How to Counter the Cross-Collar Grip

7- BM switching grip on lapel

When you’re in your opponent’s guard one of the most annoying things he can do is secure a really good cross-collar grip on you.  True, this grip doesn’t have much utility for MMA or no-gi training (in fact being too reliant on it can create some really bad habits for when the gi comes off), but in BJJ the cross-collar grip is a serious problem.

When your opponent snags a cross collar grip on you it’s important to deal with it immediately!  First of all, against someone who is a collar choke expert, a single deep grip on your lapel puts you into extreme danger…


If you relax in that position even for a second, and if he manages to sneak that second hand into position, then you’re going to end up tapping out to the cross-collar choke.

Furthermore, the cross collar grip allows your opponent to haul your head down and break your posture forward.  This makes it very difficult for you to use any of the classic guard passes and start your own offence.

Of course prevention is the key, and in this case prevention relies on gripfighting to deny him this powerful grip.

But s*** happens, and sometimes your opponent sinks his hand deep on your lapel.

What do you do now?  In the past I’ve always tried one of two basic strategies.

Stripping the grip on youtube

The first thing I try is to immediately strip the grip using the exact same technique that most competitors use to break lapel grips while gripfighting on my feet (click here for Emily Kwok breaking this technique down on Youtube).

Although this standing grip break is very powerful sometimes it just doesn’t work in the guard.  You don’t have as much ability generate momentum with your body, particularly if your opponent is bigger than you and has already broken your posture forward.

Another trick I use quite frequently to counter the cross-collar grip is to duck my head underneath my opponent’s gripping arm.  If he’s got his right hand in on my right collar then if I duck down and to my right then it brings my head under his arm and into a much safer position.  The ‘bob and weave’ motion essentially unties the threat; his hand remains in my collar but now it’s on the wrong side of my head and the threat is neutralised.

The problem with the ‘bob and weave defence is that a savvy opponent will have seen it before and not give you the space you need to duck your head under his arm.

So let’s say that your opponent has locked in a deep cross-collar grip.  He’s too big for you to strip the grip in this position, and he’s too experienced to let you duck under.

Is there anything else you can do?  Why YES (thanks for asking)!!

World champion Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins showed me a third simple and really solution while we were filming How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent, Series 2.

Brandon’s solution involves manipulating your opponent’s gi to nullify his angles.  Now some people might be offended by a gi-based solution to the cross-collar grip, and to these people I’ll quote something that Brandon told me during our in-depth interview about BJJ training and competition:

“…if there’s a gi-specific problem, you shouldn’t be afraid of picking a gi-specific answer.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!  So without further ado let’s have a look at Brandon’s gi-specific answer to the gi-specific threat of a cross-collar choke!

1-SK opening up the collar

Let’s start at the beginning.  I’ve got Brandon in my closed guard and have surreptitiously gripped his right lapel with my left hand (it’s a little hard to see in the picture above but I’m grabbing the lapel on the far side of Brandon’s head).

2-SK inserting hand

I open up his lapel with my left hand and then reach in deep with my right. (My goal, when trying to establish a good cross collar grip is to get my hand in so deep that it’s at the BACK of his neck).

4-BM blocking far armTa-da!  I’ve now established the cross-collar grip with my right hand.  To choke Brandon all I need to do is get my free (left) hand above or below my right arm and grab his left lapel.  So long as the first (right) grip is deep then my second hand doesn’t even need to get in that far on his lapel for Brandon to be in a very powerful choke.

The first thing Brandon does is block my free (left) hand at the armpit with his right arm.  That blocks me from having a direct route to the aforementioned lapel.  That’s why I’m waving my left arm in the air like a doofus in the photo above – I’m actually trying to get past his right hand and am finding it difficult.

The armpit block is a good stop-gap measure, but Brandon still wants to neutralise the power of my lapel grip even further…

5- BM beginning to open lapel

Having bought himself a few seconds Brandon now brings his free left hand OVER my gripping arm, then pulls my right lapel up so it’s no longer tucked into my belt.

7- BM switching grip on lapel

Brandon opens up the right side of my gi and pulls it across my right arm.  Note how he’s gripping the very bottom part of the lapel (the so-called ‘skirt’ portion of the gi that normally covers your lap).

8- BM pinning arm and blocking other arm circled

Brandon is now blocking both of my arms.  On one side he’s got his right arm in my left armpit.  And on the other side he’s severely limiting the power of my right collar grip by pinning that arm to the floor with his grip on my left lapel.

If I want to launch any attack in this stalemate position I first need release my grip on the collar, which was Brandon’s goal all along!

9- SK unable to choke

I suggest that you put yourself into this position with a training partner, and try out both the top and the bottom roles.

If you’re on the bottom then you’ll find that making that connection with your second hand – as I’m trying to do with my left hand in the photo above – is almost impossible.  And when it’s your turn on top, where you can feel how well this works, then you’ll soon be adding move to your bag of tricks on the mat.

How’s that for a gi-specific answer to a gi-specific problem?

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