Setup: Patience, Stealth, and Misdirection
An Ezekiel choke is quite easy to defend. . .if you know it’s coming. For this reason, it’s important that you realize that you should never fight for an Ezekiel, and it should be a target of opportunity rather than something you are specifically setting up.
Your trigger for this choke is an underhook on the head and both of your opponents arms isolated away from their neck. Note that there is no positional trigger. This can be done from mount, guard, side control, and even the back. In fact, this is the only submission that you should ever expect to work from inside someone’s guard.
Once you have established that the Ezekiel is possible, it’s time to introduce misdirection. Experienced players will recognize the danger they are in if you do nothing but start to grab your sleeve for the choke. They will fight a hand in to their neck and block your attempt with very little effort. Instead of going directly to the choke, start moving your legs and hips to draw attention away from your focus. Even baiting a sweep is reasonable since the choke can be finished with someone on top of you. Some favorite tactics of mine are to elevate my hips if I am in the guard, pin the far arm against the body from side control, or to grapevine the legs if I am mount. All of these things draw attention away from the neck. As you are doing this, drop your head down next to your opponent’s head and near your underhooking hand. This will block your opponent’s vision of what you are doing and preserve the element of surprise.
While maintaining your misdirection, shake your sleeve down on your free arm so that the cuff is as far down your arm as possible. With the underhooking hand, grab your free sleeve with four fingers inside. If you watch any of the dozens of Ezekiel tutorials on Youtube, you’d think your next step is to just put your hand on the persons throat and pull. An effective Ezekiel has a few more steps that help guarantee the results.
With your free hand, flatten your hand and get it in position to slide across the neck. Depending on your gi, your underhooking hand will be in one of two orientations. For tight jiu-jitsu style gis, you’ll need to have the back of your wrist against your opponents neck. This will give you the room you need to set a deep Ezekiel choke. If you have a Judo gi which is looser, you’ll be able to do the classic style where your underhooking arm in rotated 90 degrees and your radius bone will be against your opponent’s neck.
With this positioning set, you are going to do the following all in one motion: As you slide your choking hand across the neck, transfer your head to the other side and pull with your underhooking arm the same direction your head and hand are traveling. This will cinch up all the space on the starting side and transfer all the interesting bits over to the finishing side. At this point, your choking hand should be past the airway and your head should be back down close to the floor.
To finish the choke, take your choking arm’s elbow and slide it across your opponent’s chest, keeping it in tight. You are trying to avoid your opponent pushing that elbow up and over their head, so keeping it close to their body will help prevent escape. As you move your elbow, your hand should be searching for the back of your opponents neck. You’ll never get it there unless you have an exceptionally loose gi, but your goal is to create a full circle of constriction for a blood and airway choke all at once.
Dealing With the Head Turn Defense
One common attempt to defend the Ezekiel is to turn your head away from the choke, which protects your airway to a degree, and one side of the blood choke very effectively. When your opponent does this, dig your head in against their eye socket/temple region and push their head back across. You’ll be doing this with the area just above your temple, which will cause you no pain while it causes quite a bit of pain against your opponent. You also have a superior mechanical position, so even if the pain isn’t enough, the pressure will be. Make sure you are trying to finish the choke as you do this.
Dealing With a Blocking Hand
It’s not uncommon to start the choke, then encounter a hand that was late to the defense party. If possible, you can use the Ezekiel as an airway choke. Switch from a flat hand to a fist and finish the technique as before.
Once the Ezekiel choke is set, it is exceptionally hard to escape, similar to a rear naked choke. No matter where your opponent goes, you should be able to finish the choke. I have finished this choke with my opponent mounted on me, me mounted or from side control, them inside my guard. . . the possibilities are incredibly varied. Because this is such an effective choke that everyone has been submitted with, the instant they think they are in danger and you haven’t set the choke, you’ll rarely get the submission. It’s usually something you get only get one shot at, especially in competition. Remember to wait for a perfect opportunity, then apply misdirection until you can snap in the finish.