How Johnny Tama Developed His Own Savage Version Of The Estima Lock
Johnny Tama has been a recognizable name on the jiu-jitsu competition scene for some time. But what has put him on the radar and highlight reels is his adaption of the Estima lock.
Article by Erin Herle
The Ecuadorian black belt under Juan Miguel Iturralde first became aware of the footlock when he saw Braulio and Victor Estima submitting their opponents with it. There were no DVDs or tutorials out at that time, until Braulio filmed a set-up from reverse de la riva in 2015.
He hadn't given it much attention at the time, as he was training full-time at Rubens Charles’s Cobrinha BJJ in Los Angeles and th world champ’s system into his game.But later in 2015, a lingering rib injury had put Johnny out of competition and day-to-day training, so he relied on drilling to keep active.
The Estima lock was his first priority, and he started to become more familiar.
At the IBJJF Pans in 2016, Edwin Najmi submitted Johnny's training partner, Sinistro Iturralde with an Estima lock in the lightweight final. That sent Johnny to the training mats so he could study the position further with someone who experienced it firsthand.
Edwin Najmi uses the Estima lock at Five Grappling against John Combs. Photo: Chase Smith / FloGrappling
"Edwin didn't have a huge setup; he just went straight to the foot. He knew it so well that it was a natural transition. But in my case, I didn't have the move down that well so I really began studying the setups,” says Tama.
This is where Tama’s version of the footlock — what he considers the Tama lock — came from: all the various setups and transitions that lead to this submission.
There is one from every position. Top, bottom, transitions from sweeps, or when you're passing. You can push it to make it happen but it's always better to bait the opponent.He came back to competition for the 2016 IBJJF Dallas Open in September, breaking one of his opponent's feet. That was the first time he submitted from the bottom with the attack. When he tried the same position in no-gi at the Pan No-Gi not long after, it didn't work because he was missing a detail that he later fixed.
Without controlling the leg of the foot you're attacking, the opponent can spin out and escape the foot. Trap the leg, prevent the spin, and control the foot to submit. He could hurt his opponent, but spinning out was preventing the devastating effects of the footlock.
What makes my Estima lock different from the Estima brothers' is that I set it up from the guard, like any transition that lets me place my shin underneath the knee. When I lift the leg up, it leaves the foot dangling, or free to attack. Once the opponent places their weight back into that leg, it's too late because the foot is against my belly and all his weight is what creates the leverage for the submission.In April at the 2017 Marianas Open, Johnny faced Michael Liera Jr. in the first round. A month prior at the Pans, Liera was the one who defeated him, winning by one advantage. Johnny was unable to get into his setups since Liera was so good at keeping Johnny in his control.
"But at the Marianas, he went for a toreando pass which gave me enough space to spin under him,” says Tama. “I was going to lock up 50-50 but I saw the foot as I passed under and latched on to it. The speed is an important factor because you have to lock the foot up before they even have a chance to react. And then the second part that you must do fast is lock up the leg with your own legs to prevent them from spinning out, a common defense for most leg locks. Liera wasn't able to get out, and I completed the submission as soon as I got my grip on the foot. It happens that fast."
Johnny Tama wins in only 12 seconds versus Yan Lucas. Photo: Chase Smith / FloGrappling
A similar situation happened at the Five Grappling Super League earlier this month in a super fight against Yan ‘Pica Pau’.
"I had a game plan. The idea was to pull to deep half guard first, and go into the waiter sweep position. Here, you're using your legs to prop up their leg and make it light, therefore exposing the foot. But nothing happened the way I had planned-- it was even better. We both pulled guard at the same time and while I tried to dive for deep half, he caught his balance by posting his foot on the mat and wrapping his arm around my ankle to go for his own footlock. This left his other leg light and the foot was floating right over my belly.”
In a split second I was able to latch the grip on and pull it to my stomach. And I got the tap within 12 seconds of the match.It's so dangerous now, that Johnny no longer uses it in his sparring sessions. He was hurting too many of his training partners as it's an all-or-nothing position for him.
But the drilling is what helped him most: his injuries (rib and PCL) were almost considered blessings because it forced him to just drill.
"I'm grateful that the Estima brothers created this footlock and I feel even luckier that I got to put pieces together and form what I now consider the Tama lock. Jiu-jitsu is constantly evolving and we must always adapt. New positions come into play all the time and we must always develop our own system. For me, this position is successful."