Chokes Or Joint Locks: Which One Is Better For You?

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, No-Gi BJJ or MMA, grappling submissions can be divided into two basic categories: chokes and joint locks. While both can finish a match, these two variants produce distinct outcomes. Joint locks are typically used to apply pressure to the joints and force it to move past the normal range of motion, while chokes disrupt the blood flow to the brain, which can cause unconsciousness if the opponent does not tap out. This article will discuss everything you need to know about chokes and joint locks.


Chokes Defined

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, chokes are perhaps the most common form of submission across all levels. There are different types of chokes you can do. The blood choke (strangles) apply pressure on the carotid arteries, obstructing blood flow to the brain. When done correctly, a clean strangle can quickly cause your opponents to lose consciousness in about 3-5 seconds. The air choke is the other type of choke that aims to compress the windpipe. Air chokes can take about a minute to put an opponent to sleep, depending on how long they can hold their breath. 

Chokes can be life-threatening when applied with malicious intent. The longer you hold a choke, the higher the risk of damage it can cause to the brain; therefore, it is best to let go of the choke as soon as the opponent taps or passes out.


Joint Locks Defined

Joint locks are submissions that isolate a joint using leverage in an attempt to force it to move past its usual range of motion. While most joint locks are allowed in BJJ competitions, some are prohibited depending on rank. This involves submissions targeting the ankles, knees, and spine. This is because incorrect application of these submissions can cause serious injury. 

Generally, joint locks generate different degrees of pain to the joints, and when applied forcefully/explosively, can cause massive injuries such as damage to the muscle, ligaments, tendon, bone fracture, dislocation of the joint, or misalignment of the spine, some of which can cause irreversible damage.

In addition, there are also unique types of submissions known as compression locks. They rely on applying extreme pressure to the opponent’s muscle by compressing it against a larger bone like the shin. Some examples of compression locks are the bicep and calf slicer. These submissions are usually banned in competitions because they risk completely tearing the muscle tissues as they stretch the joint in the opposite direction while crushing it against your bone, pulling it apart.  


The Better Option: Chokes Or Joint Locks?

cross collar choke

Some say the best submission is the one the opponent gives you. But according to John Danaher and Hélio Gracie, chokes are the best way to finish a match. With chokes, there are only a few options: escape, tap, or go to sleep. As Danaher said, a courageous and determined opponent can persevere against joint locks if they are willing to take the damage, but refusing to submit from a strangle won’t change the outcome, as even the toughest opponent will simply pass out. 

Generally speaking, chokes are the better option, but it depends on the grappler and their respective game. Chokes are the safer way to take your opponents out because it gives little risk for injuries, they pass out, and you can let them go. On the other hand, joint locks require proficiency with the techniques and familiarity with specific breaking points. This means the pressure you need to break someone’s limb can vary. While both are highly effective, a perfectly executed strangle is by far the more efficient approach to ending a confrontation.

Styles make fights, and every body type has advantages and disadvantages. A bigger and stronger grappler may fare better against joint locks, as you can use strength, explosiveness, and weight to overcome the submission attempt. In contrast, being a lanky grappler can make the application or setup of many chokes seem effortless, especially with moves like the triangle choke. Also, applying a body triangle (to set up rear naked chokes) when you get the opponent’s back won’t be as difficult. For people with medium build, you are free to explore whatever works best for your body and disposition.


Developing A Game Around Chokes And Joint Locks

50-50 guard heel hook escape

When building your arsenal of techniques around certain positions, having a specific goal in mind is critical as it helps you visualise when and how to attack. In relation to this, it is best to create attacking systems so that you can cycle through your attacks quickly. Remember that your go-to positions will help you determine the techniques you must learn and master. You don’t have to be a master of all positions to become dangerous.

Assuming you are building a game around the back mount, you’ll undoubtedly have more submission options if you focus on chokes. This is especially the case if you train in the gi, as you can apply a lot of submissions by simply grabbing the opponent’s lapel. However, you can also attack with joint locks like the armbar or even enter the kimura trap from back control. And take note that you can always transition to leglocks if things don’t go your way. It is essential to recognise the attacking options you have from your favourite positions.

As you get more advanced, more submissions will come into play. While most of the top coaches today will probably say that chokes are the better option, being able to transition from chokes to joint locks (and vice versa) is a smart way to approach this and will always be our top recommendation. Why limit yourself to one technique when you can combine the benefits of both?



Understand that chokes and joint locks are just tools you can use to force the submission. Yes, you can specialise in specific techniques, but you don’t have to be too dogmatic in your use of submissions. Even the best submission specialists of yesterday and today can use various techniques depending on where they are in a match. 


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