How To Escape From The Front Headlock

The front headlock can be considered a technique that bridges Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling. Generally, the primary goal for the two grappling martial arts is different. This affects how we approach escaping certain positions that we may find ourselves trapped in, which are common in both martial arts. In this article, we will talk about how to escape from the front headlock.


The Dangers Of The Front Headlock

Grapplers typically find themselves trapped in the front headlock after shooting for a takedown or if the opponent drags them to the mat by doing a snap down. If left unaddressed, the front headlock can become a problem, especially in BJJ, where submissions can be applied. Below are the things to be aware of when trapped in the front headlock.


1) Sweeps

Assuming you’ve decided to shoot for a takedown and the opponent catches you in a standing front headlock, the opponent has two choices: to drag you down the mat or sweep you with the sumi gaeshi. An opponent’s perfectly executed sumi gaeshi sweep will likely land them into the full mount, exposing you to different submissions. Likewise, if you get the chance to get ahold of their legs and bend them while executing the takedown, even though the opponent has executed the sumi gaeshi with the front headlock, don’t let go, as you have a better chance of finishing by bouncing, back up or going to the side.


2) Chokes

Chokes like the guillotine, various arm triangle submissions (arm triangle, D’arce, and anaconda), and necktie submissions (Peruvian and Japanese necktie) are some of the common chokes applied from the front headlock position. First, it is essential to consider defending the opponent’s choking arm when trapped in the front headlock, as this will allow them to finish the match.


3) Back Takes

In Jiu-Jitsu, the back mount is considered the most dominant position. Incidentally, the front headlock is one of the pathways to the back. Remember the opponent’s ability to isolate your head and arm when dealing with the front headlock. Their ability to straighten your trapped arm from the position limits the strength it can produce, thus making it harder for you to defend while giving them access to your back.


Escaping The Front Headlock

Whenever we study the typical front headlock escape from a Jiu-Jitsu perspective, we learn the classic techniques that will allow us to get back into the guard position. On the other hand, when we learn it from wrestling, we usually learn about standing back up to our feet and using standing escapes to get out. The job of submission grapplers is to take the things applicable from wrestling and use them effectively in BJJ.

Some things in submission wrestling aren’t applicable in pure wrestling and vice versa because of the different scoring criteria and rules. What makes the big difference is that in Jiu-Jitsu, submissions are involved, which can end the match. In Jiu-Jitsu, we’re trying to expose the opponent’s back to us or expose our back to the floor by going for a guillotine and finishing them. In wrestling, the goal of the top player is to expose the bottom player’s back to the floor rather than going to the floor themselves.

One of the counters to the front headlock is from the drag-out position. From the front headlock, this escape starts by circling your head to the opponent’s chest as a counter to the guillotine. Assuming that the opponent uses their left arm as the choking arm and starts going for a high-wrist guillotine, their hand will become less accessible than the low-wrist guillotine, where you can hold their wrist to prevent the choke.

To escape from this, post both arms on the mat and roll your head to their center (chest). From here, the opponent will have to switch to their right arm as their choking arm if they want to stay on the guillotine. For them to finish the guillotine from this position, your head has to be on the left side of their hip. Now that we have addressed the threat of the guillotine, we will then move to escape the front headlock.

Ideally, in the front headlock, you don’t want to spend too much time with your opponent’s choking arm around your neck in a stationary position, as you will get strangled. As your training partner looks to tighten the front headlock (their left arm as choking arm) with a head and arm control, post your outside leg out (right leg) and grab their left elbow using your right arm. Remember to move your head out from the opponent’s left ribcage to their chest as you hold their left elbow.

Doing the elbow pass in a stationary position without moving your head to their chest is like assisting the opponent in locking up the guillotine. As you push the opponent’s left elbow across while moving your head, use your left hand to grab their left tricep like an arm-drag grip. Once you have the arm-drag grip with your left hand, use your right hand to reach for the opponent’s leg or far (right) hip.

As you reach for their far hip, come off the floor on your toes and circle to the opponent’s left side to get beside them. From there, you have fully escaped the front headlock and may now look to place your chest on their back for control and take the back mount, as most front headlock escapes only result in the neutral position.



In conclusion,  Learning how to master escapes should be standard practice for all practitioners of the art. Escaping from a front headlock in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu requires calmness, technique, and a strategic approach. The front headlock can be a dominant and threatening position, making it crucial for practitioners to understand and master the fundamentals of escape. Starting with protecting the neck and breathing to creating space and positioning the body correctly, each step is vital in ensuring a successful escape.


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