What is the most unassuming choke that you use to get taps in BJJ? There are plenty of options out there, but some just have that surprise factor that gets people to tap like they’re a drummer in a death metal band. Those are exactly the chokes you want to have in your arsenal, but you can’t use them all the time. My favorite of the bunch is the Cobra choke, a modified wrestling hold that’s tailor-made to strangle people in BJJ.
The power of the cobra chokes lies in two main areas. First of all, nobody expects it, and secondly, it works great in both Gi and No-Gi. The choke is simply in nature, and you can finish it from top sid control, although you’ll need to set it up from guard, front headlock, or against a turtled up opponent. Once you have it, though, you can pretty much do anything, from a finish, to conquer side control, get other positions (knee on belly, mount, back), or simply torture someone by pinning them in the position.
The Head Wrap Half Nelson
The Cobra choke is actually a modification of a classic wrestling move that falls under the Nelson category. Nelsons are moves that give wrestlers immense control over the neck and shoulders, and we already know how much dominance that provides. Just like with other sneaky stuff that can be stolen (and modified) from wrestling, the Cobra choke, or as it was originally named, the head wrap half Nelson is a perfect fit for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
For the move to work, you need o first understand the Half Nelson. Imagine an opponent is in turtle. You are positioned on one side of them, and you use the same side arm to sneak it under their elbow, just like you would for a seatbelt underhook, but form the near side. The goal is to thread the arm as deep as possible so that you can cup the back of their head with your palm. This will give you control over the arm, the shoulder of that arm, and the head and it’ll only “cost” you one arm. Wrestlers use it to turn people around so that they end up n their backs for a pin.
The headwrap half Nelson works much like the half nelson, but with the added element of extra head control. Namely, instead of attacking a turtle position from the side, you start off from the front. The goal is a chin strap grip first, and then sneaking the arm in. However, this time you’ll be sneaking your arm from the front to the back, going under the armpit, and ending up with a palm on the back. Similarly to a chicken wing in wrestling. This gives you extra control over the head and further blocks the arm when you turn the opponent over.
The Cobra Choke
In terms of attacking with this move in Jiu-Jitsu, you need just a few slight modifications. First of all, in wrestling, the goal is a pin. In BJJ, pinning someone won’t get you too much except for a few seconds of control. It is helpful when you’re trying to establish side control and reset attacks from there, but the main thing to do is getting a tap right then and there. And it is a nasty one.
The way of getting the Cobra choke is mostly from the front headlock. The setup is similar to a head wrap half Nelson, with a stronger emphasis on the chin strap grip. Once you have control over the chin, thrust your thumb into the throat of the opponent from the get-go. The other arm should go under the armpit, and then bend towards the back, looking to really “hook” the armpit. The elbow of the chin strap arm should be tight to your ribs, and the other elbow should go to the mats as if you’re doing an elbow strike.
The moment an opponent gets to the ground with their back, you should aim to transition your lower body into a Judo side control configuration. The hips should be near the ground, and you should aim to keep the elbow of the chin strap arm close to your ribs and you’ll get a nasty pul land twist on the neck.
For a precise guillotine-like finish, you can have your legs in any position you want, as long as the hips are low to the mats. The finish requires pushing your hips in, like in a sprawl, and pulling the head first towards yourself and then upwards to get a very nasty choke.
What Does The Cobra Choke Offer?
One reason why the Cobra choke is awesome is that you can get it against anyone. People in BJJ never expect Nelson variations, meaning it is a very high percentage move. The half Nelson, in particular, is highly effective and I have no idea why people don’t use it more.
In terms of finishing, you can use the Cobra choke to get people out of turtle or keep them in side control for a while. You could also use it to get to mount and still have the option of a mounted Guillotine choke. Speaking of chokes, you can actually finish in a different way than what I described before, by going for chest compression. From the Judo side control configuration, you can lift the head and back of an opponent off the mats for a chest compression pressure submission. Alternatively, you can just crank the neck too.
Setting up the choke, apart from standing front headlocks and the turtle is also possible from the guard, which will get you “bonus” sweep points. An arm-in guillotine that you can’t finish is perfect, as it will open up a butterfly sweep, which you can change into a Cobra choke. Once the hips of the opponent hit the ground, just switch from the arm in position to the chicken wing and you’re all set to finish the sweep and get the tap. Plus, you can easily get into an Anaconda choke from the Cobra choke position if you can’t finish it for some reason.
Finally, this choke will work because people don’t’ expect it. That means you shouldn’t use it all the time and base your game around it, but get it out of your back pocket to wrap people up when you really need it.
The Cobra choke is yet another example of how wrestling can be modified to provide BJJ with awesome options of both control and submission. You don’t even need to learn the Nelsons in order to understand the choke but it will open up a different horizon for you, especially if you like to mess around it front headlocks, or are having trouble dealing with turtled up opponents. Give it a try!