Chokes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are submission holds that take time to work… in most cases. The paper cutter choke is the black sheep in the chokes family, coming on suddenly and violently. This choke turns even the most stoic opponent into drummers when they scramble to tap out frantically with both arms.
This Gi choke from side control is not hard to master if you are aware of a few sneaky details. This article will tell you everything you need to know to add this nasty choke to your arsenal.
How to Perform the BJJ Paper Cutter Choke
The BJJ paper cutter choke is predominantly an air choke that puts lots of pressure on the trachea, although it also constricts blood flow. When it comes to air chokes, it may just be the most effective one in the entire sport of Jiu Jitsu.
The sneaky way in which the grips are set for this choke paired with the fact that you are able to put your entire body weight behind the choke contribute to the devastating effectiveness of this submission. The best part? It is not hard or complicated at all!
From side control you start this technique by threading your arm that is closer to the opponent’s belt in between their torso and their near side arm (the arm that is in between you and them). The endpoint of threading the arm is establishing a grip on the back of the collar, four fingers going inside the gi.
The first grip provides control and leaves your other arm (the one closer to the opponent’s head) free to execute the choke. To finish the choke your free arm should reach across your opponent’s neck, and grab the far side collar with a thumb-in grip. This places your forearm across their neck and sets you up for an easy finish.
To finish the submission simply drop your elbow to the mats in a chopping-like motion reminiscent of this choke’s namesake. The result will be a fast tap ever, giving you the first taste of the paper cutter choke’s power.
A Few Very Useful Paper Cutter Choke Details
While the mechanics of the BJJ paper cutter choke are fairly simple, there are details to the submission that really are game-changers in terms of how effective you are in finishing with it. Knowing how to set up, tighten and adjust the choke is the difference between you getting a quick tap and your grips burning out without finishing the submission.
Be Sneaky and Go Deep
Setting up the finishing grip across the neck can sometimes be tricky. People unaware of the choke will not react to it too much, but those that have been caught will recognize it easily. The solution is to mask it by diverting their attention first.
One option is to set up the grip while you are in a crossface position from side control. Instead of going for a classic crossface armpit grip, go for a deep grip with the thumb in the collar. Then, after you set up the second grip, you can simply circle the choking arm around the head to instantly get into a finishing position.
Sneaking the nearside grip (to the back of the collar) can also be a bit obvious. A great tip is to go over with the arm that’s near the opponent’s head as if you’re looking to set up a Kimura on their far side arm. This will turn the opponent’s attention to the far side, exposing their collar for the near side paper cutter choke grip. Again, go as deep as possible with this grip.
Elbow to the Mat
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten in terms of finishing the paper cutter choke is to press the elbow of the choking arm firmly on the mats. It appears glaringly obvious but you’d be amazed at how many times people rush and skip this step.
Once you have the thumb-in grip ready and your forearm is across the neck, the first thing to do is get the elbow to the ground and keep it there! All the weight that comes from the sprawl is actually there to accentuate this positioning of the elbow, so do not try the choke without it!
Sprawl and Turn
On the subject of neat little paper cutter choke tricks, most people’s advice is to sprawl back once you have the grips and the elbow is on the ground.
This will work, but you can make it even tighter if you keep your toes on the ground while you sprawl. You’ll want to twist your hips so that the hip that is nearer to the opponent’s head is glued to the mats, while you’re looking towards the opponent’s legs. The sprawl and turn motion is what makes the paper cutter choke go from effective to devastating.
Set It Up from North-South
Last but not least, shake up your positional setup of the paper cutter choke by setting it up from different side control variations. The north-south position is a great option.
Many people favor a north-south setup of the choke, given that there is easy access to the opponent’s armpit on one side, providing access for the back-of-the-collar grip. One elbow is usually in the armpit anyway from north-south, allowing you to simply reach towards the back of the collar as your opponent struggles to get out of the position.
While you will need to circle back to side control in order to finish, you can set up the thumb-in grip from north-south as well before you begin to circle to the side.
No-Gi Paper Cutter Choke
First, I need to preface by saying I do not consider the no-gi version of this choke to be a high-percentage submission, certainly not as reliable as the gi version. That said, it can work as a blitz submission, catching people off guard.
The main problem with the paper cutter choke in no-gi is the lack of a gi! Without a gi there aren’t good places to set your grips. That greatly reduces the reliability of the choke as a result of the lack of control. It doesn’t mean the choke can’t work, though.
The gripping configuration is similar to the paper cutter in the gi, with the grips now going on each shoulder rather than the collar. The near side arm will grab the near side shoulder, with four fingers toward the front of the shoulder/collar bone.
The choking arm grips the far side shoulder in the opposite direction, with four fingers wrapping behind the shoulder so that the elbow can get into place for the choking mechanics. The finishing details are the same, although the grips are easier to strip, meaning the choke is easier to defend.
You should expect this choke to fail, but in escaping it your opponent may leave themselves open for other higher percentage attacks.
Paper Cutter Choke Defense And Prevention
When it comes to defending this choke, you will first need to know it is coming. You may learn this the hard way by being caught in it, or the easy way by learning how to perform the choke yourself.
Preventing the choke starts with denying the opponent either of the two grips needed to finish the choke. Basically, any thumb-in choke around your collar should be the focus of your immediate attention, and you should prevent forearms from going across your face/neck.
When you’re too late with prevention (and Murphy’s Law dictates that you will be) an option is preventing the elbow from dropping to the ground. A simple elbow push defense (pushing the elbow across your body) is actually a powerful counter to the paper cutter choke when timed correctly.
When you’re really late, a last resort option is to push the opponent’s head with your free arm. The aim is to push their head to the side where they are positioned, trying to make them face away from your legs as you do (grabbing the chin with any chin strap variation is really useful to achieve this).
If however, the opponent has their head glued down to your chest, and the elbow is to the ground, you’re pretty much done for, given the speed and the brutal nature of the choke
Funny Name – Powerful Choke
The paper cutter choke is a beautiful submission with a funny name. It can easily become your best friend when it comes to tapping out people more experienced or bigger than you.
Of course, this choke does require reaching side control and maintaining the position – so have your expectations match your abilities! Once there, all you need to do is sneakily set your grips, drop your elbow to the ground, sprawl, and turn. That is all that it takes to get some of the most satisfying drum-roll taps of your grappling career.
Ogi is a brown belt and very passionate about Jiu Jitsu.
He is also the head coach of Carlos Maia BJJ Macedonia and Globetrotter.