Head-arm choke details

Most BJJ classes have people of mixed levels. Beginners benefit from the advice and feedback from those with more experience. Advanced members benefit from having less skilled training partners to refine their skills against.

How does an instructor run a training session that will benefit members with differing ability? One solution is to break the topic into levels. Beginning levels provide only a coarse overview of the most important details. Subsequent levels add additional details. Levels are created so that each level builds on the experienced gained through practising the previous ones.

Each level is small and simple and easy to digest. Having multiple levels allows members to work on the area that will have most benefit to them.

To illustrate, here is an example of using levels to teach and practice the head-arm choke.


Focus on the details at your level. Only level up once you’re sure you’ve internalised the details. For later levels, ensure you can consistently perform all details in your level on a resisting opponent.

Level 1. Core finishing details.

  1. Elbow of your arm encircling your opponent’s head must be on the mat.
  2. Skull to skull contact.
  3. Squeeze, hold, wait. It may take up to 12 secs for opp to tap.

Level 2. Tightening details.

  1. Start from mount.
  2. Push opp’s arm across and encircle their head and arm.
  3. Block opp’s temple with your hand while you drill (screw) your encircling arm deeply under opp’s neck. Goal is to have your biceps snug against opp’s neck.
  4. Gable grip, dismount and finish as before.
  5. Question: which way should you gable grip your hands?

Level 3. Keeping your opponent flat. (opp resists)

  1. Opp must be flat (not on side) for you to finish.
  2. Your biceps pressure and skull-to-skull counter pressure attaches you to opp. Your bodyweight keeps opp’s shoulders facing up.
  3. After dismounting, position your belly/thighs flat on the mat. Get as low to ground as you can.
  4. Ask your opponents to turn to their side. Ensure you can keep them flat.
  5. Question: What angle should be between your spine and your opp’s spine? You may need help from someone experienced for this.

Level 4. Dismounting. (opp resists)

  1. Start on mount with opp’s arm across, tight arm position and gable grip.
  2. Your goal is to dismount then finish.
  3. Opp’s goal is to prevent you dismounting and to free their trapped arm.

Level 5. Squeezing details.

  1. Remember; squeeze, hold and wait.
  2. Don’t squeeze unless the choking arm is already snug (recall level 2).
  3. Moderate tension in biceps of choking arm (not too tight so as to avoid fatigue).
  4. Wrist flexion and adduction of choking arm to apply pressure of your biceps against opp’s neck.
  5. Push with your toes to apply pressure of opp’s shoulder against their own neck.
  6. Be conscious that your biceps applies pressure against one of opp’s carotid arteries while opp’s own shoulder applies pressure against the other.

Level 6. Understanding counters.

  1. Opp’s main counter is to free their trapped arm so their shoulder is no longer choking them.
  2. Opp has to relieve skull-to-skull contact before freeing their trapped arm.
  3. Turning on their side is a good way to relieve skull-to-skull contact.
  4. Takeaway: get your opponent flat and maintain skull-to-skull contact.

Level 7. Zero point.

The zero point is when:

  1. Your opponent’s arm is trapped in position for the choke.
  2. Your arm is encircling their neck.
  3. You have (or are close to having) skull-to-skull contact.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year. Our recent holiday indulgence makes us look in the mirror and we realise that our health and fitness is not as good as we wish it to be. This year will be different, we tell ourselves. This year I’ll be serious about taking better care of my body.

Of course, it rarely works. Our wishful resolution relies on our will power. Unfortunately, will power fatigues quickly and fades over time. Our problem was caused by lack of will power, so why are we relying on will power as the solution? We’re just setting ourselves up for failure.

So how do we make lasting change?

One solution that works is time-based habits. When we have an activity we want to do more of, make sure to perform it at a fixed time. Most of the activities we consistently perform are already on time-based habits. Each Monday we get up at the same time. We eat breakfast, clean our teeth and even empty our bowels at the same time.

If we want to get more training in, or even want to get back to training after inconsistent attendance, here’s what to do.

  1. Pick a class that you will always attend every week, e.g. Monday 6:45pm.
  2. Commit to coming to that class for 4 weeks in a row.
  3. Tell your coach you are doing this – now you have to attend those 4 classes as you don’t want to disappoint your coach do you?
  4. Always attend this class. When you have a busy week or are feeling tired, skip one of the other classes. You always attend this class.

Once the habit is formed, it doesn’t require will power to keep attending. It just becomes another thing that you do.

If you’ve been inconsistent with your jiu-jitsu attendance last year, which class are you committing to attending this year?

Training your training partner – part 3

Rolling is competitive. You and your training partner are both trying to submit each other. The best way to do this is to stick to your A-game and only use the moves and tactics that you are best at. While this is a good way to submit your current opponent, it isn’t a very effective way to submit your future opponents.

To improve in jiu-jitsu, and to be able to beat better opponents, you need to improve your moves, timing, tactics and recognition of the game. This necessarily means doing things differently to the way you are doing things now. If you only practise your A-game, you never take the opportunity to change and hence improve.

Your training partner can help you with this. Recall from part 1 that there are different types of rolling. Don’t assume that your partner knows what type of roll you want. If you tell your partner, “I’m working on half guard sweeps when I have an underhook” or “I’m working on regaining the half guard from side control” your partner has more information to work with. Be specific, don’t just say “I’m working on half guard”.

This gives your partner information about what kind of roll you are expecting. How they respond is up to them. One response is to let more of the roll occur in half guard, so you can practise your offense while your opponent practises defence. Or your training partner may choose to avoid the half guard altogether. This lets you know that your priority isn’t practising half guard sweeps, but rather it should be practising your entries into half guard.

By telling your training partners “This is what I will be doing during this roll”, they will necessarily ask themselves how they will respond to this. Now both parties have a purpose in mind for the upcoming roll, and each has an opportunity to evaluate their success after the roll.

Rolls that have a purpose cause you to reflect on the roll. Reflection is a necessary component of improving.

Training your training partner – part 2

How do you know that you need to train your training partner? The easiest way is to ask yourself whether you enjoyed the roll you just had with them.

If you didn’t enjoy the roll, the worst thing to do is to talk to them about it immediately afterwards. When emotions are high, there . . . → Read More: Training your training partner – part 2

Training your training partner – part 1

What do we need to learn BJJ? We need some ground, a training partner and a desire to improve. Coaches can give us the benefit of their experience. Instructional videos and competition footage can give us inspiration and new ideas.

It is the training partner that has the biggest effect on your ability . . . → Read More: Training your training partner – part 1

The most effective submission in BJJ

Rickson Gracie demonstrating the rear naked choke

There are many different submissions in BJJ. Some are more effective than others. If our goal is to submit our opponents, then it makes sense to focus more of our training time on the most effective submissions.

In BJJ, we get very good at almost breaking . . . → Read More: The most effective submission in BJJ

The 6 positions of Jiu-Jitsu

To understand something complex, we often break it down into to smaller chunks. Smaller chunks are easier to understand but we lose understanding at the boundaries between chunks. If the chunks are too small and numerous, we have many boundaries between chunks and hence lots of grey areas where we can lose understanding.

A . . . → Read More: The 6 positions of Jiu-Jitsu

That’s not a real move

Would you tap to this?

Jiu-jitsu is a contest between two people to see who can make the other give up. It’s fun and we want to do it every day, so we have rules that ensure no-one gets injured.

The rules are simple

stop when the other person taps use a mat . . . → Read More: That’s not a real move

Beginning frustrations

When you first begin jiu-jitsu, you feel like you’re fully awake and alive. The stars are brighter when you leave the gym at night. Your body feels like it has a purpose. You hunger for answers to the questions that arise on the mat.

These feelings stay with you as long as you do . . . → Read More: Beginning frustrations

Paying homage to Jiu-jitsu

I’ve played many sports over the years. Some I’ve passionately enjoyed. Many were fun ways to pass the time. Other’s were boring and only done out of a sense of obligation. Jiu-jitsu is the only sport that has made me cry.

What jiu-jitsu brings, that the others don’t, is honesty. Honesty about yourself and . . . → Read More: Paying homage to Jiu-jitsu