Neck Crank Variations: It Is Better To Know And Not Need Them

Last updated on 20.04.2023 by

The neck crank is the boogeyman of submissions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is dangerous, true, but it still lives up to its purpose- to make people tap out and is extremely effective at it if I might add. My thoughts o the subject are the same as with every other submission held in BJJ – learn how to do it, even if you decide never to use it.

Attacking the Neck

When we attack the neck in Jiu Jitsu, there are four things we can do, one of which is a neck crank. The remaining three are a blood choke, air choke, and chest compression. Out of these four, only one falls under the category of a joint lock rather than a strangle or choke, and that is the neck crank. 

The thing to understand about attacking the neck is that you can never, no matter how experienced you are, be as surgically precise with any of the attacks mentioned above as you would like to assume you are. 

The reason for this is that most neck attacks utilize at least two, if not all four, of these avenues of attack. There is rarely just a blood choke, as even the best RNC in the world features an element of an air choke as the forearm presses against the trachea. 

Also, anytime there is a rotation involved with techniques like the RNC, bow and arrow choke, or Darce choke, for example, there is going to be a modicum of cranking, which may or may not be felt by the opponent before the choke. 

When this happens, people complain that the tap was to a neck crank rather than a choke, as if it is bad. The reality is that neck cranks are as much a part of just about any neck attack as strangles are, and a tap due to a neck crank outside of rulesets that forbid them is as legitimate as submissions can get. 

Neck Crank vs. Choke

A neck crank is a joint lock, instead of a choke, which targets soft tissue along the neck, like the carotid arteries and the trachea. 

As with all joint locks, the neck crank works by means of leverage. Neck cranks are spinal locks that target the small portion of the spine (7 vertebrae) that is the neck. The goal is to cause one or more of the joints in between neighboring neck vertebrae to “break,” a.k.a. to force it out of alignment and into a direction it does not anatomically go to. 

In order to achieve such a braking force, we have to apply a key principle of joint locks, which is to control the crucial ends of the lever that will allow us to put such force on the neck. The key lever control points for a neck crank are the head’s chin and the top (crown). 

Rotational pressure is key to the success of most joint locks, and neck cranks are no exception/ 

Chokes, on the other hand, work by means of compression. The principle of choking is to use a noose that you construct with your body parts and/or the gi and tighten it as much as possible to impede the blood and/or airflow. 

Mechanics of a Neck Crank

Let’s use the rear naked choke to demonstrate the mechanics of a neck crank before we explore several more ways of intentionally tapping people out with neck cranks. 

From the back, the positioning of the arms is like for a rear naked choke, but the forearm of the “choking arm” is not placed on the neck but rather across the chin. This forces the opponent’s head to the side, effectively pressing the side of their jaw to their own shoulder. 

It is crucial to keep the opponent’s spine below the neck as still as possible, which, in the case of the back mount, is done by presenting the rotation through the hip and shoulder control with your own body. 

A combination of pulling and rotational force will put the joints of the neck under so much pressure that the opponent feels lots of pain, often leading to panicked taps. The pain subsides immediately after you let go of the submission.  

In this example, the chin was used as the main leverage point to cause a tap as a result of cranking the neck. 

Neck Crank Variations from Multiple Positions

Neck cranks are available from plenty of grappling positions and are a part of all grappling martial arts, although they are banned from competitive use in most of them. 

However, when it comes to BJJ, which is the grappling martial art that unites all other grappling martial arts ever to exist, you should add neck cranks to your arsenal, as you never know when you might end up needing them. 

Crucifix Neck Crank

The neck crank from crucifix is one of the worst visions of a neck crank possible because you’re using your entire body to apply pressure to the neck, all the while the opponent’s arms are spread to the sides and completely blocked from getting involved in defending. 

As long as you have acquired the crucifix position, all you need for a neck crank finish is to turn your body toward the opponent. In most cases, it will require you to turn all the way with your belly toward the mats, but it will put your opponent in one of the nastiest submissions in BJJ.

The Dan Severn

One of the old 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu techniques, named after UFC legend Dan Severn, this is a neck crank done from the back mount. 

From a position where you use your hooks to flatten out the opponent, the execution is pretty simple – place both palms on the opponent’s forehead, or, if you can, a rear naked choke arm configuration around the forehead, and pull along with rotating once again. 

Mounted Front Neck Crank

The arm position is a rear naked choke configuration (again), this time did from the mount, a.k.a. from the front side of an opponent. 

Your goal with this neck crank is to place your forearm under the opponent’s neck and use the rear-naked choke grip configuration to stabilize the lever on the top of the head or sometimes the forehead. 

For the finish, you need to drive your shoulder underneath the cochin of e opponent, engaging the other key leverage position for a brutal joint lock to the neck. 

Can Opener Neck Crank

The can opener is a famously illegal neck crank, which is usually more of a way to open the closed guard than a submission. People tend to tap into it when they get stubborn about opening their guard. 

From inside someone’s closed guard, your aim is to place both your palms behind the opponent’s head, near their crown (there is that leverage point again). You can get a tap simply by pulling your palms toward your chest. 

You can, however, amplify the neck crank by twisting the head as you pull it, introducing rotation to the equation. This one will tap people out even if they decide to open up their guard. 

Front Headlock Neck Crank

Just like with the neck crank from back control, you look for a guillotine setup in terms of grip configuration, but you place the “choking” arm across the chin instead of the neck. A palm-to-palm grip will suffice, given that the rotational pressure is immense when you are in front of someone. 

You can finish front headlock neck cranks from standing, kneeling, and guard positions. 

A Word on Dangers and Legality

Knowing how to do BJJ neck cranks is, in my opinion, mandatory for anyone training in Jiu Jitsu. Even though you might not use them in competition ever (only a few rulesets out there allow the use of neck cranks, even at the black belt level), you need to know how they work. 

Why? Well, if you get caught in one by someone who studies them, you will understand where the danger is coming from instead of panicking and either use that knowledge to counter and defend or tap on time and avoid damage to your spine. 

That said, using neck cranks during training is something I reserve for experienced students only (purple belt and above) and only when both training partners consent to it. Even then, safety nets are in place, with nobody cranking hard, and early taps are mandatory.  

Closing Thoughts

Neck cranks are a very useful category of submissions that come in handy in various situations. If nothing else, a neck crank will enhance the finishing rate of any coke, whether it is from the back, mount, front headlock, crucifix, or even standing. Start exploring neck cranks, and a new world of neck attacks will open up for you.