Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 16/08/2012
The rear naked choke (so-called because you don't need to grab any cloth: the Portuguese term is the more flowery 'mata leão', which means 'lion killer') is a high percentage attack from the back, and perhaps the signature submission in jiu jitsu. One of the great things about chokes is that they are so efficient: while somebody might be able to muscle their way out of a locked in armbar, a choke will work on everybody, no matter how big.
First, keep in mind those five points on maintaining the back I've mentioned previously:
- Establish your hooks inside their thighs, making sure you don't cross your feet
- Bring one arm under their armpit, then the other over their shoulder
- Follow them with your hips, so they have no space to escape
- Press your chest into their upper back, for the same reason
- Jam your head next to their skull, for better control and visibility
Reaching past their shoulder, you are then going to grip the bicep of your free arm. This is to lock the choke in place. Should it be difficult to grab your bicep, you can secure your initial arm by gripping the back of their shoulder. Stephan Kesting has a useful video on RNC details, where he talks about holding the ridge of bone at the bottom of the shoulder blade, using what he calls a 'tiger palm'. From there, switch to gripping palm to palm over their shoulder, dropping the elbow of your back-arm down along their shoulder blade. That will further help to lock it in position: as Demian Maia demonstrates, you can even finish the choke from there. If not, you can then do what Kesting calls the 'creep', wriggling that elbow across their back to cinch up the choke.
When you have managed to grip your bicep, bring the hand of that bicep arm to the back of their head: a commonly used version is to press the palm into their skull, but there are various options, coming down to personal preference. Using the back of your hand against their neck is arguably better, as that may slip in more securely than palm down.
Also, palm down is easier for them to grab, if they try to peel your fingers off their skull. Either way, when you're locking in the choke, don't reach your hand forward over their shoulder. If you do, then they can armbar you using their shoulder as a fulcrum. Instead, slide it behind the head.
Bring your head next to theirs on the bicep gripping side, to further cut off any space. If for some reason after grabbing your bicep you can't get your other hand behind their head, grab your own skull, using that grip to finish from there. Staying close to their back, expand your chest and squeeze your elbows together.
Despite the simplicity, it can be difficult to get the RNC choke. Everybody with more than a few lessons under their belt knows that you're going to be looking for that choke, so they will immediately be trying to create barriers with their arms and hands. Hence why I started the technical portion of the session by having everybody drill the basic mechanics, then went into further details on the RNC.
In order to clear a route to the neck, there are numerous options. First, you can adjust your hand positioning to maximise your efficiency. If you have one arm under their armpit and the other over the shoulder, then it can be helpful to grip palm to palm or grab your own wrist, with your shoulder arm on top. That means that as soon as there is any gap between the neck and chest, you can immediately slide your arm into their neck.
You can also try tricking them into giving you access to the hold you want. For example, when you try to get an arm around their neck, a common reaction on their part is to grab your arm and pull it down. If you respond by pulling up, they will pull down even harder. This means that if you time it right, you can suddenly switch direction, shoving their arms down right when they're pulling, then bringing your other arm across their suddenly undefended neck.
Even better, you can take their arm right out of commission. With one of your hands, grab their wrist. Shove it down towards their legs, then step over that arm with your same side leg. When you then re-establish your hook (or pin your heel to their ribs, or put your leg behind their back), they are left with only one arm to defend against both of yours. If they've grabbed your wrist, twist your palm outwards, shove it down and out, then again step over their arm with your leg. Make sure you maintain pressure, so they can't simply swim their arm free.
You can also just hold their wrist momentarily with your hand, although that does mean you are still going one arm against one arm, rather than the preferable two arms against one. Then again, if you have already trapped their arm on the neck-arm side, then you can use your hand under their armpit to hold their remaining arm. That would mean you now have one arm with which to attack, while they have no limbs left to defend themselves.
Finally, there is the method I learned from Dónal. Grab their wrist with your armpit hand. Drop to the choking arm side, twisting your hips to increase the range of motion for your leg. Shove their arm down, then swing your leg over your armpit arm. Grip your own shin with the armpit hand, then using both your leg and arm, get your foot to their spine to trap their limb.
Another problem is that people will also tend to tuck their chin. Some people advocate unpleasant methods to force your way through to the neck in that situation. For example, Kesting has a list here: the results of that kind of approach (though Kesting does make a point of saying he is not fond of pain-based options either) can be seen in this video. That is not how I want my jiu jitsu to look.
My goal is smooth, technical, leverage-based jiu jitsu, causing as little pain to the other person as possible. As Saulo says in my favourite BJJ quote:
"You have to think that your partner, the guy that you're training [with], has to be your best friend. So, you don't want to hurt him, you don't want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain. You have to find the right spot to save your energy"
I strongly feel it is best to avoid hurting your training partners, for four additional reasons:
- You're in class to learn, not to 'win' at all costs. Save the 'win' mentality for competition.
- If you're always hurting the people you spar, eventually nobody will want to train with you, making it rather hard to improve.
- Presuming you're in BJJ for the long-term, you're going to be spending a lot of time with your training partners. Therefore it would make sense to build a good relationship.
- Even if you don't care about your classmates, everybody has a different pain threshold. So, the efficacy of pain-reliant techniques will vary from person to person. The efficacy of leverage does not: that's based on physics, not how tough somebody is.
If I find I have no option except something brutish (e.g., crushing their chin until they tap from pain or lift their head), my preference is to instead transition to a different attack, like an ezequiel, a bow and arrow choke or an armbar (which I'll be covering in later lessons). In my opinion, if I get to the point where force and pain are the main routes to finishing a submission, then my set up was poorly executed.