Cross Collar Choke
Fundamentals students often have trouble with submissions from mount. The big problem is that when you are just starting to get familiar with mount, you spend a lot of your time losing the position before you have a chance to think about submissions. Just maintaining mount is a skill without adding in any submissions.
The cross collar choke, also known as a palm up/palm down choke, is a great primary choice for a mount attack. Your opponent is likely defending their neck, but there’s often an avenue to get inside their collar and get a deep grip to start the choke. For this class, the entry is to pull up the lapel on the side where there’s a gap under your opponent’s wrist, using your same side hand. Slide your other hand across and in with your palm up, then drive your hand up as far as it will go. Your goal is to get a deep grip with your radius bone (the bone on the side of your thumb) tight against your opponents neck to apply pressure to their carotid artery. This first grip is very important.
When you establish this grip, make sure that your arm is flat against your opponent’s chest. You don’t want to give them the opportunity to slide their hand under your arm and start defending by putting their palm on their jaw. Depending on the exact positioning of the hand it may be possible to still get the submission, but most of the time it is vastly harder and probably not worth the effort.
There are a few variations for the second grip. You goal is to have your thumb inserted in the opposite collar, again deep and with your radius against the carotid. If your opponent focuses on your initial arm, the path to the collar may be as simple as reaching down and grabbing the collar. You also have the option of grabbing the gi material at the shoulder, or even a simple finger grip on the trapezius muscle. As long as you can apply pressure to the neck, or block the jaw for an airway variation, you have a valid grip to finish the choke.
If you have to fight for the second grip, you can lean forward and post your head on the mat, then sweep your second hand in from above where it’s harder to fight the hand away.
If you are having trouble getting your arms under the chin, a deceptively simple method to gain access is to give your opponent a couple quick shakes, which will force their head to wobble back and forth just enough for you to slip your arms under their chin. This is often termed “shaken baby”, and just a couple shakes are usually enough to get your arms in place.
Once you have your arms in position, the submission can be applied by leaning into your opponent and spreading your elbows. Try not to let your elbow get too far into empty space or your opponent will focus on pushing an elbow off and nullifying the choke. They will attack the second arm elbow, so pay particular attention to it.
If you need to apply this choke as an airway choke, your second arm will keep the head from turning, while your first arm will be used to drive the elbow down to the floor to get the airway choke.
If your opponent disables your first grip, continue to try to get the second grip and allow them to play with the first hand, thinking they are preventing a submission. If you can get the second grip, you have a very powerful option that will take even purple belts by surprise.
I got tired of saying this was an unnamed choke, and I finally found someone else calling it the same thing I informally do, which is the lawnmower choke. It reminds me of dumbbell lawnmower rows, and I often describe the motion as starting a lawnmower. All I know for sure is I learned it in a seminar, and I’ve been using it ever since.
A common scenario for this choke is when you are going for the cross collar choke, and your opponent knows you are going for it. Knowing how important the first grip is, they will often go two hands on your hand or arm to prevent you from establishing the first grip. They may even think they can use that to start to upa and escape. Let them fight that hand. While they are occupied, use your other hand to grab on the collar exactly like you would have if your first grip were successful. Your goal is to get your knuckles on the ground, but anything that is at least even with their airway will work with some adjustment.
Now with that grip in place, your other hand should already be in a good enough position to grab the opposite lapel. Again, it’s likely that your opponent was just fighting to get your hand away from their neck, but that also happens to put your arm in your strength zone. Grab the lapel and shift your weight slightly away from the grip on the collar. This is partly for stability, partly to get a good angle for pulling the lapel, and partly to get your choking arm in a better position for applying the choke as well as compensating for a less than ideal depth on the grip of your choking hand.
The hand on the lapel is going to be pulling like you are starting a lawnmower. In a perfect world, this alone is enough to sink in a blood choke, and when you perform this submission against opponents unfamiliar with it, they will sometimes tap just due to the presumption that all that pressure around their entire neck is not going to end well for them.
If you are unable to finish the blood choke, you can compensate by turning this into an airway choke. Maintain pulling pressure on the lapel, and drop the elbow of your choking arm down to the ground, driving your forearm into your opponent’s throat. If you still don’t get the tap, start circling your elbow around towards the top of your opponent’s head, which should cinch up the airway choke. If you still can’t get the choke, you let your grip slip too much. It’s probably best to take this as a lesson learned and transition to something else, but if you just have to get the submission, ease up, punch your choking hand down to the ground, and pull the lapel again to rotate your opponents collar around their neck. This should restore your positioning and give you a second chance. Just do your best the next time to be more disciplined about your grip. Unlike the previous submission, there’s no good replacement for a proper thumb in collar grip.
Once you get used to maintaining mount, these two chokes should serve as foundational chokes to work on. There are many other chokes from mount, but these can be used at the highest level of the sport, especially the cross collar choke. Focus on your first grip and make sure that you have a good deep grip. Be ready to turn either one of these chokes into an airway choke, but make your goal a proper blood choke, with airway chokes reserved for tough situations. Blood chokes are also a lot kinder to your sparring partners.