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Judo Chop 'Year of the Guillotine': Part 2 - The Rise of the 'Arm-In' Guillotine

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T.P. Grant continues his examination of the guillotine in 2015 by looking at a submission that ten years ago was considered impossible to finish.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The guillotine choke experienced something of a renaissance in MMA over the last two years. Fightmetric's numbers demonstrate that while guillotine attempts have declined, the number of guillotines being finished and the success rate of fighters attempting guillotines are at an all-time high.

Part I explored the invitations of grips and understanding of how to apply choking pressure that have taken place in the last ten years in both sport grappling and MMA, the 'no arm' guillotine. It also explored how that knowledge has become more widespread through out the sport. A by-product of this is that new ways to guillotine are being developed. One new grip that deserves special attention is the 'arm-in' guillotine.

Just ten years ago, the common wisdom in both MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jistu circles was the you could not finish an arm-in guillotine. However the Renzo Gracie Academy developed a reliable and repeatable method to finish the choke against high level opponents several years ago and use of the submission has been growing ever since.

In 2015 eight arm-in guillotines were finished, six from the guard and two from top position, making it the most successful single guillotine grip in the year of the guillotine. The ability to finish comes from understanding how to apply that proper finishing pressure discussed above, despite the opponent's arm also being in the choke.

To help explain that here is a video by Renzo Gracie Black Belt and guillotine wiz Anthony Buckwitz demonstrating the basics of finishing an arm-in guillotine:

It is important to note how this choke is finished with a crunch like monition, not a large back arch, and that Buckwitz favors a side and is not flat on his back. The rotation of bringing the elbow towards the knee brings the head down into the choke, as opposed to just trying to power squeeze the finish which often just tries to pull the arm up into the neck. Notice that while Buckwitz takes the head down towards his hips, his shoulders and hands high and tight, not letting his hands slip down towards his waist and a abdominal crunching motion that brings the elbow and hips together. This is a key detail that takes a lot of the effort out of the choke.

While it is normally taught the that angle is achieved by bring the opponent's head to the mat, the angle can also be achieved by putting the head in the air.

Head Up

Here are two quick examples of Warlley Alves (1) and John Lineker (2) of finishing the arm-in guillotine with the head in the air. In both instances notice how broken the posture of the opponent is and how their head is being forced down into the hip of the choker.

One of the defenses is to put the choker flat on their back and deny them this angle, and begin to stack them to try to take pressure off the head and neck. As the arm-in guillotine has seen more use in the last five years in both sport grappling and MMA, athletes and coaches are finding ways to apply the desired pressure without finding the angle.

Here is Paragon BJJ black belt belt Jeff Glover showing details on a straight-on finish to the choke, notice again the use of the shoulder to apply pressure to the head and the hip monition to get power out of an arching back.

The straight on finish of the arm-in choke became increasing common in 2015, accounting for half of the six arm-in guillotines finished from the back. The highest profile example being from Fabricio Werdum's submission of Cain Velasquez at UFC 188.


Cain stacked Werdum, drove his hips up and forward and put Werdum on his shoulders in an attempt to loosen up the choke. Notice that the base of Cain's neck is visible as Werdum's arm and shoulder are pushing down on the crown of Cain's head, forcing it down towards Werdum's hips. Werdum's hips are up off the mat, and his legs driving Cain away, and his hands are high and tight under Cain's neck. Cain's base collapses, his posture breaks as his head is forced down and he beings to tap.

Another benefit of the arm-in guillotine is that it can transition easily into larger front head lock chains attacks as the opponent attempts to defend or move their head out of danger. While the head can often slip out the fighter can maintain the strong overhook position which leads into the D'Arce and Anaconda Chokes very well. For an example here is Renzo Gracie black belt, ADCC medalist and former UFC fighter Ricardo Almeida teaching one attack off of an arm-in guillotine.

The rise in the arm-in's popularity is likely also due to the ever evolving MMA metagame, which is currently heavily focused on cage grappling. The cage is used as a base to defend takedowns, a place to pin opponents, or an anchor to use to get back to the feet, and in those situations a strong overhook is often a valuable tool to be employed. The underhook is actually a strong position to start with when looking for the arm-in guillotine because when the head gets encircled the grip can be secured and the choking can begin. So it follows that as fighters are making more and more use of strong overhooks from the clinch that the arm-in guillotine, a natural submission from those positions, would become more common.

Part III of the series will delve more deeply into how the increased use of the guillotine is a response to openings in the current MMA metagame. To close with Matheus Nicolau Pereira finished the first Japanese Necktie in UFC history this past year in his match with Bruno "Korea" Rodrigues, which is another submission that can come off of a strong overhook. As a result it can be attacked from top position and pairs very nicely with an arm-in guillotine, D'Arce, and anaconda front head lock chain. They could become a more common sight in higher level MMA, so here is the BJJ Scout's excellent breakdown of the submission.

A special thank you to Rami Genauer of Fightmetric for his help finding submission totals and answering my most inane questions