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Ezekiel choke: What it is, how to do it, and its judo history

When I first started BJJ I wasn’t familiar with most of the techniques, and each time I rolled with the higher belts I was amazed by everything I experienced: the finesse of the movements, the elegant intricacies of the leverages applied to the joints and the sheer efficiency of the sweeps and takedowns.

I wasn’t amazed when I was introduced to the Ezekiel choke, though, not a bit.

I felt a crushing pressure all around my neck, which made me tap out and stand up in disgusted shock, immediately asking the brown belt who had just submitted me  if that “thing” was even legal in BJJ. He laughed and said that yes, it was legal even in white belt competitions.

The pressure I felt was different from everything else, and the set-up was so simple it actually felt like cheating, somehow. A choke that could be applied FROM INSIDE someone’s guard certainly feels like cheating. 

The Ezekiel choke is unique in a lot of ways. It is sneaky, you don’t even see it coming until it is too late. It can be applied from the mount, from the back, from closed guard, FROM INSIDE the opponents guard, and even from bottom mount. The Ezekiel is everywhere.

What exactly is an Ezekiel choke?

Well, now that we understand the name, let’s take a look at how the technique works.

Strangleholds in BJJ can be divided in two main categories: those that apply pressure to the trachea (making it difficult to breathe) and those that apply pressure to the carotids – the two main arteries that provide blood to the brain. And the Ezekiel choke is a little bit of both.

Basically you use your gi sleeve and your fist to compress the entirety of the opponent’s neck. You basically constrict their neck in a very small area, causing them to tap really quickly.

How to do an Ezekiel choke in 3 steps

As mentioned before, the Ezekiel choke has many different set-ups, but the submission itself is pretty simple: 

  1. One of your forearms go behind the opponent’s neck;
  2. That same hand will go inside the other sleeve, four fingers in;
  3. The other hand closes to a fist, and the forearm twists so that the fist and the sleeve compress the opponent’s neck.

As you may have noticed, by the very essence of the technique, it is mostly (if not only) done in a gi.

Simple set-ups for the Ezekiel choke

From mount position

  1. Put your forearm underneath the opponent’s neck;
  2. That same hand reaches for the other sleeve, grabbing it with a four-finger grip;
  3. The free hand slides under the opponent’s chin, compressing the neck, which results in the submission.

From closed guard

  1. Break the opponent’s posture, making them post their hands on the mat;
  2. Put your forearm behind the opponent’s neck, almost as if you are hugging them;
  3. The hand of the arm behind the opponent’s neck reaches for the opposite sleeve, securing a four-finger grip;
  4. The free hand slides under the opponent’s chin, compressing the neck, which results in the submission.

From back control

  1. Starting with a seatbelt grip, the hand from the underhook goes as far as possible across, towards the opponent’s back of the neck;
  2. That same hand grabs the sleeve, four-fingers grip;
  3. Now the free hand goes on the back of the opponent’s neck, applying pressure for the submission.

From inside the guard

This is the variation that made the submission famous, as it was performed by Ezequiel Paraguassu:

  1. Reach out for the opponent’s head, as if you were going to hug them;
  2. Position your forearm behind the opponent’s neck;
  3. That hand reaches out for the sleeve on the free hand, securing a four-finger grip;
  4. Twist your forearm, sliding your hand under the opponent’s chin;
  5. Jump up, opening your legs wide open, as you shift all your body weight on the opponent’s neck.

How to defend against the Ezekiel choke

The way to defend against the Ezekiel choke will vary according to the set-up used for the submission, but the main idea is preventing the pressure to even start. There is a saying in old-school BJJ gyms in Brazil: “There is no defense against a submission that is already happening.” This is especially true for the Ezekiel choke. Anyways, here are the steps for defending an Ezekiel choke from the mount position set-up:

1. As you notice the opponent grabbing his own sleeve, immediately put your palm against the side of your head. This will prevent their hand from sliding under your chin, which will prevent you from being strangled.

2. Another possibility is pushing their biceps with your hand, denying them the right angle to strangle you. 

The story behind the name

One of the coolest aspects of BJJ (at least for me, a linguistics nerd) is the naming of the techniques. Being a Brazilian art, you can feel much of the “latinity” of Brazilians in the original names for the techniques.  Most names sound more amazing in Portuguese than they do in English. A rear naked choke is a very specific name, you can almost see the position just from hearing its name. But the original mata-leão – literally lion killer – is much more badass. And the list goes on: the double leg takedown is the baiana, the straight ankle lock is commonly referred to as the botinha – little boot, the wristlock is the mão-de-vaca – cow’s hand…

But the Ezekiel choke is different. 

The choke  is named after a very specific, living person: Ezequiel Rodrigues Dutra Paraguassu, a Brazilian judoka, who competed at the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics. During his preparation for the 1988 Olympics he wanted to improve his ground game, his newaza, as judokas call it. And as he lived in Brazil,  there was no better place to do that than the legendary gym of Grandmaster Carlson Gracie, in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro.

At first, Gracie’s students weren’t all that friendly. Ezequiel was a practitioner of a different martial art, and his stand up game was stellar. After a short while everyone who rolled with him avoided getting thrown by pulling guard. And being inside the guard is not exactly where a judoka wants to be. That’s when he remembered the sode guruma jime, which would soon become known worldwide as the Ezekiel choke.

Let me go a little deeper on technique naming.

Judo is a very strict and traditional martial art, and the original Japanese nomenclature is preserved all around the world. Most names are straightforward, just like the rear naked choke mentioned before. Sode guruma jime is a perfect example: sode is sleeve, guruma  is wheel (something circular), and jime means strangle. So it is easy to understand: it is a stranglehold using the opening of the gi’s sleeve.

And that, my friends, is how Ezequiel Paraguassu countered the guard pulls: he strangled his opponents with the opening of his own sleeve from inside the guard. Why pass the guard when the fight can end before that?

It didn’t take long for the people training with him to become familiar with the technique, and it was called “estrangulamento do Ezequiel”, and not long after that, it became just Ezequiel. What an honor, to have people renaming an ancestral technique after you!

The Ezekiel choke in MMA/no gi

As we have seen, the Ezekiel choke relies entirely on the gi, so we can’t really make it work in a no-gi/MMA environment. Some people consider Alexey Oleynik the main authority when it comes to the MMA Ezekiel choke, attributing 13 of his wins to the technique … but after reading the article, and understanding the submission and its history, do you think there is such a thing as a sleeveless sode guruma jime? Leave your opinion in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

About the author

Gregório Fogaça is a BJJ practitioner with a burning passion for all things related to martial arts. He started BJJ because of the submissions he saw in MMA, and stayed because it made him a better person. He is currently a brown belt.

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