The guillotine choke is a powerful submission in BJJ, no gi grappling, and mixed martial arts.
At first glance it seems like a simple submission – you just wrap your opponent’s neck with your arms, pull up and squeeze, right?
Not so fast…
There are a LOT of subtleties that you need to master before this submission starts being reliable for you, especially if you don’t spend 4 hours a day in the gym doing biceps curls…
The first, and most important subtlety to grasp, is that the guillotine is both a position and a submission. And you need to master the positional aspect first; learn to maintain the guillotine, control your opponent and stop him from escaping and then it becomes much easier to choke him out!
In this article Rob Biernacki of The BJJ Formula, The Modern Leglock Formula, and BJJconcepts.net fame breaks down the guillotine as a control position AND as a blood and air restricting submission that’ll force your opponent to tap out or go unconscious.
In Rob’s guillotine module below you’ll get…
- Different variations of the choke, including high elbow, arm-in, five finger, front naked choke, and Rafa Mendes style guillotines
- Drills that’ll teach you how to control the guillotine position and always be able to transition from bottom to top
- Entries to catch the guillotine on your feet and on the ground (bottom and top)
- Transitions and variations to choke out your opponent if the initial guillotine attack doesn’t work
- And – seriously – a LOT more!
Scroll down, check it out, and bookmark this page so you can come back it – it’s a pretty amazing set of videos!
Intro to the Guillotine Control
Here’s you’ll learn about the critical importance of using the guillotine choke as a control position before using it as a submission to tap out your opponent! Bottom line: don’t proceed with the submission aspects of the guillotine until you can go from bottom to top position at will.
Guillotine Control Scheme
Here’s why you shouldn’t just jump the guillotine and squeeze. You’ll learn the basics of the guillotine control position and using the chin-strap to control the head, using extension and rotation to weaken his posture. Also covered is using the underhook and overhook to control his shoulders using lever control and indirect proxy control.
Guillotine Control Drill: Maintaining the Chinstrap
How to drill the chinstrap control so that you become comfortable controlling the guillotine with one arm and then transitioning from the bottom to the top.
Guillotine Control Drill: Use of the Underhook Control
More control drilling, this time combining the chinstrap with the underhook control.
In this drill you focus on flaring your own elbow out to internally rotate your opponent’s arm and weaken his structure. By anchoring your hand on his back, far lat or far hip to prevent your opponent from breaking your own structure and get good lever control.
Guillotine Control Drill: Use of the Overhook Control
Here you’re working on going from the bottom to the top with your hands connected to create a head and arm headlock position (you use this when you can’t get the underhook). Focus on flaring his elbow out and tight against your body to keep it under your control.
Guillotine Transitional Control Drill
A full movement drill to connect the different forms of guillotine control, including the chinstrap, underhook and overhook. Make sure you go to your butt often in this drill to get more practise at flipping him over and returning to the top.
Also include the transition where you use the chinstrap to spin to the back and establish the seatbelt. This is one of the alternate threats to the guillotine that then opens up the neck more often.
Frames and Hooks as Secondary Forms of Control in the Guillotine
This video covers frames and hooks as secondary forms of control and distance management in the guillotine position. These mechanisms maintain the distance and allow you to get off the bottom and back to the top if your submission doesn’t end up working for some reason.
Weak Side Guillotine Responses
Here you’ll learn the difference between the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ side of the guillotine choke, why the strong side is much better, and how to bail out of the weak side to reset the position.
The two main mechanisms of resetting the position are:
- Maintain the chinstrap, build up to your free elbow, and back your hips out until you get back to the top, or
- Use your trailing leg to establish a butterfly hook, threaten the sweep and reset the choke on the strong side (or at least back to neutral).
Guillotine Control from Closed Guard
This is a transition to go from the guillotine in closed guard back to the top.
The key is doing the guillotine with the opposite-side butterfly hook (e.g. controlling his neck with your right arm combined with inserting your left leg butterfly hook) so that you can see him to your strong side of the guillotine.
To do this first extend your legs, get your left leg on the floor while framing his hip away with your right leg, then hip escape and insert your left butterfly hook.
Recovering from the Weak Side of the Guillotine
If your opponent has passed your guard and now has you on your weak side then DON’T try to finish the choke from here. In this position you just don’t have enough of an advantage in the alignment department to do that successfully unless you’re MUCH stronger than your opponent.
Before he gets the crossface (and threatens the Von Flue choke) drop your guillotining hand down and grab your own shorts, get on your side, check his near side knee or hip with your free hand, start building your base and try either to 1) get your bottom knee back in, or 2) get back up to the top.
High Elbow Guillotine Finish
The high elbow guillotine choke is a very powerful finish popularised by Marcelo Garcia. The high elbow helps prevent your opponent from going to your weak side and also makes the choke come on much faster.
In the grip avoid ‘hinging’ your wrist to create a shearing wrist lock position. Instead grip the divot between your ulnar bone and your hand so that you’re pulling on your forearm bone as well as the hand and not just the hand.
When bringing the elbow over press your hands in to your chest. If you’re flexible then it’s easy to bring your elbow over, but if you’re not flexible then slightly rotate your hips to the side of the high elbow to make it easier to bring your elbow over.
Ideally you fall onto your side bringing the elbow of your choking arm to the mat, close to your hip, while bringing your leg over top of his body. This bends his neck, further weakening his posture and applying the choke even faster.
Finishing the Guillotine from the Mount Position
You can attack with the guillotine from the mount, but usually you end up here when your opponent tries to roll out of your guillotine choke and you follow him to mount.
Once in the mount slip forward and make sure that your head bases on the mat – this allows you to adjust your arms deeper and tighter around his neck. Now drive your hips down to finish the choke.
Finishing the Arm-In Guillotine
The arm-in guillotine generally isn’t as powerful as the high-elbow guillotine, but in certain situations (like from closed guard) it’s probably the preferred finish.
Once you lock your hands the goal lift your hips up and bend his head forward, adjust your body to the side, then crunch your elbow down towards your hip and bringing your knees up while raising your overhooking side to bring his shoulder towards his neck.
Rafa Menes Guillotine Finish
This finish used by Rafa Mendes relies on a pushing palm-to-palm grip rather than the typical pulling guillotine movement.
Typically you’re going to apply this from a half guard situation where you’re blocking his hip with your shin, switch your grip, block his head with your ribs and then drive your hips forward to finish the choke. It’s the driving of the hips that really activates this choke!
Front Naked Choke Guillotine Finish
Occasionally you can get your choking arm in super deep around his neck and end up in the ‘Front Naked Choke’ style finish. This is essentially the same as a rear naked choke just applied from the front. It’s harder to get to but incredibly powerful once it’s locked on!
One Armed Guillotine Finish
This finish isn’t super-common but you can definitely get it if one of your arms is in deep (like in the Front Naked Choke finish) but your opponent is gripfighting like crazy and won’t let you connect your hands.
Place your choking hand high on your chest and drop back, blocking and framing his hips with your legs so that he can’t simply run around your legs, and then finish with a side-crunching motion. Make sure that your body comes up and forward to help put pressure on both sides of his neck.
Five Finger Guillotine Finish
This style of arm-in guillotine finish is favoured by jiu-jitsu phenom Caio Terra.
From the closed guard and the arm-in guillotine position your second hand underthe edge of your chinstrap grip. Then let his head pop out just a little bit, crunch his neck down by putting pressure on the back of his head with your biceps, and then roll the thumb of your hand into your opponent’s windpipe for the finish.
Ten Finger Guillotine Finish
The hand positioning for this version of ten finger finger guillotine is very similar to the five finger guillotine shown above. The main difference for this choke is that it’s applied with your opponent’s head in the middle of your body and walking forward.
This finish is most successful when you can push someone back into a wall or a cage to give you some control over the body. That makes it most useful in MMA, but it also shows up occasionally in jiu-jitsu situations as well.
Guillotine Entry from the Front Headlock
This is the most important guillotine entry to train because it teaches you how to control your opponent’s body, mess with his alignment, and threaten to go to his back.
Start with the front headlock and using the chinstrap, driving your shoulder into the back of his neck. Start circling to your partner’s back, which will usually force him to block your hip with his arm. The moment when he blocks your hip is the perfect time to go for the high elbow guillotine. Once you get the high elbow grip you can either force him to roll to his back and take the mounted guillotine, or you can pull guard to finish it from the bottom.
Snapdown to Guillotine
This standing guillotine entry uses the wrestling ‘snap down’ move to force your opponent’s hands to the mats. Now secure the chinstrap and continue pulling him forward with to shut down his potential counters. Then drop down into the ‘shin across’ position, hopefully pinning one of his arms, and secure a really deep high elbow guillotine to finish your opponent.
Arm-In Guillotine vs Double Leg Takedown
Most of the time when your opponent shoots in with a double leg takedown you’re going to end up with an arm-in guillotine as opposed to a high elbow guillotine. Ideally at this point you’ll use the guillotine to get to the top and finish him from the mount or the sidemount.
If you catch his head and right arm in your guillotine you need to make sure that your right knee stays forward to manage the distance. From here you can either sweep him directly over your head or over towards your right side – never sweep your opponent to the side of his trapped arm (the right side in this instance) because that puts you into the weak side of the guillotine.
High Elbow Guillotine vs Double Leg Takedown
This style of guillotine occurs less frequently than the arm in guillotine when your opponent is shooting a double, but it still happens if your timing is amazing, or your opponent is tired or sloppy. This style of applying the guillotine requires some wrestling skills and is very similar to the attack from the snap down; first block his shot and then hit the high elbow because you’ve got a bit more separation.
The Jumping Guillotine
This move is available to you anytime that you can break his posture – the broken alignment greatly reduces the chance that you’re going to get slammed in the process of attacking.
You use this attack when you’ve brought his torso forward and his head down (with a snap down, arm drag etc) but he hasn’t put his hands on the ground as in the snap down guillotine. Jump guard at an angle and then focus on hanging off of his head while pushing him away with the back of your hamstrings in a leg press motion – this stretches him out and makes it much harder for him to stay on his feet. Finish with the high elbow guillotine if you can, focusing on getting the blade of your forearm against the side of his neck.
If he blocks the high elbow then release your grip, grab your pants with your choking hand, get the underhook with the other arm, hip in and turn him to the side to sweep him and get to the top.
If when you jump guard your opponent manages to stay on his feet and posture up then switch from the closed guard to a standing butterfly guard (which makes slamming much less likely), get an underhook, back out, snap him down, and then finish with the high elbow guillotine.
High Elbow Guillotine vs Single Leg Takedown
Typically you’ll apply this when your opponent snatches a single leg control position and he’s pushing forward into your chest with his forehead. Twist your body so you’re not facing him directly, get a collar tie, cover his head, hop backwards and stuff his head to the outside.
Once his head is on the outside block his hip with your trapped shin to frame him away. You can either finish him standing by getting your high elbow over his shoulder, jumping your back, or applying a sumi gaeshi style throw to get to the top position.
Guillotine vs Seated Guard
If you’re standing and your opponent is on his butt in the seated open guard then you can attack him with the guillotine.
Engage him with the handfight, step one leg between his legs, and establish a collar tie. As soon as you can get an underhook with your other hand you go for the guillotine – pass his head to the side so you stay in good posture. Flare his elbow out with your underhook and protrude your leading knee to the outside of his body.
To finish, push him towards the ground and if he posts with his hands simply apply the high elbow guillotine. If he gripfights to protect his neck then drop your knee to the ground backstep, and hunt for the guillotine in your opponent’s reverse half guard (covered further down this page).
Guillotine vs the Half Guard
This video takes you through how to apply the guillotine vs the half guard when your opponent has the underhook and trying to build up his base up to take your back
Push up under his chin with the top of your head and pummel for inside control. Give him enough room to begin getting the underhook then dive forward, post your head on the mat and loop your arm around his head to secure the chinstrap.
Either finish with the arm-in guillotine or the high elbow guillotine depending on the grips you encounter once you make it to the top.
Guillotine vs the Reverse Half Guard
You’ve used a backstep to pass the half guard and have ended up in the reverse half guard.
First make sure that you don’t get caught in a reverse half guard sweep. Back up to free your leg, fight for the inside control and thread your guillotine grip. From here you can finish either with the high elbow or the Rafa-style guillotine. The secondary threat in this attack is to switch to the 411 leglock position.
Guillotine from Mount
People often get super-focussed on defending and escaping the mount and forget about the guillotine from there but it’s a very viable option.
Make your opponent worry about a chair-sit style backtake, then dive forward, overshoot his head and wrap his neck. An important aspect of this technique is pushing his defending arm down with your hand and then trapping it with your leg to allow you to link your hands for the guillotine.
Guillotine from the Collar Tie Escape
This setup comes from the collar tie (or reverse collar tie) version of the frame and hip escape guard pass prevention (or side mount escape) technique. Jeff Glover used it against Robson Moura at ADCC, so you know it works.
If your opponent lowers his head to get past your collar tie, or if you’re using a reverse collar tie and you elevate your hips, then you can snap a chinstrap. Post your second hand and aggressively move your hips out so that you maintain a good angle, shoot in for a shin-across position, and finish with a high elbow guillotine.
Guillotine Top Transition Concepts
This video covers followup attacks from the arm-in guillotine from sidemount including transitioning to…
- … the D’Arce choke to the high elbow guillotine,
- … the Anaconda choke to mounted guillotine,
- … the mounted omoplata to high elbow guillotine,
- …the mounted triangle choke/mounted triangle armbar/mounted triangle Kimura.
Guillotine Bottom Transition Concepts
This video focusses on followup attacks from guillotine choke position from closed guard, including transitioning to…
- …the triangle choke, possibly following up with the high elbow or arm-in guillotine,
- …the omoplata to the guillotine,
- …the reverse armbar to the guillotine.
More Rob Biernacki…
You can get more of Rob’s techniques and concepts on his site BJJconcepts.net (use the code ‘concepts’ to get 10% off). What you’ve looked at above is only one of the many modules available for his members.