The guillotine choke is one of the most basic and effective chokes in Jiu Jitsu. You can attempt it from almost any position except from the top of closed guard (where you risk getting your back taken) or the bottom of side control (where you risk the Von Flue choke). It’s a simple yet powerful tool used for control and submission, and is an excellent go-to move when training both gi and no-gi.
Mechanics of the Guillotine Choke
The guillotine can act as both a blood and an air choke, depending on how well it has been applied.
A blood choke restricts blood flow in the neck, thereby cutting off oxygen to the brain. Air chokes restrict airflow by putting pressure on the windpipe. In BJJ blood chokes are superior as they more quickly render your opponent unconscious.
A basic guillotine is performed with an arm over your opponent’s head and wrapped around underneath the neck. There are many different grips and angles from which to execute the guillotine choke.
While less common, the arm-in guillotine choke is a viable alternative to the standard guillotine. In this version, you’ll have trapped your opponent’s arm along with their neck. In many ways, this version of the guillotine functions similarly to the head-and-arm choke.
Grips are essential in terms of getting your opponent’s head down. The most effective way to force your opponent’s head down is to wrap your palms behind the back of their head (not their neck), keep your elbows in, and pressure down on their head as you drop your shoulder on their neck while bringing your arm under their neck.
Grips are also crucial in securing the choke. Commonly you’ll lock your hands together in a palm-to-palm fashion, or if you can’t get your hands together you can cup the palm of your choking arm under their neck in a chinstrap for control. Without grips, you can’t finish the choke.
Ball and Socket Grip
The ball and socket grip can be used for arm-in or arm-out guillotines. As stated above, one arm is over the head, and the forearm is underneath the neck with the palm in a fist. The other hand grips the back of the fist.
The pretzel grip is used for arm-in guillotines or high-elbow guillotines. Grab the hand of your choking arm, palm to palm, where each thumb is opposite the other. The fingers of your opposite arm should be pointing down.
The palm of your choking arm will be pointing away from you, and the opposite palm will be towards you. This creates a tight choke with virtually no gaps. It is extremely difficult to escape from this grip.
The Gable grip can be used for arm in or arm out guillotines. Use a standard guillotine choke set up with a thumbless palm to palm grip
When using the S-grip, the fingers from your choking arm are hooked into the fingers of the other arm to create a strong hold.
10 Finger Grip
With the 10 finger grip, your choking hand cups your opponent’s chin, and your free hand cupped underneath the choking hand, with the thumbs next to each other.
Finishing the Guillotine
Grips, angle, leg placement are vital to achieving the guillotine submission. When finishing guillotines from the guard, pull your legs in to increase pressure on the neck.
If your opponent doesn’t tap, adjust your angle and bring your choking elbow to your knee to tighten the choke.
When standing, keep a solid base to maintain leverage. And if you can’t finish standing, you can always sit to guard.
Types of Guillotine Chokes
The arm-in guillotine choke is excellent for controlling your opponent as well as getting the submission. You can perform this version from top or bottom positions. Use a ball and socket grip and angle your body toward the choke so that there are no gaps between the crease of your elbow and your opponent’s neck
The difference between the arm-in guillotine from guard and the standard guillotine is that instead of extending your legs to finish the choke like the standard guillotine, pull your opponent in towards you and squeeze. If you extend your legs, you will lose the grip on their head.
High Elbow Guillotine (Marcelotine)
When performing the high elbow guillotine, aka the Marcelotine (made popular by Marcelo Garcia), you must get your choking arm as deep as you can underneath your opponent’s neck. If you can get your choking hand near your opponent’s shoulder, you should be in good shape.
Then grip your choking arm in a pretzel grip. When performing the high elbow guillotine from guard, keep your leg across your opponent’s back so that they can’t escape. This version can also be done from a standing position.
Low Elbow Guillotine
In contrast to the high elbow guillotine, the low elbow guillotine is finished by stretching your opponent away from you while they are in your closed guard.
You can use any grip you want for this variation, and the choking arm does not have to be as deep as with the high elbow guillotine. With that said, you never want gaps between your arm and your opponent’s head.
10 Finger Guillotine
You can perform the 10 finger guillotine either from standing or from guard. From standing, this version is usually used as a takedown defense where you use a 10 finger grip and then drive your opponent to the mat. Pressure down to move their head against the mat and then press up with your wrists to finish the choke.
The 10 finger guillotine is performed as a standard guillotine from guard with a 10 finger grip.
Guillotine Chokes with the Gi
There are many advantages to the guillotine choke when training in the gi. You have more options for grips, as you can grip your collar or your sleeves to prevent your opponent from defending.
You can also transition to alternative chokes that use the gi such as the loop choke. The mechanics of the loop choke are the same as the high elbow guillotine, except you use their gi to help secure the submission.
The loop choke starts similarly to a traditional guillotine, except you’ll want to grab your opponent’s opposite collar with your inside grip. Then take your free arm across the back of their neck and thread it into your choking arm, elbow, or armpit.
It’s important to note that the collar grip is low. You don’t want a deep grip; otherwise, the choke won’t work. An ear-level grip will work fine.
How to Escape a Guillotine Choke
Whether standing or on the ground, you always want to escape the guillotine choke by moving away from the choking arm. If your opponent manages to get your head down and goes for the choke, immediately grip the choking arm and pull it away from your neck to buy yourself some time.
Tuck your chin so they can’t get a good hold on you. If you’re in someone’s guard, tripod up and use your shoulder to put pressure into their neck. This will make them uncomfortable enough to try to change position. Once they move, take any opportunity to open their guard and escape to side control. If you’re standing, take your free hand and reach around the back of your opponent and grab hold of something (a part of their gi or their shoulder). Move away from the choking arm and use your knee to push into the back of their knee so that they lose their balance and you can take them down.
From the ground, the escape is easy if you drive your shoulder into your opponent. From here, you can set up the Von Flue choke for the submission, or make them uncomfortable enough to release your head. You can also move to north-south, rendering their hold useless, or go for a kimura once they release their grip.
To set up the Von Flue choke when you’re in top side control, gable grip your hands as you drive your shoulder into their neck. Tripod your legs to increase pressure for the submission.
The guillotine choke is a versatile and powerful move to keep in your BJJ arsenal. It’s easy to learn and execute, regardless of your size or skill level. Learn the variations and escapes, and you can have a lethal addition to your game.
Kimberly is a Jiu Jitsu purple belt who also holds a black belt in Siljun Dobup Korean Sword Arts. When she’s not on the mats, she enjoys immersing herself in nature or a good book. She trains in New Jersey with her 9-year-old son.