How To Make The BJJ Cross Collar Choke Work

24.08.2021 by

What is the Cross Collar Choke? The cross collar choke is a gi BJJ strangle that involves gripping the opponent’s gi with both your arms. The choking pressure comes from your forearms – but the grips on the gi are essential anchor points. The choke is highly versatile and can be set up from both top and bottom positions. 

Oftentimes, beginners find the cross collar tricky to pull off. That can easily be remedied with a couple of simple hacks that will boost your success rate with this essential BJJ submission hold. We’ve compiled a few tips that will make your cross collar choke a submission to be feared!

Cross Choke History

The cross collar choke or cross choke is one of the oldest chokes in gi grappling. Its roots go back to traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu before it became a crucial element of the Kodokan Judo 12 constriction techniques curriculum. As such, it was most likely one of the fundamental moves that Maeda taught Carlos Gracie in Brazil. 

Helio Gracie was a huge fan of the cross collar choke, cementing its place as one of the most effective BJJ techniques by achieving 4 of his 8 submission victories by way of this submission. 

Helio’s son, Rickson Gracie, also was an avid user of the choke, but it was Roger Gracie who brought the choke legendary status when he used it to submit his way through everyone in the 2009 Mundials (both in his weight class and in absolute!). 

Cross Collar Choke Mechanics

The cross collar choke is a strangle, often incorrectly referred to as a ‘blood choke,’ which constricts the carotid arteries on both sides of an opponent’s neck via pressure from the forearms. Achieving this pressure requires you to have your arms crossed, which is how the choke got its name. 

The most basic variation of the choke has you grip the opponent’s left collar with your left arm (or right hand to right collar). In Jiu Jitsu, this is called a cross grip. The four fingers of your left arm, excluding the thumb, go inside the collar in order to establish the grip. 

The right hand then follows suit, achieving the exact same grip on the right collar. This places your arms in a crossed position, positioning your forearms against the carotid arteries. 

Up to this point, people have no major difficulties. When it comes to finishing the choke, though, most beginners get frustrated and fail to get a tap even when the grips are set.

Cross Collar Choke Grip Variations

First of all, understand that it is your grip that makes or breaks this choke, as opposed to the strength of your arms or how hard you squeeze. There are two grip variations that will allow you to successfully finish a cross collar choke. 

The first one is the basic one I covered above. While I mentioned that you should go for cross grips on both collars with four fingers inside, I did not specify how deep those grips should be. In contrast to what many coaches say, you should not aim to go extremely deep with your grips when hunting for a cross choke. 

In fact, going too deep with the grips can actually limit your success with the submission. 

An easy waypoint that I teach relies on placement of the wrist bone that is right underneath your thumb. If this bone is touching their neck then you have the perfect depth to execute a cross collar choke. Setting up the grip starts when you place one arm inside one collar. For the first variation, the second arm will pass below the first one in order to get the cross configuration. 

The second cross collar grip variation starts off the same, with one arm getting a cross collar grip. However, this one comes into play when you can’t manage to sneak the second arm in like for the previous grip configuration. The solution is placing it over instead of under the first arm, but going in with a thumb inside the collar and four fingers grabbing on the outside. 

This grip variation will ensure you get your forearm in place (after grinding on the chin a bit to open up space) but keep in mind that this time, your waypoint for depth is the placement of the wrist bone under your pinky finger, as a result of grabbing the collar with a thumb-in grip. 

How To Finish the Cross Collar Choke Every Time

Let’s start by learning how not to try and finish the cross choke: Don’t pull with your arms in opposite directions (regardless of which grip you are using). This will only create space for your opponent’s neck.

When you pull your elbows away from each other (which comes instinctively) you are actually creating space in between your wrists. Think of how scissors work – when you open them up the cutting surfaces move away from each other. It is the same with the cross collar choke.  

The first finishing tip is to pull your elbows close to each other in order to place pressure on the arteries. While counterintuitive, it will actually result in a very tight and difficult to prevent choke.

The second finishing tip comes from Rickson Gracie’s invisible Jiu Jitsu: connection. It is essential to remove all the slack in between your wrist and your opponent’s neck. By slack, I mean any space imaginable – your wrists should be glued to the opponent’s neck before you start to pull your elbows together.

A final tip that will help you deal even with those huge necked folks (the type that like to lift plates in the gym with their teeth). Once you get your grips in, establish a firm connection and get your elbows together, if they’re still not tapping simply do a biceps curl with both arms. That’ll do the trick against anyone. 

Troubleshooting

All it takes to finish any choke in Jiu Jitsu is PATIENCE. 

Unlike arm locks and leg locks, which are “snappy” techniques that can come on in a split second, chokes take time to work. You have to keep in mind that there’s no way to completely cut off the blood flow in the carotid arteries via pressure. All you can do is compress the arteries, reducing the amount of blood that reaches the brain. 

This blood flow reduction, in turn, results in a lack of oxygen in the brain which then will shut the body down in an effort to survive. However, it does take some time for the oxygen in the brain to fall below the level which sets off alarm bells. 

What this means for your cross collar choke (and all BJJ chokes) is that once you set everything up you need to stay in position and be patient. For how long? A twenty count is a good rule of thumb. 

Using the cross collar choke as an example, let’s say you have perfect depth grips, you have a great connection and your elbows are close together. Stay like that for a twenty count, not trying to achieve anything else. If by the end you don’t get a tap or nap, don’t let go but rather adjust – now is the time to do that biceps curl for example. After adjusting, simply count again. 

Setting Up The Cross Collar Choke

The cross collar choke is a highly versatile tool, as Roger Gracie proved on multiple occasions against some of the best grapplers in the sport. The best two positions to hunt for high-efficiency cross collar chokes are the closed guard and the mount, the latter being Roger’s preferred position.  

How To Do the Cross Collar Choke from Guard

Working towards the cross collar choke from the guard is fairly easy – people don’t typically panic if you get one cross collar grip, especially not when you its relatively shallow. The trick to creating enough space for sneaking your second arm under (for the basic grip variation) is setting the correct angle. 

Once you have the first grip in, focus on straightening the wrist of your grip hand, while tilting your body slightly to the side where you already have a collar grip. This will create both space to thread the second arm in and the optimal angle for it. 

In situations where your opponent is keeping their head low towards your torso, they are opening up a direct entry for the thumb-in grip variation – once again, just tilt to the side to get a better angle to establish the grip. 

Once you have the desired depth, you can circle your forearm around the head and across the face, pushing the opponent back and getting straight into a cross collar choke position. 

How To Do the Cross Collar Choke from Mount

One thing to look out for when setting up the cross collar choke from the mount is keeping your balance, given that you need to use one arm to establish that all-important first cross grip. 

That is where you get to use your head – literally. While you are establishing the first grip, use your head as a post on one side and your free arm on the other to remain in position and maintain stability. 

Getting that first grip in is going to be a hassle at best and there’s no straightforward way of doing it. The sooner you accept that getting the first grip will always be slightly different the better you’ll become at acquiring it. A simple hint is to go for the grip when an opponent is attempting to escape – that is when they are most vulnerable.  

Wrapping the choke up from the mount is the same as from the guard – establish grips and connection, and get your elbows together. Doing a biceps curl is not really an option here, but you can always get your head on the mat over the opponent’s head, achieving the very same thing. 

Is the Cross Collar Choke Effective for Self-Defense?

Could you use the cross collar choke in a self-defense scenario? The answer is yes. As long as an opponent has a jacket, shirt or t-shirt on you’ll be able to pull off a cross collar choke, as you have anchor points. While they might be different from a gi collar, the mechanics remain the same, as does the effectiveness of the choke. 

No-Gi Cross Collar Choke?

While this sounds completely counterintuitive, it is possible, although not as reliable as doing the choke with the gi. 

Getting a cross choke position without a collar will only work from mount. Air-tight connection to the neck becomes imperative in this case, and understanding how to pressure someone from mount is also important, but I have managed to pull the choke off several times while rolling. 

Simply place your fists on the ground while crossing your arms as if grabbing collars and proceed to do what you would normally do if there was a gi to grab. Remember, though, that this is a low percentage variation that you can’t truly rely on. 

In Conclusion

The cross collar choke has withstood the test of time in BJJ. It is one of the moves that have been around since the inception of the art/sport. It is based on simple and effective mechanics and will work for everyone as long as you remember several key pointers – don’t go too deep with the grips, connect your wrists tightly to the neck and keep your elbows together. 

Staying patient for a twenty count with the choke will mean you can pull it off from guard or mount, in training, competition, or even during a self-defense scenario.