A student recently asked me what my favourite finishing hold is.

Without hesitation, I answered, “The rear naked choke. Everything I do is aimed at getting me there.”

The student seemed supremely disappointed with my response. After all, there is a myriad of other significantly more exotic submissions that I could have nominated, many of which I am somewhat known for using. So why would I favour one of the most common, humdrum moves in the game?

Let me attempt to explain the reasoning behind my choice.

When I roll, I endeavour to take whatever opportunities my opponent offers me without presupposition. However, the rear naked choke is effectively my endgame, because it is the one hold that I will never choose to transition out of. This is not a conscious decision that I make because of some aesthetic attraction I have to the move. Rather, it is the logical result of successfully applying what I believe to be a technical Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) approach to submission grappling.

Over the 13+ years I have studied and practiced BJJ, I have been taught to recognise the importance of the positional hierarchy. In order from worst to best, broadly speaking, we can break down the hierarchy as follows:

  • Bad positions from which we cannot typically attack submissions safely, e.g. under mount, under side control, or back mounted.
  • Neutral positions from which both opponents can attack submissions, e.g. guard, neutral leg lock positions, head to head.
  • Ride positions from which we can safely attack submissions, but from which we must ‘ride’ our opponent to maintain control, e.g. side control, knee-ride, top turtle.
  • Attacking positions from which we can attack submissions and control our opponent without the need to ride, e.g. mount and back control.

With this hierarchy in mind, it should be clear that moving to mount/back control is the organic result of applying a technical BJJ game. We should typically look to escape bad positions, attack or progress from neutral positions, attack or progress from ride positions, and attack from attacking positions.

So, assuming that things go our way, without really thinking about it, our technical BJJ approach has taken us on an organic path to mount/back control. However, from under mount, our opponent can do one thing that he cannot do when we take his back. That is, he can bridge his hips into us.

The hip bridge is such a powerful movement that our mount attacks may often be thwarted by it. Nevertheless, if we react to our opponent’s movement correctly, their escape will allow us to transition to back control. Therefore, back control is the final destination of a technical BJJ game, and thus, the most obvious staging point for our submission attempts.

So why out of all the attacking options from back is the rear naked choke so special?

It combines spine control with incomparable choking pressure, with or without the gi.

If we lock the rear naked choke properly, then our opponent can no longer move his chin, and thus, no longer turn his spine in order to effectively use his hips to escape. With our opponent now stripped of all strong movement options, we can patiently use the structure of the hold to incrementally increase the pressure of the choke and ‘kill the lion’.

When asked what is best in life, Conan the Barbarian once correctly answered, “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”

Note that there is nothing in this description that involves looking fancy.

The rear naked choke is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive demonstration of domination over an opponent that can be achieved in BJJ, and it is for this reason that it stands as my favourite finishing hold.