Rear Naked Choke Breakdown: Submission and Defense

Applied correctly, the rear-naked choke, or RNC, is the most devastating strangulation finish used in martial arts disciplines including MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

In fact, the “King of All Chokes” is successfully employed in roughly half of all strangulation submissions at BJJ competitions. Even athletes like Gordon Ryan, who is known for his leg lock prowess (learned from Coach John Danaher), has said he favors the RNC has his go-to submission. TThis is exactly why any serious mixed martial artist should include it in the arsenal of any serious mixed martial artist.

I’m going to cover what a rear-naked choke is, why it is so effective, the proper way to execute one, and how to defend against it. Finally, I will give some examples of when fighters used the rear-naked choke to end legit MMA bouts.

What is a Rear Naked Choke?

Also known as hadaka-jime in judo, a rear-naked choke is a type of stranglehold that relies on proper technique rather than physical strength. It is “rear” because it is applied from the opponent’s back, and it is “naked” because it does not also require the use of the opponent’s gi or other clothing to create the choking tourniquet.

It is considered a type of “blood choke” because it compresses the jugular veins and carotid arteries without also compressing the airway. Cutting off the brain’s blood supply can cause unconsciousness in as little as a few seconds.

Safety Note: If a rear-naked is applied for more than 20 seconds, severe injury, or even death may result. For that reason, judo and Danzan Ryu also teach kappo or resuscitation skills. 

It is a tradition in some judo schools to teach all new black belts kappo. The training is complete when each new shodan chokes someone unconscious, is choked out themselves, and resuscitates someone using the techniques of kappo.

The Mechanics of the Rear Naked Choke

Here is the proper way to apply the rear-naked choke when using the right arm, demonstrated by UFC legend Bas Rutten:

How To Perform Bas Rutten's Rear Naked Choke
  • Once in the appropriate position, behind the opponent, the right arm is wrapped around the opponent’s neck. This places their windpipe at the crook of the elbow.
  • The right hand grasps the left bicep.
  • The left hand is placed on top of or behind the opponent’s head. For even more control, place your hand against the attacker’s shoulder.
  • As the attacker’s shoulders are pulled back, the right forearm is pulled up into the throat, the elbows are brought together, and the arms are flexed. This creates lateral pressure from the radius bone and biceps, cutting off the brain’s blood supply.

Palm-to-Palm Variation

Move of the Day: Palm to palm Rear Strangle

The “palm-to-palm” or “clasping hands” rear-naked choke has the hand of the choking arm clasp the hand of the supporting arm. This method applies more pressure to the neck but results in reduced control of the opponent’s head.

The palm-to-palm version often becomes a mixed-blood choke and air choke, restricting the airway and resulting in a slower but more pain-producing choke-out.

Leg Position Can Be Key

There are two different leg positions usually used to support a strong RNC position.

The Fighter's Arsenal Jacen Flynn BJJ Rear Naked Strep Choke Body Triangle

First, there is the “body triangle” or “figure-four body lock”, also known in judo as Do-Jime. Once behind their opponent, the attacker wraps their legs around their foe’s torso and crosses their ankles. Then, they pull one heel up to and behind the other knee, thereby creating the namesake “4” shape. Once locked in, the body triangle puts tremendous pressure on their opponent’s ribs, making it much harder to breathe.

The major advantage of the body triangle is it is challenging to escape. But the biggest disadvantage is that once an attacker fully commits, their offensive options become severely limited. This is why the swift and proper execution of the RNC is so critical.

Clark Gracie with Rear Naked Choke Details

The second RNC technique is the “hooks” leg position. The attacker locks his legs into the mid-thighs of their opponent from the back mount position, preventing escape or reversal while the submission hold is applied.

Defense Against a Rear Naked Choke

As much as I like executing a rear-naked choke against an unlucky opponent, there have been times when I was in a position where the move was used against me. Therefore, I make a point of practicing rear-naked choke defense regularly.

Defense against a Rear Naked Choke

From bitter experience, I can tell you that once an RNC is locked in, there are only few seconds left to act. It is difficult, but not impossible, if a cool head prevails. Again, I will use the example of someone attempting to execute the move with their right hand,

The very first thing is to relieve pressure on the neck, even if it is only briefly to buy yourself some time. Tuck your chin, raise your shoulders, then grab the choking arm and pull down to keep the blood to the brain flowing. 

Use the left hand to grab as near as their right thumb as possible and pull down sharply. That should create just enough space to slide your right hand around their right forearm so you can pull down even more.

If you are standing, drop your base a few inches, then rotate your right shoulder toward your left foot as hard as you can, using your shoulder as a fulcrum. Done correctly, this shoulder throw should break your opponent’s hold and leave them sprawled on the mat in front of you.

The most important thing to remember about defending against a standing rear-naked choke is not getting pulled backward off-balance because all protective leverage is lost.

How to Escape the Rear Naked Choke

Escaping from a ground-based RNC is harder and is more about preventing an opponent from getting the hold locked in. 

While tucking the chin, raising the shoulders, and blocking the choking arm, try to simultaneously trap the supporting arm under your armpit or better yet, your body. Use your legs to push on the mat and try to shift the opponent’s position up or down. If you can create any space at all, rotate your body within their mount because the hold is not effective if not executed correctly from the rear.

Famous Fights Finished With the Rear Naked Choke

Because it is one of the most effective finishing moves in MMA, practicing the rear-naked choke is well worth your time. The more you train on properly executing an RNC, the more opportunities you will have to learn defense techniques.

Here are a few videos from some of my favorite fights that highlight just how devastating this move can be. Of course, if you want to learn the move, checking out how great fighters execute it is a good start.

2008: Anderson Silva versus Dan Henderson

2015: Keita Nakamura versus Li Jingliang

Keita Nakamura finishes with standing choke, opponent face-plants

2016: Michael Chiesa versus Beneil Dariush

Beneil Dariush vs Michael Chiesa Fight Highlight

2017: Jan Blachowicz versus Devin Clark

UFC Jan Blachowicz Legendary Polish Power Puts Devin Clark to sleep standing up SLOW MOTION

2017: Charles Oliveira versus Will Brooks

UFC 08.04.17 Will Brooks VS Charles Oliveira

The Bottom Line

If you’re serious about learning Jiu Jitsu or MMA, you need to master both the rear naked choke as well as how to defend against it. It’s a tried and trued submission used by all successful martial artists.

Now that you’ve learned about the RNC, check out my posts on the Ezekiel Choke and the Darce Choke.

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