How to Do a Sleeper Choke Hold

The sleeper hold, better known as the Rear Naked Choke, is an extremely common submission move in Mixed Martial Arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and many other combat sports, owing to its simplicity of use and undeniable effectiveness. While it looks like a very simple move, there are a multitude of little details (which the movies and pro-wrestling will often ignore) that go into perfecting the submission and getting your opponent to tap out in defeat.


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    Get behind your opponent and bring him to the ground. The rear naked choke, as the name implies, requires that you are behind your opponent. While the hold can be performed from the standing position, it is advisable to bring your opponent to the ground for maximum control.
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    Wrap your legs around him, to where your insteps are roughly on the inside of his thighs or knees (this is commonly known as "getting your hooks in", the legs/feet being the hooks). Simultaneously, reach one arm over his neck and toward the center of his chest, while reaching your other arm in from under his arm. Clasp your hands together in a tight grip over his chest. This is commonly known as the seat belt, and will ensure that you stay on your opponent's back even if he starts trying to buck you off.
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    Releasing the seat belt, loop one arm around your opponent's neck: this will typically be the top-most arm in the seat-belt position, just for convenience, but it doesn't really matter. Try to get your elbow aligned with his chin, so that his throat is basically caught in the crook of your elbow. For clarity, the arm looped around your opponent's neck will henceforth be referred to as your "main-hand", whereas your unoccupied arm is your "off-hand".
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    Using your main-hand, grab the bicep of the other arm. Usually, this will result in your hand gripping the crook of your elbow, which is perfectly fine, as long as you maintain the grip. The grip is often called a "figure-four", due to the way your arms form the number four when performing it, and this can serve as a guide-line if you're unsure how you should be gripping.
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    Making sure to keep the figure-four grip intact, place your unoccupied off-hand against the back of your opponent's neck, to where it's roughly aligned with the arm that's looped around his neck. For reasons that will be discussed below, it is advisable that you make a fist with this hand, as it will not be grabbing anything for the remainder of the hold.
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    Squeeze. More specifically, flex the choking arm as much as you can muster, while pushing your off-hand into his neck from behind. If done right, this will cut off the blood flow to his brain, resulting in unconsciousness in approximately five seconds. To reiterate, this move is NOT supposed to put pressure on your opponent's throat or trachea.


  • Be patient. Knowing the move and being able to apply it to resisting opponents are two very different things. A wary opponent will know that you are likely to attempt this move if you take his back, and will defend accordingly. Instead of stressing or attempting to muscle in the move, it is better to remain calm and wait for your opponent to make a mistake. Try switching choking arms from left to right to confuse him, or potentially trapping one of his arms with your legs, effectively crippling his defenses.
  • Don't try to learn this move from pro-wrestling or the movies. As mentioned above, both of these sources will tend to gloss over important details in making this move work, often for the safety of the actors involved. A common example of this is putting the off-hand on top of the opponent's head instead of behind the neck, resulting in much less pressure being generated and providing the person being choked with ample means to escape the move by continuously tugging on the hand.
  • Nothing works 100% of the time. It's wasteful to try the same move over and over again if your opponent is defending everything without problem. While being patient is important, as mentioned above, it's also important to know a few good submissions/sweeps from every position so that you can surprise your opponent and keep him guessing.


  • Grappling techniques, especially joint locks and choke-holds can be very stressful to the body. Consult a physician before attempting any martial arts technique or enrolling in a martial arts school. Only practice this technique under the supervision of a competent instructor. This technique can lead to loss of consciousness, brain damage or death, and should always be attempted with the safety of both participants foremost in mind.

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Categories: Self Defense