiu-jitsu is about finishing the fight with a submission; points only matter when nobody gets submitted.
Marcelo’s best weapon from the rear mount is the rear naked choke (click here for my step-by-step breakdown of that attack).
Ordinarily going for the choke before you get your hooks in is a rookie mistake, but Marcelo is so good with the rear naked that sometimes he does exactly that. Even if they block the choke first they’re so concerned with that that the hooks are easy to get (along with the points they’re worth if it’s that kind of tournament).
Whether you get the choke first, or the hooks first and then the choke, you get what you’re after. And, by “you”, I mean Marcelo Garcia.
4: The Armlock
Marcelo isn’t generally known for his armbar attacks, which is a pity because it’s one of his highest-percentage moves and he has finished a lot of great grapplers with this submission (including Diego Sanchez, Rolles Gracie and Kron Gracie).
Did he invent the armbar? Of course not – it’s been around since the beginning; you can’t expect his entire toolbox to be full of things exclusively his, can you? As cool as it is to be different, Marcelo’s armbar attack proves you don’t have to do everything differently to be great.
5: The North South Choke
Marcelo Garcia has developed his game over the years, with his signature submissions changing and evolving to stay a step ahead of all his opponents.
For a long while, the arm-drag to back take to choke combination was his bread and butter but then his opponents stopped letting him take their backs quite so easily.
So what did Marcelo do then? Simple. He moved on to his next signature submission, the North South choke.
Why is it called that? Because it’s done from the North South position as you get your arms around your adversary’s neck and, by settling your weight on them, force them to surrender.
Here’s Marcelo doing this move to me when I was visiting his academy in NYC…
6: The Butterfly Guard
Marcelo is most well known for his incredible use of the butterfly guard, a positions where you put your insteps under the thighs of your opponent to lift him, twist him, and keep him off balance.
But the butterfly guard also lets Marcelo transition to the X guard and the single leg X guard which are two other signature guards positions of his that we’ll discuss a little further down.
First, let’s take a look at the butterfly guard
7: The X Guard
The first time I saw Marcelo compete (his 2003 ADCC match against Renzo Gracie) the match involved a lot of this weird position that I did not recognise – Marcelo inserted himself directly under Renzo and made him do the splits by keeping one of Renzo’s legs on his shoulder and pushing his other leg away using both of his legs.
It turned out that this position was the X guard. I (and every other grappler at the time) immediately started reverse engineering this position and in the process found out how incredibly useful it was.
When I get the X guard on someone I consider the hard work 80% over and the sweep just about completed. Their base is so compromised that they’ve got to do some incredible gymnastics to avoid going down. They can’t settle their weight and are easy prey for a variety of sweeps and movements to take their back.
There are even a few submissions to pull off from there, like knee-bars and heel hooks.
Still, Marcelo mostly sticks to sweeps, and you can see one of them below…
8: The Single Leg X Guard
After Garcia began doing X Guard to everyone, it wasn’t long before everyone began doing it to everyone. People improved their ability to defend against the classical X guard so, as he did before, Garcia changed what he was doing.
The single leg X guard looks like someone going for an ankle lock from below. And, honestly, that is one of the things you can do from there. But that’s not the end-all, be-all of the single leg X guard position.
Like with the X guard, there are a lot of sweeps and back takes to try, not to mention a few submissions that the person on top might fall into while trying to keep their balance.
9: The Marcelotine
You know you’ve had a big influence on the sport when a move gets named after you!
Marcelo doesn’t stop doing new and interesting things that people just want to copy. And, for good reason. His stuff works.
The first technique named after him is a version of the guillotine choke, called the Marcelotine by jiu-jitsu enthusiasts around the world.
The Marcelo-tine is like the guillotine, but with one of your forearms thrown up and over your opponent’s shoulder, which makes the submission much tighter and come on much faster.
It’s a really useful tool to have in your repertoire, and it’s an awful submission to be caught in.
10: Omoplata and Marceloplata
The omoplata is a move where you use your leg to force your opponent’s arm behind his back in a Kimura-like motion (click here to check out Revolutionary Omoplata, one of the very first BJJ articles I ever wrote that got published in Grappling Magazine back in 2003).
Marcelo didn’t use the omoplata a ton when he was competing. But after he retired he developed this attack to a really high level and there are tons of examples of him using it in his academy sparring against some really good people.
Not only that, he also developed an omoplata variation that people like to call the Marceloplata in which you hook his legs with one of your own legs to prevent him from rolling out of the attack.
Below is a video in which I break down the differences between the omoplata and the Marceloplata…
11: One More Thing…
Did Garcia become the grappler he is by doing these ten things?
In part, yes, but the recipe isn’t complete without an 11th detail; The desire and the willingness to do whatever it takes to become the best.
For Marcelo that meant living at an academy and training four times each day. It meant changing academies to go wherever he could get the best coaching and the best assortment of training partners.
Do you want to be as good as Marcelo? Before you say yes, think about it… You can never have jiu-jitsu as your #2 priority. It must always come first.
If you can make the sacrifices, train like a maniac (without incurring a career-ending injury) and master the ten moves we’ve discussed today then it will help you begin to become as great as Marcelo Garcia.
A Roadmap for the Rear Naked Choke. Step by step instructions for sinking and finishing the rear naked choke, the most essential submission in all of grappling, MMA and self defense.
How to Pull Single Leg X Guard from Standing. World champion Emily Kwok trains with Marcelo Garcia. In this article and video she takes you through getting to single leg x guard when you’re on your feet facing your opponent.
How to Find the High Percentage Techniques You Can Rely On. Not all techniques are created equal – this article talks about finding the techniques that are high percentage, proven in competition, and fit your specific body type.