If Jiu Jitsu can be truly called the game of Human Chess, then the choke is the ultimate checkmate. On the chessboard, the Mata Leao Choke (or “Lion Killer”) would be, as the name implies, the King (or King Slayer). As the patriarch of the Gracie Family, Granmestre Helio Gracie once said “For the choke, there are no ‘tough guys’.. .with an arm lock he can be tough and resist the pain.. With the choke he just passes out, goes to sleep.”
The choke takes its name from the tale of Hercules and his battle with the Nemean Lion of the impenetrable skin. Having discovered that this gigantic lion was impervious to sword or arrow, Hercules grappled the lion and choked it by wrapping the beast’s neck in his mighty arms. Though some of the contemporary Greek art depicts the stranglehold as something more akin to a modern Guillotine Choke, many artifacts depict a choke from the rear of the colossal lion.
The choke is often called the “Rear Naked Choke” or RNC as a translation from the Japanese hadaka jime which means “naked choke” (i.e. a choke not requiring the gi or kimono). It is important to note that what makes this choke effective and relatively safe is that the pressure is applied to the carotid arteries and not to the windpipe. It is blood flow restriction and not airflow restriction that brings about the incapacitation.
Not unlike the scenario faced by the mythological hero, to be successful at applying this choke requires sound knowledge of both proper positioning of the arms and achievement of positional dominance. Once this choke is locked in, unconsciousness is inevitable for the recipient.
Law Enforcement will often use a modified standing version of the Mata Leao or RNC that deemphasizes the role of the secondary hand but can still use the same pressure to induce loss of consciousness by safely constricting blood flow to the brain (not by constricting air flow). The “Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint” used by law enforcement uses the same principles to reach SAFE incapacitation.
Every finishing attack (submission) requires, in simplest terms, two key elements:
- Positional Dominance: management of the opponent’s body to allow maximum amount of attack pressure (to pin or control) and deny space for defense.
- Submission: Pain or incapacitation via Leverage and/or Pressure at the Fulcrum/Point.
1) Whether done from standing or from the ground, the Back Mount position must be first achieved. If on the ground, both feet must be turned into hooks that engage and lock to your opponent’s inner thighs to monitor and control his movement as he tries to turn into, away or stand up from the control.
2) Whether from standing or on the ground the SEAT BELT must be achieved. The arms are locked around the opponent’s shoulder and underarm with your upper chest sealed tight to their upper back in a position called the “Seat Belt” (like a car seat belt that traverses from shoulder to under the arm). Your chin is locked over your opponents shoulder.
This differs from the Law Enforcement “Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint” which is often initiated from standing with the head locked behind the shoulder/head and is used to bring suspect down to the ground in a controlled and safe position.
You can choose to maintain the Seat Belt Control position and opt not to choke your opponent or develop another submission from this position (i.e. Sliding Collar Choke, which can also be applied on a jacket or coat).
Note: the lower arm (“Underarm Hand”) should grip the “Over-the-Shoulder Arm” and not vice-versa. This allows you to still develop the Mata Leao when the opponent rips down your lower arm.
The arm positioning is critical in creating an air-tight seal for your opponent’s neck. From the Seat Belt Grip the “Over-the-Shoulder Arm” wraps around to the opponents far shoulder (not, as is often incorrectly executed, with the hand to your own bicep). Once your elbow is lined up under your opponents chin and with the centerline of his face, the secondary hand (the “Underarm Hand”) comes behind the opponents head. At this point the hand that is wrapped around the neck can reach for your bicep or even better your shoulder.
The opponent’s head is pushed forward with your rear hand and head while the arm flexes to apply pressure to both SIDES of the neck (at the carotid arteries).
Unconsciousness is reached for most between 6-15 seconds. Most people revive safely on without assistance almost as soon as Mata Leao pressure is relaxed or within 30 seconds.
You know this choke is being applied correctly to you if you are not feeling pain at your trachea or Adams Apple and you will know you are executing it correctly when your opponent taps painlessly or goes to sleep in your arms.