When it comes to putting people to sleep in BJJ, there’s one real undisputed champion amongst all Jiu Jitsu chokes and strangles – the bow and arrow choke. If you’ve ever been caught in one, you know precisely what I am talking about.
This gi-specific strangle really takes choking to new heights, trapping your foe before the application of unstoppable pressure on their carotid arteries and across all structures of the neck.
If you want to add this great choke to your arsenal, or at least learn some new tips for its application, keep reading!
BJJ Chokes 101
Choking people out requires you to stop oxygen from getting to their brains. There are three different ways to do that. Putting pressure on the carotid arteries on both sides of the neck is by far the most effective one. It requires little to no strength (given optimal positioning) and since it requires very little time, can be held without the risk of the opponent dismantling your position.
Air chokes are a bit different because to put someone to sleep via one takes minutes, during which time you’ll be dealing with ever more panicky and spazzy reactions.
The third way of making people go to sleep via chokes is bending the head so that the chin touches the chest. This is a chest compression choke, which puts pressure on the thorax, making every inhalation smaller and smaller.
So you can put people to sleep by pressuring the arteries on both sides of the neck, by putting pressure on the windpipe, and by preventing the chest from expanding during inhales.
So, how does this make people go to sleep exactly? The unsatisfactory answer is that the science is currently unclear on the exact mechanisms… but the generally agreed upon short answer is: the brain needs oxygen in order to work.
The brain isn’t alone in its need for oxygen… so do the lungs and the heart, and this trio of organs is absolutely essential to keeping us alive. Given this information, it is understandable that these organs do not shut down immediately at the slightest indication of a lack of oxygen. Instead, there’s a buffer during which they work normally, despite oxygen levels falling.
Only when oxygen gets below a certain level, alarm bells start ringing. The brain’s first reaction is to shut down all non-essential functions, and that includes being awake. The idea is that all remaining oxygen during a crisis goes to the brain, heart, and lungs. Hence, a complete shutdown of everything else.
Note: Air chokes are a completely different beast. Your lungs don’t sense oxygen levels but instead detect carbon dioxide build up and use that as a proxy for “need to breathe” signals.
What this means for grapplers is that you should be patient when looking for taps from chokes. Putting someone to sleep requires time, anywhere between ten and twenty seconds.
Mechanics Of The Bow And Arrow Choke
For starters, let’s talk arm positioning. From back control with a seatbelt grip, you need to get your choking arm (the one going over an opponent’s shoulder) inside your opponent’s collar, with your thumb inside the collar.
Your goal is to then get out of the back position, allowing your opponent to get to the mats with their shoulder. Your free arm has the task of grabbing the gi pants of the near side leg at the outside of the knee.
At this point, one of your legs will be positioned across your opponent’s torso (like a technical mount) and the other leg is on the ground behind the opponent’s bottom shoulder. This second leg can go in a few different places, the most popular being over the head to aid in the mechanics of the bow and arrow choke.
Finishing the choke requires you to arch back, pulling on both their knee and collar with your arms. This vaguely looks like shooting a bow and arrow, which is how the choke got its name. In terms of mechanics, it stretches the opponent’s body in two different directions, applies the choke while twisting their spine and making escapes impossible.
The leg over the head adds to the choking pressure, helping to further accentuate the blood choke, as well as introducing another cranking aspect to the submission. A slightly more brutal version is placing your shin behind the opponent’s neck, thus opening a way to apply even more pressure to the choke.
Correcting Common Bow And Arrow Choke Errors
Let’s look at how we can make the bow and arrow choke better now. It is not that the version of events I presented above doesn’t work, but it can be made better by tweaking a few key details.
Grabbing the Leg
First of all, let’s talk about holding the leg. Anytime you’re holding the side of the pants at knee level, you’re not preventing the knee from pointing away from you. While it won’t get the leg away, it will provide the opponent’s an opportunity to survive and eventually escape, particularly if they know how to play modern Defensive BJJ postures.
A better option is to grip the upper thigh completely, like going for a Spiderweb position. If this is not a possibility then make sure you’re grabbing the pants on the inside of the thigh, pulling their knee towards your armpit. This will prevent any and all escape the person might be looking to exploit.
Secondly, let’s talk body positioning. There is absolutely no need to arch back and extend, creating space in between you and the opponent. Instead, think about lying towards the side where you are holding the opponent’s leg. Unorthodox at first sight, I know, but bear with me.
This positioning allows your free leg to go on the ground with the foot so that your knee goes behind the opponent’s shoulder blades. The goal is to prevent them from getting their back on the ground.
With the arm controlling the leg blocking them from turning away, and your entire body and the leg over their waist blocking them from turning towards you, it turns the bow and arrow choke into an inescapable hell hole even before you start choking your opponent.
Don’t Draw the Bow
Finally, when finishing the choke, there is no need to arch back. Instead, it is much better if you stay crunched. Pulling back the elbow of your choking arm towards your ribcage and leaning forward with your head will get you the same rotational pressure from before, but with a tightness not found in the traditional bow and arrow setup.
Bow And Arrow Choke Setups
Setting up the bow and arrow choke is best done from the back, but that is far from the only place that allows for entries into this submission. You can think about the bow and arrow choke from mount, turtle, and even as far back as top half guard. In fact, you can even set up a flying bow and arrow from standing.
The key to the choke is getting the choking arm around the neck and establishing the collar grip. A key note is to forego going very deep on the collar, as this will have a negative effect on the finishing mechanics. Gripping just above the collar bone is more than sufficient for finishing with a very tight bow and arrow choke.
From mount, this would mean that you need to have the person on their side, making the technical mount (or even better: gift wrap) the best variation for setting up a bow and arrow choke. As long as you have the grip with the choking arm and the leg over the torso you’re not far from the bow and arrow choke. In fact, all you need to do is sit back and catch their leg.
Setting the bow and arrow choke against a turtled-up opponent requires you to roll over, giving flair to the setup. Once again, the first key moment is the choking arm grip on the collar. The second, just like before, is getting a leg over their torso, which you can accomplish by throwing your leg over their back and curling it so that your calf goes across their belt.
From there, you do a simple forward roll, establishing the deep hook grip on the opponent’s thigh along the way. This lands you in the perfect position to wrap up a bow and arrow choke in any way you prefer.
A very sneaky and cool bow and arrow choke setup is also available from the closed guard. Essentially, as long as you can do an arm drag from the guard, you can think about setting up a bow and arrow choke.
The only drawback is that you have to reach behind the opponent’s neck from an arm drag position in order to establish the collar grip with the choking arm. Against people with very broad shoulders, this might turn out to be a problem.
Having this grip in from the closed guard also means you have a leg across their belly, in prime position for the bow and arrow setup. For getting to the finishing position you can think along the way of a pendulum (flower) sweep or go into the rolling entry as before.
For all those feeling adventurous, there is a bow and arrow setup from standing that qualifies as a flying bow and arrow. Like most flying techniques, it is not a high percentage technique, but it does work, especially against people that are bigger or stronger than you and can hold your weight.
What you want to do for a flying bow and arrow choke setup is jump a closed guard to the side of an opponent. It is essentially the same as entering a flying Spider Web armbar, only you’ll be trying to latch on in the side guard position until you sneak in that all-important collar grip with the choking arm.
Once you have it, your head should drop below the level of the opponent’s hips, and you should use the top leg to force your head towards the ground. The side guard position guarantees you already have a leg across the belly.
No-Gi Bow And Arrow
Yes, it does exist. While you can always do a rear-naked choke by applying rotational mechanics (Danaher’s straight jacket finish), you can also opt for an awesome no-gi bow and arrow choke version.
This technique starts from the gift wrap position. Using your grip on their trapped arm, bring your opponent onto their side. Step your leg opposite the trapped arm over their free arm, as though you’re setting up a mounted triangle.
Reaching under their thigh, secure their leg (just like in the gi bow and arrow choke). Leaning towards his feet makes your leg closest to their head light, and allows you to step it up and over their shoulder. Cross your feet, trapping them in a modified bow and arrow position. Pull their leg and arm while extending your legs to get the tap.
Gi or no-gi, old school or modern variations, the bow and arrow choke remains one of the best submissions in grappling. There is good reason to believe that this is the strongest choke in BJJ, and it is definitely one to have in your arsenal!
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.