Preventing & Escaping the RNC

A reader asked:

Q:“How do I escape the Rear Naked Choke – I’ve tried all sorts of things and they don’t seem to work…”

A: The Rear Naked Choke (or RNC) is one of the top finishers in submission grappling and MMA. Once applied, the odds of an equally skilled grappler getting out of it successfully are very small, probably 5 to 10%. You have two general options: 1) Prevent it from being applied, and/or 2) Escaping it once it is applied.

PREVENTION: Preventing the RNC from getting sunk is much, much, much better than trying to escape it once it’s applied. The best way to prevent it from being applied is first to understand how to apply it yourself. I have previously developed and shared a ‘roadmap’ for applying the RNC. This is relevant to the discussion because if you understand how to apply a submission you can also reverse engineer a defense for it.

In the aforementioned video I break down the choke into a series of steps. Accordingly, if you can block one or more of those steps then you’re well on the way to preventing the RNC from being applied to you. For example, you can put roadblocks in his roadmap by

  1. grip fighting to prevent your opponent from initially linking his hands
  2. rolling your body towards the underhook side
  3. preventing him from getting his underhooking arm out
  4. not allowing him to tighten the choking arm around your neck
  5. anticipating his attempts to strip your grip and trying to prevent it
  6. etc.

ESCAPE: Escaping a full-on RNC is very difficult: even with lots of technique neck strength, determination and pain tolerance escape is usually impossible! There are a few things you can try, however, just make sure your opponent will release you if you pass out in the process!

  1. Keep your chin down. If you keep your chin glued to your chest you block the path of his forearm to your neck. It IS possible to choke someone unconscious by choking them on their jaw/chin area – the jaw gets pulled into the throat – but it’s a relatively slow process and it may afford you some time to escape
  2. Relax and breath shallowly. Relaxing is going to be tough but you have to do it. If you panic you are going to use up your oxygen that much faster. Generally speaking you want to avoid large exhalations because this causes your neck and upper chest to relax slightly, giving them more room to sink their choke.
  3. Look to leglock. If your opponent has the RNC fully sunk with his ankles crossed you can apply a leglock by crossing your legs over his. Now it is a 50/50 proposition: maybe you’re going to pass out from the choke and maybe he’s going to tap from the ankle lock. Sometimes you can even use various escaping hip movements to sucker your opponent into crossing his ankles to control you better.
  4. Remove the spearhand. In the RNC one arm goes around the neck and the other arm, the one with the hand behind the head, plays a critical role in locking everything in place. If you can, reach up over your head and pull that hand forward off of your head. Now tuck that arm somewhere safe (like back) under your armpit and then use both hands to try and remove the arm around your neck. Incidentally it is a lot harder to remove the first hand if he has the BACK of his hand against your neck, in the video I refer to this position as the ‘spearhand’.
  5. Suffer. One last ditch strategy that sometimes works IF you’ve kept your chin down is to push his choking arm up, over your face. Take a look at the photo at the top of this article: if the guy being choked had his chin down then he could try pushing his opponent’s right elbow up towards the top of his head, using both hands to push if necessary. This isn’t a high percentage technique, but it works often enough for me to mention it here. Be forewarned that even if you do it perfectly you build a lot of character as his bony forearm slides over your mouth, nose and face.

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