Class 2014-03-05: Back Mount Attack Theory

AttacksAfter going through a defense series where everyone was being put in progressively worse positions to defend themselves.  This culminated in defending against someone having your back.  Nobody likes that.  So to boost everyone’s self esteem, this class will cover how to think about back attacks.

Hand Placement Focus

If you get someone’s back, they know you want a rear naked choke.  It is the most dominant choke and should be your goal any time you take the back.  Knowing this, your opponent will attempt to get a good defensive posture as early as possible and they will hunt any attempts to get an arm around their neck.

They won’t always be successful.  All to often I see people fixated on fighting for the rear naked choke when their choking arm is encumbered by two defensive grips.  This makes progress very difficult and you risk losing position as you fight a too evenly matched battle.  What most fundamentals students don’t think about is no matter how far you get, there are very good choke options available.

The way I think about my options is where does my hand stop making progress.  If I catch my opponent unaware, I am getting my choking hand all the way back behind the head.  If I can’t get my hand past their shoulder, then a short choke is the perfect choice.  It retains my ability to reinforce the choke with both arms and is a quick airway choke.  If I can’t get my hand to the shoulder, the next landing zone is the lapel with my arm still under the chin.  From here I can apply a wing choke.  If my opponent is able to keep my arm from even getting under their chin but I can still get to their lapel, even as low as the sternum, I can opt for the bow and arrow choke at the expense of giving up my foot hooks and the back take.

This sequence of hand positions gives you a set of go to attacks no matter how far you can get your hand engaged on the way to your desired rear naked choke.

  1. Rear Naked Choke (hand behind their head)
  2. Short Choke (hand at the shoulder)
  3. Wing Choke (hand at the lapel, forearm under the chin)
  4. Bow and Arrow Choke (hand lower on the lapel, forearm not under the chin)


Much of this class revolves around drilling.  The goal here is to refine your ability to recognize your options instantly.  The goal of the attacker is to always go for the rear naked choke, but to work with whatever hand positioning.

One way to achieve this is to have both partners wait for a signal and then engage at full speed.  To give the attacker a chance to try different attacks, the defender can start with their hands at different distances from their neck.  Once the defender is able to stop the forward progress to rear naked choke, the attacker must finish by using the correct attack for the choking hand position.

Other Goals

In a perfect world you would have your opponent’s hands trapped with your legs and both of your arms able to attack at will.  One straightforward way to get partially there is to trap an arm with your leg.  If your opponent reaches down to your foot to clear the hook, or you are able to force their arm down, bring your leg over the top of their arm and drive your heel into their leg or body, keeping your knee tight against their arm.

Once you have that arm trapped with your leg, you can use two hands to get control of the remaining arm, then keep control with one hand while your other arm is completely free to attack at will.  Their chin is no match for your arm, and a choke should be guaranteed.


I first started thinking about the hand position as an indicator of which attack to use after one of my first NAGA competitions at the expert level.  I was trying to sink a rear naked choke, but I couldn’t get my hand back far enough.  My coach is yelling at me to do a short choke, but for some reason the instruction didn’t sink in until I was driving home with a shiny belt.  Although I won the match, it was by points instead of with a choke.  That won’t do.

As I took back attacks more seriously I realized that all of my attacks could be based on where my choking hand ended up, and it didn’t matter that my opponent had blocked my access to my desired submission.  Clearly, my opponent preferred that I should apply a different submission.

To paraphrase and mangle H. L. Menken, jiu-jitsu is the theory that the opponent knows what submission they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

I’m fine with that.

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