It’s my belief that people are unaware of how they can get injured when it comes to getting “stacked” from the guard. I also believe that if armlocks from the bottom of the guard were applied faster, people would increase their defensive skills and tap less.
When getting caught in an armlock from the bottom of the fight (meaning your opponent is under you and you are inside their legs) it is common practice for the person on top to do what we call, “stack.” A stack involves the person on the top who is stacking the bottom person’s legs over their own head. When done correctly this takes away some of the bottom person’s power and ability to raise their hips in the necessary motion to apply pressure on their opponent’s arm. A stack can be done a two different ways; you can run someone’s knee into their own nose or you can bring their knees way above and over their head placing even more pressure on the neck, mid back, and all the way to their lower spine. Dr. Dave Nguyen from the Non Surgical Spinal Care Center shared his expertise on the matter and explained, “When applying the stack it puts pressure on the bottom person’s spine and can possibly cause sudden injury to the cervical spine or neck. This can contribute to micro-fiber tearing of muscles causing severe inflammation and swelling in the cervical spine, disc herniation, vertebral injury and in rare cases, permanent paralysis. The pressure placed on the cervical spine can cause a very serious problem because of all the nerves that are supplied to the rest of the body have to first pass through the neck region possibly affecting the use of your arms and upper torso as a whole.”
When someone is attacking your arm from the bottom of the guard, do you stack your training partner over their neck as fast as possible or do you stack them slowly with minimal weight? Chances are you stack very quickly and with as much weight as possible.
Recently I caught myself having a small argument with my friend Brendan about how my iPhone is better than his Samsung Galaxy III. It was as if we were defending a sibling, when in fact it was just our phones. Weeks later I was training with one of my favorite training partners, Kevin, and I was attempting a triangle. I had the triangle set up and he began to stack me. Once it was all over I remember thinking that this felt similar to the smart phone argument except he was telling me that his stack was better than my triangle. Of course I did not want to hear it so I fought and fought. Whether I caught the triangle or not is irrelevant, what is relevant is that later that afternoon my neck was so sore that I could not move my head to the right and that lasted for a few days. Throughout a sparring session there are dozens of these small arguments. When someone grabs your wrist its your wrist release vs. their grip. Imagine if they use the “Grapple Grip” they will be that much stronger, and fight harder. We identify with our phone the same way we identify with our technique. Think about what battles are worth fighting, is fighting for a submission and allowing yourself to be stacked everyday worth the wear and tear on your back and neck? If I had released that triangle set up earlier there is a good chance another opportunity for submission would have presented itself and I could have escaped having prevented a neck injury.
Note to bottom person: The bottom person applies the armlock at a safe speed because of safety and out of respect. Sometimes the top person complains about their partner applying pressure too quickly, more reason for the bottom person to be careful. When the top person does a very fast stack, is it the bottom person’s responsibility to release the armlock quickly to protect their neck from the stack? Very rarely do you see the bottom person complaining about a stack being too fast. Instead, the bottom person just releases the armlock and might walk away with a sore neck.
Note to top person: The other morning at breakfast I asked a friend how fast he stacks and he said very quick because he is not going to hurt someone from the stack. Most of the time this is true and a sore neck will be the most someone experiences, although we can not deny that the downward force that someone experiences in the stack can be harmful over time, plus the possibility of a more serious injury. The fundamental error is that people do not see the stack as something as harmful as a submission. This is the main reason stacks happen quickly, people are stubborn to release and years later possibly contributing to back or neck pains.
When your partner attempts a submission on you, the reason you fight so hard to keep from being submitted is because we associate being submitted with losing. We all know that when you lose it is because you made a mistake and when you make a mistake it must mean you were wrong. The last thing anyone wants is to be wrong, we all know how much we like being right. So the reason we fight so hard not to lose is because we do not want to be wrong or we want to be right. BOOM! But if someone escapes your armlock or triangle it does not mean you are wrong, it just means his or her technique was on point at that moment.
Now that we are aware of how a stack can be very dangerous and possibly keep someone off the mat; I wonder if this will make jiu-jitsu practitioners stack more slowly or if it will teach people to release submissions from the bottom sooner.
The most important question to ask is: Do you think that someone should be able to apply pressure to your arm at full speed if you are going to stack them at full speed? Remember the same way the person that is being stacked can release the submission the person being submitted can yell ‘tap’. I personally am a black belt and have been armlocked and stacked very quickly. Due to my level of understanding I am prepared for whatever happens. Although, I personally choose to armlock and stack people with control even going against other black belts that I know are very capable of tapping quickly or releasing the submission.
Faster Armlocks: If people increase the speed at which they apply armlocks it will lead to less injuries from being stacked. The person that is stacking knows that people apply armlock pressure with care so they have a small buffer to get the stack started, and if that pressure happens too quickly at times the top person complains. But if pressure comes faster this will prevent the top person from being able to rely on the stack to save them, forcing a greater understanding of the submission and therefore earlier defense.
Beginner Students: Whether you are being stacked or being attacked by a beginner student it is important to be protective of them. The beginner will sometimes apply armlocks quickly, attempt to stack slowly with control or tap out. When applying an armlock on a beginner, squeeze slowly even though they might stack quickly or if necessary release. The beginner is growing in understanding everyday we need to do everything possible to protect them and keep them on the mat.
Fast Stack: For those who will continue to stack at full speed, keep in mind that you are asking to be armlocked at full speed especially by anyone who sees how the stack can be as dangerous as the armlock. Don’t forget that the same way you expect the person being stacked to release when they feel discomfort you can also yell ‘tap’ when your arm is being attacked.
KeepItPlayful team: Sometimes you will stack slowly and still get tapped out, other times you will armlock people with care and be stacked quickly. Don’t think that it is all for nothing. When you stack slowly and get tapped out, believe it or not, next time you will see the submission coming much sooner increasing your awareness and not needing to rely on the stack. When you squeeze an armlock slowly and someone escapes not only did you protect their arm, but you are forcing yourself to soon figure out a way catch the same submission with control that does not allow an escape.
Remember that what keeps us coming back for more jiu-jitsu is fun. Do everything in your power to keep having fun for as long as possible and that includes learning to “protect your neck.” Those who are training for a street fight, MMA, jiu-jitsu competition or a black belt, train hard but remember to “protect your neck” because getting hurt in practice is not worth it.
Safety Tip: Anytime you are being stacked, whether you have a submission or you are getting your guard passed, keep your core activated and sometimes use your hands to support your partner’s weight, especially when having your guard passed. Do some chin-ups, core exercise and stretching.