How to Escape a Headlock in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Updated on April 2, 2020
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Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.

Attempting to escape a headlock.
Attempting to escape a headlock.

The Dreaded Headlock

Headlock escapes are so well ingrained into most solid BJJ curricula that it's almost like a running joke. "Headlock escapes again?" The false dichotomy between "sport BJJ" and "self-defense BJJ" or "real BJJ" doesn't help much, but if you consider headlock escapes as nothing more than the total sum of the more fundamental movements involved, it's easy to see how many of the same concepts and pieces of the moves apply across a wide range of "sport" situations (and vice versa). One thing is for certain: BJJ really, really knows how to escape from a headlock!

The Back Door

A good first move from the headlock is to move to the back. The most important thing is to start by attempting to get onto your side; this may involve freeing your trapped arm. Try using the momentum of your hips turning to bring your triceps to the ground, and then you should be able to get fully onto your side. Think about your free arm at this point as an underhook from half guard. This situation is arguably even better for taking the back, as you can often simply snag your partner's leg with your own.

If you can bring your partner over to the other side of your body from here, you can insert your other hook and complete a nice back take. If not, you can just come up on top into your partner's half guard (most likely) or, if they're not paying attention, you might get to mount.

The Frame Escape

Posts and frames are fundamental guard-pass prevention techniques, but they can also be amazing escape levers. Start by assuming you can't get your triceps all the way to the ground, so the back take is going to be all but impossible. Instead, create a frame across your partner's face. From here, the general idea is to walk your feet around in a circle away from your partner, staying flat on your back the entire time. This takes your partner's base away from them (which is, at this point, you). Once on top, simply extend your frame in order to break their grip, or else switch to a finishing armbar technique.

Bridge-and-Roll Escape

If you're unable to get onto your side, there's an excellent third option: the bridge-and-roll escape. Start by hugging your partner's waist (or ribs), and then walk your hips as close to your partner as possible (think about the Three Stooges circling around, similar to the movement we did earlier with the frame escape). The important thing to remember here is not to pull your partner directly across your face; this isn't a great time for you, but it's also not very likely to work, unless you have a significant size or strength advantage on your opponent. Instead, bridge straight up, taking your partner's weight off of the ground and loading it onto you. Next, change the direction of the bridge to a right angle (where your partner now has no base).

Once on top, if needed, you can use the same frame technique we used earlier in order to break the grip your partner may still have around your head.

Which Escape Works Best for You?

See results

Sport and Self Defense

If you're more interested in sport jiu-jitsu than in self-defense BJJ, never fear: consider how the pieces of self-defense maneuvers can apply in sport situations (or just in rolling at the gym). Similarly, if you're much more into self defense, take a similar mindset when learning techniques that appear only to apply within the realm of "sport" BJJ. How could these movements be used in a different area? Has your muscle memory improved since you've been working on these techniques, and do some of these techniques work for self defense? As always, I'm eager to hear from you. If these techniques are working well for you, please let me know!

© 2017 Andrew Smith


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