“For the choke, there are no tough guys” - Helio Gracie
Known by many names the Rear Naked Choke, RNC, Mata Leao, Lion Killer, Sleeper Hold, Hadaka Jime, is one of the fundamental techniques of Jiu-Jitsu. Many challenge matches have been finished with the RNC. During the first 168 UFC events the RNC made up the highest percentage of submission victories at 32%. Despite being considered a 'beginner technique, even at the highest levels of competition more fights are won and lost by this choke than any other. This makes it an essential submission for BJJ, MMA, and grappling. It also have self-defence applications.
How to Apply it
The RNC is generally accomplished by first achieving back control. Once back control is established the practitioner slides his or her arm completely around the neck of their opponent and grabs the bicep of their other arm. The arm which the practitioner grabbed the bicep now snakes around the back of the head securing the choke in place. Care should be taken to ensure the elbow of the choking arm is in line with the laryngeal prominence, also known as the “Adam’s apple”. This will place the choking arm in optimal position to choke without causing pain or damage to the opponent’s trachea.
How Does the Rear Naked Choke Work?
The RNC works by placing pressure on an area called the Superior Carotid Triangle. The Superior Carotid Triangle contains the common carotid artery and its branches, the carotid bodies, internal jugular vein, superior laryngeal nerve, vagus nerve and its branches, and cervical sympathetic trunk. The common carotid artery carries blood flow to the cerebral cortex of the brain. A properly placed RNC can obstruct the blood flow to the brain with a minimal amount of force. This pressure will cause unconsciousness in a few seconds. Once the hold is released the person should regain consciousness in 10-20 seconds. If this hold is held for long periods of time it can cause irreversible damage including death.
Proceed with Caution
The RNC has been a fundamental technique of Judo since 1882. In that time there have been no known deaths linked to chokeholds in Judo competition or training. Despite its track record of safety, there have been deaths attributed to the choke outside of Judo. Until the mid-1980’s many American law enforcement organizations used the RNC as a method to control berserk and out of control subjects. This practice was discontinued by most agencies after some people died in connection with the hold. Most of these deaths can be attributed to incorrect technique placement, pre-existing medical conditions, and the use of drugs by the deceased. Recently a BJJ student in Brazil died two days after reporting symptoms which some have attributed to a chokehold.
Force, Placement and Length of Hold
The primary cautions when using this technique are force, placement, and length of the hold. Large amounts of force do not need to be exerted to complete a properly placed RNC. This additional force could cause damage to the muscles and vertebrates of the neck. While not life threating neck injuries can be debilitating and are unnecessary. Also avoid placing pressure directly to the trachea, the front of the neck. The RNC should not be a painful submission. You can get a tap out by placing pressure directly to the front of the neck but this should be done with caution or avoided altogether. Damage to the trachea can be irreversible and in extreme cases can result in death. Remember while using any type of choke hold be aware of your partners tap and continually monitor the hold to see if it’s working. Don’t just attack with all your strength. Be aware so that in the event your partner passes out while resisting you can immediately stop the choke. Also if you’re the guy getting choked, TAP! In a self-defense situation release the choke upon the attacker becoming compliant or going on unconscious. In the event the attacker goes unconscious release the hold and escape or dominate the position until help arrives.
Practice Makes Perfect
While its only responsible to talk about the dangers of the RNC and other choke holds it doesn’t mean the move is dangerous. Properly applied the RNC can be trained and applied by responsible practitioners with no injury and has been for decades if not longer. This technique is essential for any student of BJJ to master for both competition and self-defense. As the great Helio Gracie said, “for the choke there are no tough guys”.
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