Strangulations are king in Brazilian jiu-jitsu because no amount of willpower can keep a person conscious once the blood flow to the brain suddenly stops. There are dozens if not hundreds of chokes in BJJ, some more elaborate, others straightforward, but few are possible from so many positions as the Ezekiel choke. Do you know what it is and how to do it?
The Ezekiel choke is a submission that places one arm behind an opponent’s head and the palm of the other hand on his neck to pressure the carotid arteries, trachea, or both. The Ezekiel choke is simple but effective and can be used in gi, no-gi, and MMA, although the traditional version requires gripping the sleeve of the choking arm.
The relatively simple setup and the fact it can be executed from most positions make the Ezekiel almost look like a cheat for beginners. But as with any other easy attack, it’s also not hard to defend, so if you want to be effective with the Ezekiel, you must blend it into transitions or other moves. But let’s first start at the basics.
The Ezekiel choke is a relatively straightforward submission in which the attacker uses his gi sleeve and hand to apply pressure on the neck of the opponent while the other arm is on the back of their head.
Depending on the angle, the Ezekiel can either close the carotid arteries and be a blood choke, pressure the trachea, which makes it an air choke, or a bit of both, which is the most common scenario.
What makes the Ezekiel so great is it can be applied from anywhere. While top mount is the most common position to do it, the Ezekiel is possible from closed guard, from the back, from half guard, and even from bottom mount. And the setup is so simple and sneaky that it feels like cheating when you first encounter it.
If you wonder about the strange name of the Ezekiel choke, it’s named after Ezequiel Paraguassú. He was a Brazilian judoka who went to train at the Carlos Gracie Academy while preparing for the 1988 Olympics. Judokas usually neglect the Ne-Waza (ground fighting), but Ezequiel wanted to correct this and trained with BJJ practitioners to perfect his ground game.
The story goes that he had trouble dealing with the closed guard of BJJ players and found a way to submit them while inside their guard using an old judo technique called Sode Guruma Jime. He had tremendous success with it and passed it to BJJ, where it became known as the Ezekiel choke.
Now that we know the Ezekiel choke and its origin, it’s time to learn how to do one.
For the basic gi Ezekiel choke, you need to be in a top position, either mount or top half guard. The choke is straightforward, and there are just a few steps.
Step 1– Get one arm underneath the opponent’s head as deep as possible.
Step 2– Reach the same arm to grab the other sleeve, ideally with a four-finger grip
Step 3– Thread the choking arm across the opponent’s neck with either the edge of the palm or the fist pressuring the neck. The force comes from the bottom arm pulling on the sleeve.
As you can see, the choke is simple. However, against experienced opponents, setting it up is not. The trick is to pick the right moment when they are not concerned with protecting the neck. As Roger Gracie shows in the video, a great moment is to use the transition into mount before the position is set and the opponent has his arm tight to his head.
The main advantage of the Ezekiel choke is how easily it is set up and how sneaky it can get. When you integrate the choke into other moves and transitions, people often remain unaware until it’s too late.
Sode Guruma Jime made its way into BJJ not from mount but from inside full guard. The whole sequence is the same as in mount but more difficult because the opponent can use his legs and hips to keep distance.
Unlike most other lapel and sleeve chokes, which always require the gi, the Ezekiel is a potent submission in no-gi with a few minor modifications.
The arm around the head remains the same as in the gi version, but we must switch the grips without a sleeve. Having long arms is not a requirement, but it helps. Some argue that without the sleeve, the choke is a different technique, and some call it a punch choke, but we will stick to the widely accepted Ezekiel name for both versions.
The key to finishing the Ezekiel in no gi is to have a deep cross face and position your head correctly. The shoulder must be tight to the opponent’s face, smashing him down and not letting him turn towards you. Your head should be on the opposite side of the cross-face arm, or you become easy prey for a reversal.
Because there is no sleeve to grab onto, the bottom arm rests on the choking arm forearm or even biceps for those with long limbs. Finishing may be difficult at first, but it’s quite intuitive once you get the hang of it. In my experience, the best way to position my choking arm is by using the bottom edge of the palm against the neck.
If you have any doubts about Ezekiel choke effectiveness in no-gi, here is a compilation of Brandon Mccaghren finishing people left and right with it.
Ezekiel Choke in MMA
Like it can be done in no-gi grappling, the Ezekiel choke is effective in mixed martial arts. The striking and the gloves make it harder to pull off, but there still have been a few finishes inside the cage, and most of them come from one man- Alexey Oleinik, who has an astounding 14 Ezekiel finishes in his career.
The Russian juggernaut has finished the Ezekiel from mount and top half guard, but the most impressive instances remain when he is on the bottom. When the opponents think they are dominating and start setting up their attacks, Oleinik sneaks in his hand, and the tap comes almost instantly.
How To Defend The Ezekiel Choke
The downside of the Ezekiel is that while it’s easy to get, it’s also easy to defend. If you find yourself mounted and cross-faced, the choking arm is the most important thing you need to address.
If you put your hand and block it, the choke will only work if they find a way to bypass the hand.
If the choke is already deep, you have far fewer options and time. Since their hands are occupied, you can try and roll over, but with the proper head position from the attacker, this also becomes difficult. Instead, you can try and roll them to the other side, as shown in the video:
If you take the time to develop it, the Ezekiel choke will always be at your disposal. Gi, no-gi, MMA, top positions, bottom positions- the simple but crafty choke is one of the more versatile movements in jiu-jitsu. Especially from the bottom, it can be a surprising attack, which often catches people off guard and will make them tap even while holding the dominant position.