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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

21 May 2013

21/05/2013 - Teaching (Side Control Gi Tail Choke)

Teaching #109
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 21/05/2013

Couple more updates I wanted to mention, on the press front. Firstly I did an interview with a new(ish) website, here. Secondly, BJJ Legends Magazine put up an event report I wrote: it's particularly cool how they are happy to leave in all the links. Don't forget, you can still donate to the Bristol GrappleThon 2013 and the upcoming Bakersfield GrappleThon here. :D

Tonight I wanted to cover one of the two submissions I attempt most often from side control. I'm not sure what it's called: I've seen 'lapel choke' and 'tail choke'. I first learned it at RGA Bucks from Matt Burn (such a good name for a BJJ instructor!) back in 2010 I think I'm going to refer to it as a 'north-south tail choke', unless somebody knows a better term. As ever, BJJ terminology is rubbish when it comes to standardisation. ;)

Continuing my structure from the last few lessons, I began with a basic version of the north-south tail choke, adding in details later. You're in the classic side control position with an arm under the head. Open up your gi with your far hand. Punch that inside their arm, then feed the gi lapel you were holding to your other hand, which is behind their head. Once you have the gi in place, get a firm grip: you may want to keep on feeding it further to make it even more secure.

Cinch it tight to their neck, straightening the arm you have under their head. Put your free hand on the floor by their same side hip, to stop them following you (always a good idea if you are transitioning to north-south). Keeping your upper body low, walk your legs around towards their head, as if you were going to north south. At the same time, move your head towards their near hip: they will probably tap before you get there, but if not, keep going until you can put your head next to their hip. If the submission still isn't happening, make sure you're keeping your arm straight and pressed into their neck, so that your gi lapel digs into the other side of their neck.

Bringing in some more details on the north-south tail choke, the first thing is you want to try and hide what you're doing. Ideally your gi will have already come a bit loose during sparring. If not, you could try switching into a reverse scarf hold type position to obscure their view, then pull out your gi lapel (although that does mean you'll then have to try and re-establish orthodox side control).

To be even more sneaky, hold the end of the gi lapel (this is where it starts to look like a 'tail') in your same side hand, so it is less obvious to your opponent. You can then just keep your hand near their far arm, waiting for the opportunity to punch it through. Another thing you can do, as in Dónal's version, is to twist up their gi to make it into more of a rope (Geeza suggests twisting outwards, like you were taking off a jacket, so that it doesn't unravel as you apply the choke). This gives you what is effectively a rope, which should make the choke noticeably more effective at digging into the carotid arteries: keep in mind the choke is around the back of the neck and side, not the front or the throat.

Of course, anybody with a bit of experience will realise something is up if you're pulling out your gi and trying to pull it around their head. There are a few ways you can try to trick them. Wrapping the gi tail around their arm may make them react by pulling their arm free, which puts the gi tail by their neck right where you wanted. If they keep their arm in place, you could try going for an americana. Once you go for that, they'll may bring their arm out, meaning that the route to their neck is again clear.

A nastier option comes from Fabio Gurgel over on MGinAction. When I hold side control, I reach under the head, grip the far armpit and press my shoulder into their face, so they can't turn towards me. Gurgel puts his shoulder in their neck instead. To relieve that pressure, a common reaction is to push with the arm, which again opens up a route for punching through that gi tail. Another Gurgel tip is for finishing the choke: if you're having trouble, step through so you can put your knee by their head, using it as a wedge.

You can either sprawl as you move around, or you can raise your bum in the air to drive your weight through a smaller area (keeping in mind this will make you more vulnerable to their legs as they try to recover guard and defence). If you need some extra pressure when you're in that finishing position, Dónal likes to move his choking arm elbow across, which seemed to be a useful way to finish off a stubborn opponent.


Teaching Notes: I'm keen to work more subs into my mount and side control, as while I can generally maintain the position on lower belts, I often get into a 'stare at them' situation. The north-south tail choke is something I try regularly, as is the americana, but I need some combinations from side control. I was originally intending to start off with the step-over choke, as I watched a good video on it from BJJ Library (it's something I first learned from Tran years ago), but decided to stick with the basic and detailed versions of the tail choke.

Next time, I might move a couple of details to the first section, like keeping the arm under the head straight as you move around, rather than bending it. That's a key detail which is worth including: I only realised I hadn't emphasised it when I saw a lot of people keeping their arms bent as they moved around. Many people also weren't going on their toes to maximise their pressure. That's something else I'll look to highlight next time I teach this choke. There's a bunch of cool options from Roy Dean on Brown Belt Requirements I'd like to play with in sparring too.

I got in a good bit of practice on my side control escapes. Mike continues to improve, as now he has come up with a nice counter to my running escape, grabbing the leg and trying to take my back. I had a brief go at the stiff arm, but I keep giving up on that too early: I always feel like my arm is exposed. With a couple of people I was ending up under a sort of scarf hold, but failed to rock forwards properly to reverse the position.

My groin injury is also STILL acting up. I was using my leg to escape a few times, pressing into biceps and heads, so clearly my abductor did not enjoy being used that much. It should be ok for my US trip, but annoying nonetheless, as it limits what I can do and how much I can train (not that I ever train a lot, but it would be good to at least get back to two training sessions a week on top of the teaching).


  1. I definitely recommend more conviction on the stiff arm escape. I distinctly remember being concerned I was about to position (and cursing myself for mistakenly leaving my arm vulnerable) and then relieved when you didn't follow through.

    Good class overally, though as you note it would be good to emphasise the straight arm on the first run through the technique. It took me three minutes of drilling before I worked out why it wasn't working for me, part of which was that my arm was bent and part of which was that I hadn't pulled the lapel through to a position under their neck - I had just left my cross facing arm where it was, which was too deep really.

    As an aside, I've been finding the lessons you've done on Saulo's side control method of riding you opponent to be really useful. Between that option and a detail on crossfacing from Ryan Hall my top control seems to have really leapt forward in the last couple of weeks, so thanks :)

  2. Interesting: I didn't think I had much control, but then I always feel that way with the stiff arm escape. What I really need to do is set aside a good bit of time to drill it properly. Possibly something I could bring up with Dónal in a private lesson, though I'm not sure whether he uses that escape much.

    Also, very pleased to hear you've got something useful out of the side control lessons. There were a few people last night mentioning the immense shoulder pressure from your side control, so sounds like it's being noticed. ;)