The banana split is a groin stretch submission where the attacking grappler stretches the defending grappler’s legs apart using both their arms and legs. Anyone who has been put in this submission before can tell you, it is a very painful submission. Depending on how it is applied, the banana split can also put tremendous pressure on the knees, lower back, and even neck. However, it is a legal submission in almost all submission grappling competitions, even at white belt. According to IBJJF rules, the banana split and other groin stretch submissions are only illegal for competitors under the age of 13.
With that said, check first with your academy whether it is allowed in practice and always apply it carefully as to not injure your partners. As an unorthodox submission, some more traditional BJJ academies may not allow the submission because it is generally considered outside of the BJJ curriculum/system. In my personal opinion, any legal submission (an even some “illegal” ones) should be allowed to be practiced, as long as they are applied safely and with a thorough understanding of the mechanics.
The Banana Split in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
The banana split in Brazilian jiu jitsu competition was likely popularized by Eddie Bravo and his 10th Planet grappling system. To my understanding, the system is build around a set of unorthodox positions, the rubber guard, the twister side control, the lockdown, and the truck, in addition to the other positions taught in Brazilian jiu jitsu. The truck is similar to back control, but instead of having two hooks in, you have only one hook, with both your legs around your opponent’s leg. Having controlled one leg, one possible attack is the banana split, by controlling the other leg with your arms and stretching the legs apart. Depending on the direction of pressure, this groin stretch submission is also known as the “crotch ripper” in the 10th Planet system.
In this video, Eddie Bravo demonstrates the two submissions (banana split and crotch ripper) and explains their differences.
As you can see in this video, the one leg is stretched away from the opponent’s head in the crotch ripper, while both legs are stretched towards the head in the banana split. Outside of 10th Planet, I often hear people refer to both submissions/variations as the banana split.
For a more in-depth look at the truck position and other possibilities, check out this video from an Eddie Bravo seminar.
Names and History
Similar to the twister submission in Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet system, the banana split had its origins in wrestling. The twister, while more commonly seen as spinal lock in submission grappling, is originally a powerful pinning technique in wrestling known as the guillotine, not to be confused with the guillotine choke. The banana split, like the twister, can also be used for pinning because it forces the opponent onto their back and restricts movement. Compared to the crotch ripper, the banana split provides more leverage to pin the opponent’s upper back and shoulders, by driving both legs towards the head.
In wrestling’s past, takedowns and pins weren’t the only ways to win matches. Unlike modern Greco-Roman or freestyle wrestling, catch-as-catch-can, or catch wrestling, allowed all forms of submissions and had their own version of the banana split, aptly named the “spread eagle”. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, catch wrestling spread from England, across Europe and overseas to the United States.
In this picture, Jack Reynolds demonstrates the spread eagle. Jack Reynolds was a student of Farmer Burns, a prominent figure in catch wrestling, especially in the American lineage, and he taught other catch wrestling greats like Frank Gotch.
While Brazilian jiu jitsu and catch wrestling never truly faced each other until recently, through MMA and the resurgence of grappling competitions (Dean Lister VS Josh Barnett at Metamoris IV), catch wrestling has a vivid history with judo, the predecessor of BJJ. During the heyday of catch wrestling, practitioners of the two arts often clashed in both jacket (gi) and non-jacket (nogi) matches. Mitsuyo Maeda, the man who taught judo to the Gracie family, along with many other judokas, faced wrestlers across Europe, as judo began to gain in popularity. One such wrestler was Ad Santel, who had a fierce rivalry with the Kodokan school, the headquarters for judo.
Here Yukio Tani, a judoka who fought many catch wrestlers, demonstrates a flying armbar on his promoter, William Bankier
This cultural exchange drove the growing popularity of judo in Europe, and wrestling in Japan. Many judo schools would open across Europe as a result, and the seeds of Japanese wrestling were sown. The exchange ultimately changed grappling by cross-pollinating techniques and tactics between two arts. Like Eddie Bravo’s wrestling-influenced submissions, the best grapplers are able to take what works best for them, within both their own and other grappling disciplines.
Like the modern revival of the catch wrestling spread eagle as submission, another modern envisioning of the banana split is its devastating cousin, the spladle. The combination of a split and a cradle, the spladle was innovated by Wade Schalles, who was famous for his pinning ability. Whereas the banana split has the defending grappler’s head pointing way from the attacking grappler’s body, the defending grappler’s head is pointed towards and resting on the attacking grappler’s body in the spladle. As a result, it attacks the neck, back, and groin simultaneously.
In this video, the spladle is demonstrated.
Now watch this highlight of banana splits and spladles to observe the differences between the two and their painful power.
Thanks to my friend and catch wrestler, Jay Grooms, for his insight on catch wrestling history and techniques.