Kesa Gatame in BJJ - An Unorthodox Position

Kesa Gatame (what the guy in the white gi is using in the photo above) is the Judo name for a position that is also known as the Scarf Hold or the Head and Arm pin.


Some people will object my calling this an ‘unorthodox’ position, because it’s a staple pin in Judo, Sambo and Freestyle Wrestling.

That’s true, but while it may be common in other grappling systems, it’s underutilized and generally frowned upon in BJJ. (I think this is because of the common belief that it’s too easy to have your back taken from here, but that’s easy to counter if you know how).

These other arts have honed kesa gatame as a pinning position. The only problem is that they don’t use or teach very many submissions from here.

In those sports the submission is redundant – if you pin your opponent for 3 seconds (wrestling) or 25 seconds (Judo) you win the match. Given these rules, why risk going for a submission?

BJJ is different – the ultimate goal is to submit, not pin, your opponent. And if submitting your opponent is your goal, then Kesa Gatame actually has a lot to offer!

I first learned about the submissionsyou can apply in Kesa Gatame from Shootwrestling, as taught by Dan Inosanto and Erik Paulson. It turns out that you can submit your opponent using a whole gamut of submissions, including:

  • straight armlocks
  • bent armlocks
  • chokes
  • neck cranks
  • leglocks

Personally I now use Kesa Gatame all the time in sparring. It also has a special place in my heart because, many years ago, it saved my butt in a tournament. I was behind on points, managed to secure Kesa Gatame, and then transitioned into a kneebar which won me the gold medal.

So no matter what anybody says, I know that Kesa Gatame works in BJJ.

And it’s not just my opinion. Several of my teammates – most notably Benito Segura, now a Marcus Soares brown belt – have refined this into an absolutely deadly position. And yes, I’ve been caught in it. And tapped…

When it comes to Kesa Gatame you don’t necessarily need to make it your primary position, but you’ve GOT to learn a little bit about it.

This is an area of grappling that BJJ and submission grappling people could actually learn a lot from Judo, Freestyle Wrestling, Sambo, Shootwrestling and all the other styles for which Kesa Gatame is a bread and butter position.

If you want to learn more about how to hold this position then Judo players and wrestlers are a great resource.  Ask them about the position and – more importantly – let them hold you down with it while you try and escape.  You’ll learn a lot about kesa gatame very quickly this way!

If your emphasis is more on going for submissions, however, then their input probably won’t be enough; in both sports (i.e. Judo and wrestling) you can win a match simply by pinning your opponent for a certain amount of time, so there is no incentive to actually ‘finish’ your opponent by getting them to tap out from a submission.

One resource to learn more about both the pinning and the submission aspects of Kesa Gatame (plus two even more unorthodox positions) is my video called ”Unorthodox Positions and Sneak Attacks.”

The material in this video has served me very well over the years, so I know that you’ll be able to use it as your own personal unfair advantage.  Click here to find out more about it.

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