How to Defend Against the X-Choke From Closed Guard

Updated on July 3, 2018
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Andrew Smith is a 3rd degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs the BJJ Tutorial Encyclopedia here.

Cross Choking Away

The cross choke (often abbreviated simply as "X choke") is clearly a staple in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and is often one of the first moves people learn as beginners. While it does take a long time to become extremely effective against advanced folks, white belts tend to have quick positive results with the X choke against other beginners almost immediately. It's really important to have an effective, simple defense against this choke. Here, we'll take a look at two options, one very simple and fundamental, and one more advanced.

The Basics

The conventional approach to gripping inside the collar in BJJ is to simply posture up and to use a grip break to deal with the choke attempt. However, in practice, this is extremely difficult to accomplish, and your partner will typically simply insert their hand right back into your collar the instant your posture is compromised. Another approach is clearly needed, so start by controlling not the first hand, but the second hand (the one that isn't grabbing inside your collar or over the top yet). Remember: they need both hands to choke you. Assuming your partner's right hand is in your collar, use your right hand to grip their lapel near the top (same side grip). Use this grip to flatten your partner back to the mat (they probably had to sit up to grab your collar), and then keep your forearm there, pinning your partner's arm at the biceps. In this manner, you can use your forearm as a shield of sorts, keeping your partner from finishing the choke with that second hand. While the immediate threat is quelled, you still need to remove the second grip, or at least completely remove its effectiveness. This can best be accomplished by establishing a similar "inside control" grip on their bicep on the other side, once again using their lapel as an anchor. Finally, circle your head to the other side of their arm, rendering any sort of choke-threatening grip they might have had before utterly useless.

Zooming In On Key Details

Tracking their hand is an important concept, as anyone who has done more than two or three X chokes in the past will know that they can typically circle around bicep control. This means you need to be extremely vigilant with your elbow "shield", following their hand and pinching or lifting your elbow whenever necessary. Next, creeping that hand under their "choking" arm is going to be tough, but you can move your head away to create extra space to get your second hand to the inside control (biceps) position. Finally, circling your head free is an easy thing to do some of the time, but when your partner makes this difficult, it can take some patience. Fortunately, even if you don't get your head free, you are still in good position not to be choked, and you can simply wait.

The Nuclear Option: The Tozi/Wilson Pass

This next option is clearly more advanced, but it's also extremely opportunistic. When the hand goes into your collar, first and foremost, look away from the other choking hand. This makes getting that second hand very, very difficult for your partner. Use the fact that their hand is tied up to enter straight into a Tozi pass, keeping your head low to the ground, underhooking their opposite side, and remembering to keep your hips very, very low to the ground. A much, much fuller explanation (in five parts, no less!) can be found here.

Which way do you address the cross choke from guard?

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On The Mat

Remember that being choked is certainly part of the game, and in order to get good at these techniques, you may well need to let your partner get that first hand inside your collar frequently. You may well also be choked a great deal during this learning process, and you may well tap a great many times. This is to be celebrated, not worried over, as you are learning every time you tap. Your partner is giving you the necessary feedback on whether your technique is working or not (hint: if you tap, it isn't working properly, at least in that instance). Over time, this will become an incredibly effective option for you! As always, let me know if these techniques work for you.

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