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The rear naked choke is one of the most effective submission techniques ever developed in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Its English name doesn’t do the technique justice like its Portuguese name ‘mata leão’ (lion killer) does. It’s a blood choke that cuts the blood supply to the brain off, leading to unconsciousness within as little as five seconds when executed correctly.
Escaping a properly secured rear naked choke can be quite the challenge since most of your opponent’s body is behind you and you’re forced to have to battle their locked hands.
Understanding How The Rear Naked Choke (RNC) Works
It is essential to understand how the rear naked choke works to effectively defend against it. A rear naked choke involves securing your opponent’s back, wrapping one arm around their neck, and grabbing your shoulder or bicep with the same arm. You then place your other hand behind their head and squeeze your elbows together, creating a vice-like grip that cuts off your opponent’s blood supply, forcing them to tap or lose consciousness.
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of how the rear naked choke works, let’s take a look at some of the most effective things you can do to prevent your opponent from securing the choke or to escape after your opponent locks it in.
The rear naked choke is called the lion killer in Portuguese for good reason. It is a low-risk, high-reward technique, and it’s extremely difficult to escape once locked in. One of the most effective ways to avoid falling victim to this technique is to learn to detect when an opponent is looking for it so you can escape before it’s secured.
1) Positional Awareness
Escaping a rear naked choke starts with prevention. Being aware of your positioning and not allowing your opponent to take your back is fundamental. Taking someone’s back is one of the most dominant positions you can secure in combat sports or real fights so never give up the position easily.
Your offensive tools are very limited when someone takes your back. Sure, you can go for that leg lock that everybody’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach goes for when you break the cardinal rule and cross your legs after taking someone’s back, but that move only works on white belts.
Meanwhile, the person on your back has many options to choose from like armbars and rear naked chokes. They can also flatten you on the ground and fire off with heavy blows in MMA and self-defense situations.
As you can see, having someone on your back is highly disadvantageous so do everything you possibly can to prevent opponents from securing your back. You can’t be choked out with a rear naked choke without giving up your back. Some similar chokes can be executed from the sides (like a bulldog choke), but they’re not as effective as the rear naked choke.
2) Hand Fighting
Some opponents will eventually take your back regardless of how much you try to fight them off. It’s part of the game and you shouldn’t automatically accept defeat simply because you find yourself in a disadvantageous position.
Start fighting your opponent’s arms the moment they take your back to prevent them from establishing a deep grip around your neck.
A popular hand-fighting trick many experienced fighters use is to use both of your hands on one of your opponent’s hands. It’s very difficult to finish a rear naked choke with one hand, even though some high-level grapplers can pull it off, so you’re relatively safe worrying only about one of your opponent’s arms. You ideally want to focus on your opponent’s strong arm, forcing them to try a secure the choke with their weaker arm or look for something else. Tucking your chin down also makes it harder for opponents to get a good wrap around your neck.
Escaping The Choke
Now that we’ve gone over some of the things you can do to prevent opponents from securing a rear naked choke, let’s go over some of the options you have if your opponent gets the drop on you and locks it in:
1) Creating Space
Your top priority should be creating space once an opponent has a rear naked choked locked on you. You can create some space by trying to tuck your chin between the choke while pulling down the attacking arm with both of your hands. This isn’t a long-term solution, but it can buy you some extra seconds to work on your escape. Once you’ve taken some pressure off the choke, push away the your opponent’s choking arm with both of your arms and and secure a grip on the other arm with everything you have. This should not only free you from the choke, but also allow you to control your opponent’s arm, preventing another potential choke attempt.
2) Turning To The Side
Another method to escape the choke can be gleaned from the above demonstration by Henry Atkins. If you ever find yourself locked in and in the late stages of the game, attempt to escape by turning to your side. Given that the choke is from the back, leverage the availability of your legs to your advantage. Turn your body to create sufficient space.
3) Peeling The Choking Arm
You’re still in danger as long as your opponent has their arm around your neck so your next move should be using your hand to push and pull on their wrist or elbow to break their grip. This move should be fast and decisive so your opponent doesn’t have time to adjust to what you’re doing.
While maintaining the grip on the choking arm, start peeling it away from your neck. You can use your hand to push against your opponent’s elbow or wrist to break the grip.
Now that we’ve gone over the basic things you can do to escape the rear naked choke, let’s go over some advanced escapes:
1) Head Grab To D’arce
This escape involves using both hands to first pull the arm your opponent has behind your head, and then pulling down their choking arm. Hold on to the choking arm and position your head outside it. Grab your opponent’s head with both arms, locking them together, and pull down on your opponent’s head as you turn into them. You should end up perfectly positioned to finish with a d’arce choke.
2) Forward Pull
In some situations particularly in when standing, pulling your opponent forward can help escape a rear naked choke. This move can disrupt the opponent’s balance and grip, allowing you to slip out of the choke. For example, if your opponent is too high on a standing RNC, you can escape by simply pulling on their head so they fall off in front of you.
Escaping a rear naked choke can be challenging, but with the right techniques and training, it is possible. Early prevention, understanding how to create space, and using the correct escape methods are key.