Mastering The Pinch Headlock And Shoulder Crunch In BJJ

Mastering The Pinch Headlock And Shoulder Crunch In BJJ

Guest post by Evolve MMA, Asia’s premier championship brand for martial arts. It has the most number of World Champions on the planet. Named as the #1 ranked martial arts organization in Asia by CNN, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, Evolve MMA is the top rated BJJ gym in Singapore.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that thrives on the complex interplay between technique, leverage, and control. As practitioners dive deeper into the art, they encounter many unique positions and submissions, each offering unique possibilities. Among these techniques are the pinch headlock and shoulder crunch. These two techniques are effective tools used to control and sweep the opponent. This article breaks down the nuances of these techniques, offering insights for those seeking to understand their value.


What Is The Pinch Headlock?

The pinch headlock is a control position (usually done from the guard) that immobilizes an opponent’s head and neck. By using your arms and shoulders to pinch the opponent’s head and arm, you can effectively trap the opponent’s head, limiting their mobility and establishing the stage for various attacking opportunities.

The effectiveness of the pinch headlock lies in its ability to disrupt an opponent’s posture. In the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, posture is the cornerstone of many attacks and defenses. By compromising an opponent’s posture, you can effectively neutralize their offense and, in turn, keep yourself safe. The pinch headlock achieves this by placing pressure on the neck and head, forcing the opponent to accept a compromised position. This then makes it easier for you to go on an offensive cycle.


What Is The Shoulder Crunch?

While the pinch headlock focuses on controlling the head, the shoulder crunch targets the opponent’s neck and shoulder. It’s done by trapping the opponent’s arm near the shoulder to apply pressure, creating a locking effect on the limb. You place your forearm across the opponent’s neck to push them upwards while keeping their arms tight. The shoulder crunch is not a brute force technique; it’s a move that requires precision, timing, and a solid understanding of human anatomy.

The great benefit of the shoulder crunch lies in its subtlety. Unlike some submissions that are pretty obvious in their application, the shoulder crunch can be applied stealthily, catching opponents off guard, especially when they are forced to post on the mat. When executed correctly, the shoulder crunch can lead to many high-percentage sweeps, submissions, and even back takes.


Using The Pinch Headlock And Shoulder Crunch

Note that the pinch headlock and shoulder crunch are not isolated techniques; they can and should be chained depending on the situation. Often, the pinch headlock serves as a precursor to the shoulder crunch. By first establishing control with the headlock, you can drag the opponent’s head and posture down. This makes it easy for you to either attack from the pinch headlock, a strong position in itself or move to the shoulder crunch.

This natural integration showcases the fluidity innate in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Techniques flow into one another, creating chains of attacks that can overwhelm opponents. Mastering the transition from the pinch headlock to the shoulder crunch requires many hours of drilling and practice. Yes, it is easy to do the transition with an unresisting training partner, but doing this in live sparring is a different animal altogether. Grappling is a dance of pressure and movement; you should be able and ready to use the technique if the opportunity presents itself.


Techniques In Action

In this video, BJJ blackbelt Brian Glick shares his approach to the pinch headlock and shoulder crunch from the guard. As discussed above, the first step is to control the opponent’s posture by grabbing the head and forcing it down. From here, you can now move to the pinch headlock or shoulder crunch. There are many attacking options from these positions, but perhaps the most commonly used are variations of the hook sweep, moves you typically see in the butterfly guard.

This video is but a sample of the potential of these techniques. Gordon Ryan, the greatest No-Gi grappler on the planet, loves to use the pinch headlock and shoulder crunch. So much so that he was able to sweep the legendary Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida with a shoulder crunch sweep in the ADCC World Championships.


Mastering The Pinch Headlock And Shoulder Crunch

As with all techniques in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, mat time is the main ingredient to mastering techniques. We always advocate giving yourself several months of practice to become accustomed to a move you want to learn. This includes consistent study, troubleshooting, and testing in live rolling. Aside from these, here are several tips to help you on your journey to mastery.

  • Focus On Technique, Not Strength: While it might be tempting to rely on brute strength, especially when applying the shoulder crunch, it’s essential to prioritize technique. Understanding the mechanics of the move will lead to more effective and efficient applications.
  • Drill Regularly: As with all techniques in BJJ, repetition is key. Regular drilling ensures that the movements associated with the pinch headlock and shoulder crunch become second nature. Drilling allows you to refine your technique, making it sharper and more precise.
  • Train With Different Partners: Different training partners offer varied resistance and reactions. By training with various partners, you can gain valuable insights into the different applications and counters to the pinch headlock and shoulder crunch.
  • Seek Feedback: It’s crucial to seek feedback from instructors and training partners. They can provide insights into areas of improvement, helping refine the technique.
  • Stay Updated: BJJ is an evolving art. Techniques are continually being refined and adapted. Staying updated with the latest variations and applications of the pinch headlock and shoulder crunch can enhance your overall effectiveness.



The pinch headlock and shoulder crunch are more than just techniques; they represent the depth and complexity that is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They showcase the art’s emphasis on control, leverage, and technical prowess. For practitioners seeking to elevate their game, mastering these techniques can give you a lot of value. The pinch headlock and shoulder crunch can be used in the Gi, No-Gi, and mixed martial arts. We highly encourage you to study up on these and watch how your game level up in no time!

Remember, BJJ is a continuous journey of learning, where each training session offers lessons and opportunities for growth. Embrace the grind, focus on the details, and the path to mastery will reveal itself in time. Good luck!