How to Break a Tight Sleeve Grip on Your Gi


The single best thing you can do to stop your opponent from dominating you in grappling is to get rid of his grips on you.

But against someone with strong hands and a powerful grip this can be tough to do.

That’s why I want to share a super-powerful way to break a sleeve grip with you.  It’s illegal in Judo but still totally allowed in BJJ.

I’ve seen small women use this against much bigger guys trying to grab their sleeves or even their wrists.  So learn this move, practice it GENTLY, and then put it in your jiu-jitsu tool box because it’s definitely something that could save your bacon at some point on the mat!

To help you with this move I shot a video showing you exactly how to do it.  If you prefer, however, you can also just scroll down the page to get the same information in picture and text form.

Click play on the video below!

This most powerful of grip breaks involves in pitting the strength of your leg and entire body against just that of his hand.

There are 3 main variations of the knee strip and I’ll show you all of them…

Variation 1: Sleeve Grip Break with the Same Side Knee from Inside

sleeve grip break with Inside knee

As you can see in the photos above, Scotty starts by controlling my right sleeve with his left hand.  Scotty is a Judo brown belt, so if I don’t do something quick then I’m definitely in danger of getting thrown!

In first variation I bring my same side knee (my left knee) up on the INSIDE of my left arm and put it on top of Scotty’s wrist.  This is NOT a knee strike to the wrist; in step 2 you’re merely manoeuvring your leg into the right position where you can do step 3.

The 3rd and final step involves simultaneously shoving my knee away and pulling my arm back.  The resultant counter-pressure is very powerful and it’s almost impossible for anybody to hold on!

Be careful with this – as I’ll talk about later in the article one of Scotty’s fingers ended up getting injured during the filming of this technique.

Variation 2: Sleeve Grip Break with the Same Side Knee from Outside

sleeve grip break with outside knee

The second variation of this technique involves bringing your same side knee – your left – up on the outside of the contested gripping area. Once the knee is in position the technique gets finished in exactly the same way.

This variation is maybe a little safer than the first variation because it’s a bit harder for your opponent to grab your leg while it’s in midair.  But ultimately whether you bring your knee up on the inside or the outside will depend on the exact position of the four arms, the two bodies and your legs. Like all jiu-jitsu, which technique is best always depends on the context.

Variation 1: Sleeve Grip Break with the Cross Knee

sleeve grip break with cross knee

The final variation today is the cross knee grip strip. Here you bring your right leg across and on top of the wrist, and then rip up and kick down just as before.

When do you use this variation instead of the first two variations?  Once again, it depends on the alignment of the two bodies at that exact time.  Do enough gripfighting training and you’ll be able to feel the right answer for yourself.

What Makes This Move So Powerful?

In this sleeve grip strip you’re pitting the most powerful part of your body – your leg – against the grip of your opponent.

On top of that you’re also pulling back with your arm – in the video version of this article I compared this to elbowing someone behind you while kneeing a short person in front of you.  This push-pull motion creates a counter pressure, making it twice as difficult for your opponent to hang on.

Finally note that you’re using your knee against his wrist, and your knee is very hard and bony.  That means it’s painful for him and tha there isn’t very much give in the system, with every bit of force generated going into your opponent’s grip.

sleeve grip break using counter pressure

The Dangers of this Technique…

This technique is very powerful but it can be dangerous both for your training partner and for yourself…

First, your training partner can get hurt if you slam your knee against his wrist.  You’re not doing hapkido, this is NOT a descending knee strike, and you’re not trying to paralyse him by hitting an acupuncture point in the wrist.  Instead, simply put your knee on top of the wrist and then extend your leg while thrusting your hips forward.

looped sleeve grip strip

Also be aware that this can generate a LOT of force and be tough on your opponent’s or training partner’s hands. In fact while we were filming this Scotty held on a little too long ended up hurting his ring finger.

Scotty's buddy-taped finger

A week of buddy-taping later Scotty’s finger is a lot better, but I still feel kind of bad about it.  If he just won’t let go then don’t insist on the move – this isn’t life and death in the dojo –  try something else.

In the final analysis the best reason to be careful is that your training partner is the single most important thing making you better, and if you break your toys they won’t play with you anymore.

takedown from going to the well too often

Secondly, this technique can also be a little dangerous for you!

If you go to the well too often – if your partner starts expecting it from you – then he can set a trap for you (shown in the photos above).

Your partner can bait the trap by holding your sleeve and waiting for your knee to come up.  If his timing is right then he can capture your leg in mid-air.  Now if your partner knows any judo or wrestling then you’re going to go for a ride, possibly getting slammed to the floor quite hard.

So only use this technique once in a while and don’t become a one-trick pony!

All that being said, it’s a great technique that every BJJ student should know and (safely) practice.

What About Other Grips?

As I said initially, gripfighting is absolutely critical in BJJ (and Judo, and Sambo, and Wrestling).  So the logical next question is “What about other grips?  How do I get rid of them?”

The exact technique depends on the grip of course, but basically you first need isolate his grip and then gang up on it by using different parts of your body together to accomplish the same goal.

For example, in the clip Emily Kwok shows how to ‘gang up’ on my lapel grip…

Sometimes you can even gang up on a single digit of your opponent’s grip!  Here from my new self defense Youtube channel is a lapel grip defense technique using a similar principle that’s illegal in Judo and BJJ, but works great in the street

More BJJ Techniques and Strategies

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