How to Do the Clock Choke in BJJ (and Defend It)
Anyone who has been following Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the last 20 years remembers well "the choke heard round the world", when Carlson Gracie black belt Wallid Ismail choked Royce Gracie unconscious with a clock choke when Royce turtled to avoid the guard pass. If the BJJ community didn't realize how awesome a choke it was at the time, another Carlson black belt by the name of Mario Sperry again drove the point home when he submitted Royler Gracie in an early IBJJF tournament. Nowadays, this seems like a rather predictable outcome, Sperry being a multiple time world champion and considerably bigger than Royler, but at the time, the Gracie family had a mystique surrounding it propagated by their performances in early American and Japanese MMA (along with some fantastic marketing). The clock choke became a subject of obsession for many of us just getting started in BJJ at the time, and continued to evolve quietly over time as other techniques took center stage. Here, we'll take a look at the basic mechanics of the choke, and several ways to avoid or escape the position.
The Basic Mechanics
Beginning with a dominant turtle position, start with your right knee on the ground in between your partner's left elbow and left knee, controlling the coveted inside space. Use your right hand to control either their hip, lapel, or to grab a "one on one" (for more on dealing with a stubborn turtle position, consider using the Kimura grip series to turn them over). Watch out for the barrel roll escape, as shown in the beginning of the video. Once your position is established, insert your right hand into their collar, thumb in, fingers out. Make sure that your hand connects with your partner's collarbone as a reference point; otherwise, you're not deep enough. Meanwhile, your right hand remains inside of your partner's hip/elbow area on the far side, but you can either drive the hand down (like a "spiral ride" in wrestling), pull their lapel down (like a classic basic gi choke where you slide the lapel, also called "okuri eri jime" in Japanese), or hook a one on one (be careful not to be rolled). Your hips can apply downward pressure on their back as you walk forward like the hands of a clock (you can also use your chest and stomach if you prefer, but you'll need to post on your head if so). If you get past 2 PM or so with the "hands of the clock", go back and see what needs to be corrected and adjusted.
Escaping the Choke
The best defense to any choke starts relatively early on, and this is doubly true with the clock choke. One that bad boy is locked in, it's pretty much check mate (unless your partner makes a mistake). The general idea is to sit in toward where your partner is trying to apply the pressure, ultimately sitting down and pulling guard from the turtle. Review How to Turn Away Safely to Turtle and Recover Guard for more advice and techniques related to getting back to guard from turtle.
A much better defense is not to allow your partner to grab your collar at all (if only things always worked out this way!). If you can do this defense early enough, it will work a very high percentage of the time and keep you safe. As soon as your partner establishes a dominant turtle position, turn away and start to build your base up with your hips in the air. Now roll over your shoulder, like doing a rolling breakfall, and spin back through to guard. You're very likely to end up in a double under guard maintenance position after the roll.
The Finish of the Escape
It's imperative that you get really heavy with your legs as soon as you end up in the double under position, or else you're going to have your guard passed almost immediately. As you end up with both legs over their arms, allow your heavy legs to push you back and away from your partner, creating the distance that you need to establish a good open guard, from which you can effectively attack and defend.
Favorite turtle defense
That's a Wrap
Practice the clock choke as much as you can. It is often older techniques that people have forgotten about that are most effective in competition, and you can often surprise a technically proficient opponent with an old school move. As always, let me know if these techniques make sense and work for you! Happy training!
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