The Rear Naked Choke – BJJ’s most popular submission

The rear naked choke (Mata Leao in Portuguese) is one of the the most popular chokes used in grappling. It is an incredibly powerful technique that has the potential to render an opponent unconscious within a few seconds. As a technique it is taught in a number of different martial arts such as Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Sambo, and Catch wrestling. It is also consistently the most popular submission used in MMA.

The word “naked” refers to the fact that the hold does not require the use of a Kimono or Gi training uniform.


The physiology of the choke (How the RNC works)

The Rear Naked Choke is a blood choke. This means that it works by restricting bloodflow to the brain.

When the attacker has the choke secured and they begin to apply pressure, the opponents jugular vein is compressed. In addition the carotid arteries on either side of the neck begin to narrow. As this happens blood begins to fall  which may result in the opponent feeling flushed in the face. As the bloodflow falls below critical level the opponent will starts lose consciousness.

Blood levels rise again as soon as the choke is released which usually results in regaining of consciousness after a few seconds.


How to Do the Rear Naked Choke

There are a number of different ways to set up and finish a rear naked choke. The choke has two main variations. In one version the attacker’s arm encircles the opponent’s neck and they then grab their own bicep to tighten the choke. In the second version, the attacker joins their hands together and squeezes as opposed to grabbing their own bicep.

The first version is the most common form of the choke. Apart from the final grip many of the other details are the same for every variation of the choke. Once back control has been secured these are the main general steps of the RNC:

  1. The attacker’s arm encircles the opponent’s neck (forearm underneath chin), until the opponent’s trachea at the crook of the elbow.
  2. The attacker’s choking arm then grasps the bicep of their other arm (non choking arm).
  3. The hand non choking arm is then placed behind head or behind the shoulder of the opponent.
  4. The attacker then tightens the choke by bringing their elbows together and flexing their arms. This results in significant pressure being applied to both sides of the neck.

When applied properly, unconsciousness occurs in less than 10 seconds and recovery from the choke is just as quick.


Examples and Variations

As already mentioned there are many variations of the RNC. The effectiveness of the choke often depends on how you adapt the technique for your own body shape and size. Jiu Jitsu practitioners such as Marcelo Garcia and Andre Galvao have both mastered the choke and have their own way of applying it. By studying these athletes and their interpretation of the choke we can increase our own understanding of the technique.

  • Marcelo Garcia’s setup: Marcelo is one of the greatest grappler’s of all time known for his great RNC. His set ups for the choke are also very impressive. When an opponent tucks their chin not letting the choke hand in, he grabs their forehead with his grip to lift their chin to slide in the choke hand. Once he gets that choke hand, he pushes away their hands with his grip hand and sinks in the choke.

Another method he does is gripping the shoulder blade. Once you get the choke hand in you grab the shoulder blade like a bird perching on your shoulder. It’s very hard to remove the arm after it’s set in and you lock the choke behind their head to finish it. We can see Marcelo going through these steps in this video.

  •  Andre Galvao RNC setup: Galvao is another world champion with great tips to finish the RNC. From the seatbelt grip, he covers the choke hand with his grip hand and once the opponent pushes the top arm off your choke hand, he sets up the choke. To set up the choke, he slides in the grip hand behind their head. He notes that uses the forearm of the grip hand to push them further into the choke. (Watch Andre breakdown all of his tricks here)


  • Lachlan Giles RNC Setup: Giles is mostly known for his footlocks, but he has a great setup for the RNC. He grabs the shoulder similar to Marcelo’s set up, but he does something a little different to get the choke grip. Before he gets the grip, Giles sets the grip hand behind the opponent’s head. Lachlan then rotates the forearm of his grip hand over his choke hand decreasing the chances of getting his grips peeled off.    


Rear Naked Choke Key Tips

There is always little tweaks you can make in your technique to improve how you apply the rear naked choke no matter which grip you use. 

Below is a detailed list of important tips that will make your rear naked choke game more effective and give you a near hundred percent finish rate when you get their back go for this choke.  

  • Be Like A Snake: After you lock in the choke be like a snake and squeeze slowly using your whole body with force. When they breathe out slowly contract your body inward on their neck ensuring they tap from a tighter and more secure choke.
  • Protect The Choking Hand: Many RNC setups start with a seatbelt grip (one hand on top of the other) and you need to cover your choke hand with your top grip hand. As they go to peel off grips, they pull off the grip hand leaving them open to set in your choke hand.
  • Get Under The Chin: Be sure to slide the choke hand under the chin. You need to get under the chin to get the choke or otherwise the sub is a crushing facelock. 
  • Grip The Shoulder Blade: When you get the choke hand under the chin grab on to the outside shoulder blade to help finish the choke. In between your shoulder blade and muscle there is a space that gives you a good grip for your choke hand. It is very hard to remove the choke hand once you get that grip on the shoulder blade.
  • Back Positioning: Be aware that you need to be positioning in the center of the opponent’s back like a backpack. If you’re too far on one side of their back, they have space to bridge and roll out of back mount or tip you over if your too high when they’re on all fours and tip you over.
  • Choking Hand Position: It is important to have the choke hand in the right place. Generally the crook of your elbow should be around the center of the neck. 
  • Leg Positioning. In back mount, you need to have your hooks on the inside of the opponent’s legs, while using a little downward force to hold them in place. This secures the position better and makes it harder for them to escape. Body triangle is also a good option to hold the position, but you don’t get points for it if you’re in a tournament.
  • Turn To The Choke Arm Side: To further secure the choke turn to the side of your choke arm. Turning to the other side gives the opponent an opening to get out.

RNC Common Errors

The steps to do the choke are very simple to the point where people with no grappling training know how to perform the submission hold. However even the most skilled and experienced grapplers still make errors when applying this choke. In many ways it is a simple choke but their are many little intricacies to learn if you want it to pull it off against a high level opponent. The little details of the choke can help you to perfect it over time. Before we get into set-ups and tips to make the RNC better, here are some of the most common errors that are made when applying the choke.

  • Looping The Choke Hand: A common mistake when applying the choke is to make a big looping motion when trying to set your choke hand under the opponent’s chin. If the opponent sees your choke hand coming, they will either tuck their chin or grab your arm and start defending. 
  • Grip Hand Mistakes: If you have the choke hand under their neck it should be just about over unless you make a mistake with your grip hand. Putting your grip hand where your opponent can see it gives them the opportunity to defend and get out. Once they see that hand, they will grab it and block the choke.
  • Choking With Just Your Arms: Some perform this choke by just using their arms trying to finish it. If you just use your arms to choke a tough opponent, then odds are your arms will burn out and when they get out you won’t be able to defend yourself.
  • Grip Hand On Top Of Head: When doing a bicep grip RNC some people will put their grip hand on top of the opponent’s head instead of behind. The opponent will immediately peel the grip hand off their head and begin working to escape back control.
  • Crossing Your Feet: When you’re beginning jiu jitsu and taught about back control, the first thing your told is never cross your feet in back control. You’re setting yourself to be putting a nasty ankle if you cross your feet when having back control.
  • Bad Positioning: Sometimes people forget how to hold back mount either being too tight, too loose, or giving too much space. If you’re too tight you will have trouble moving to do the choke and if your too loose or have space, they will be able to turn and face you.