How to Defend Against the RNC (Rear Naked Choke) for Karate

Do you remember that time when literally everyone in martial arts circles wanted to know what this mysterious Brazilian jiu-jitsu (sic) was all about?

If I remember correctly, these ‘guys’ named Gracie (from Brazil) became notorious practically overnight for beating up everyone who wanted to take them on.

You did wrestling? Or boxing? No problem. They would beat you, easily.

Karate? You were defeated the minute you entered the ring.

Taekwondo? Give me a break!

These Brazilians, the Gracies, who through their clever strategies and ground breaking cross training principles later laid the foundation of what we today know as MMA (and the UFC), were practically everywhere!

And they had all right to be.

Because they had basically proved to everyone that limiting oneself to the practise and study of a single aspect of fighting (like wrestlers, boxers etc. had always done) didn’t cut it anymore.

It was the beginning of a new era.

And I remember watching some videos from these ‘fights’, thinking how cool – yet simple – it all seemed.

I mean, they practically slayed Karate people up and down!


Well, the basic strategy was this:

  1. Dodge the punches /kicks coming from the Karate guy.
  2. When an opening presents itself, dive in and take him down!
  3. Get on top of him and start slapping him in the face…
  4. …which triggers a response in the Karate guy to cover his face and roll over…
  5. … which gives the Gracie the perfect position to finish the fight with a ‘rear naked choke’.
  6. Result: Karate guy went to sleep… or managed to tap out.

So simple.

Yet brutally effective.

If you had the opportunity to challenge a Gracie you might as well just grab a pillow and blanket because you’re were going to sleep.

I even managed to find some pictures from those fights:

Just like I remember it…

Anyway, thinking about these crazy times gave me an idea.

How many of you actually know how to defend against a ‘rear naked choke’?

With practically everyone, including their aunt, practising MMA nowadays it’s not hard to realize that you might easily one day be caught in this exact hold (the RNC). I even sometimes see high school kids doing it on each other!

And believe me, the first time somebody gets you good with this choke you are going to wet your gi.

But not from excitement.

And this is not an overstatement. Oh no. The feeling of helplessness you get when somebody has you in a deep choke is unsurpassed.

Knowing that you only have seconds before you pass out is a very special feeling.

So please, let me spare you that feeling.

By teaching you how to escape this gruesome hold.

With me today I have two of our MMA instructors, Oliver and Sabri, who are going to show you the whole procedure, so that your honorful samurai pride will never be lost if you end up in this position!

Here we go: (click a picture to zoom)

First, let’s look at the basic situation we’re dealing with:

Our opponent has us in a position known as the ‘back guard’, complete with the leg hooks and everything. As you can see, Oliver is fighting for his life (and his black belt Karate pride)!

The first step is perhaps the most important one.

Tuck your chin in.

Secondly, try to pull the closest arm down.

Wooh, fresh air!

Now, this is what happens in a dream. In reality you will probably not get this big of a gap between the opponents arm and your chin, but it doesn’t matter.

This is for educational purpose anyway…

Okay, after these basic moves (that everyone probably instinctively figures out anyway) comes the next step:

Using your opposite arm, push the opponents arm to your side and slip your other arm inside.

An important detail is to work mainly with you shoulder, and your chin still firmly tucked in.

Avoid spaces! Narrow movements is the key.

So, now that we have gotten rid of the immediate problem, we are still in a vulnerable position. Therefore, secure your opponents choking arm under your armpit, with your elbow.

Oh, and remember, your opponent has had his other arm free the whole time. Expect to have been punched in the face a few times by now.

Everything has a price…

So we need to do something about that other arm.

Bring it over.

Preferably with the other arm still locked in your armpit. Or under your elbow.

Now here is where your opponent is starting to really lose control.

And though it might not look that way, the control is soon almost entirely in the hands of Oliver.

But only in the upper body.

Sabri still has major control of the situation, through his legs.

We need to change that, quickly.

Yeah, that’s right.

You see Oliver pointing (and doing that evil smile) there?

That’s our next target.

By forcefully kicking down and for some reason simultaneously pushing with his right hand (please don’t do this, always control the arms), Oliver has freed himself from the hooks.

At this stage it is very important to shift your bodyweight (by moving your hips) so that your body sinks down and out of the leg hold.

It’s kind of hard to see in the photo, but try to compare the curve of Olivers body (upper body vs. lower body) in this photo with the previous step and you’ll hopefully see.

Okay, next step:

Using your legs and arms, begin pushing yourself out to the side.

A twisting motion is now beginning to take form, as you can see by Olivers left elbow which has been squeezed between his and Sabri’s body.

Make sure you plant your feet firmly on the ground for maximum power.

Using your whole body in one motion, plant your left previously squeezed elbow on the ground beneath you as you twist around.

Lift your left leg too, using your right foot and left arm as base.

Your hips should not touch the floor.

Okay, now things are starting to happen!

Twist around 180° from the previous photo to get in this position, known as the ‘guard’.

Almost there…

And finally, the roles are reversed.

Which means payback time!

Okay, got it?

That was 12 steps in total.

Remember to always tuck your chin in, keep everything tight, work with your core muscles and most importantly keep your head cool.

Of course there are other methods and techniques too, but this is the one we generally use.

Now all you need is a crazy Brazilian surfer dude who wants nothing more than to choke you sleepy.

Let me know how it went!


  • PS. For those of you that have been to Okinawa, check out Oliver's green GOYA t-shirt! Yuck!
  • Jesper
    I got a sweet memory of this choke... I was the one doing it of course but I did from a standing position instead. You know which moment I'm thinking of ;)
    • Indeed I do, Jesper-san. Indeed I do... :)
  • Tibz
    Nice article, it's always a good thing to know what to do in situations that we aren't trained to defend against, like this one. There was a MMA instructor at one of the courses I attended some day, and he talked about "real fights", the bar fight kind. So we talked about grasping fingers as they're very easy to break and usually is a good enough threat to calm down an opponent. At some point we talk about the RNC as well. I think the most important piece of advice in this situation is to remain calm and focused - as you said, the defender has only a few seconds to get out of the choke. It's very easy to panic and start trying loads of things, hitting his face, trying to gauge the eyes, get the chocking arm down etc. What the instructor told us was that the main mistake here is to try multiple things that are actually exhausting more than helping, lots of useless attempts, and instead we should try to find an escape and stick to it, focus on it and put all our power and mind into it - not desperatly trying everything and giving up when it's not releasing the choke instantly.
  • Tommy
    I do not know what I like the most; GOYA or BJJ :) Looking at the first picture, the one with the utterly horrified Oliver, it looks like it would simplify the 'chin-escape' if one would to turn his chin to the left, towards the gap, while tucking the chin in as much as possible. And looking at the disgruntled gentleman just above, one can see the same opportunity present itself, but on the other side this time (after some work on the arm). Do you think it could help to also turn your head? Or am I just seeing weird stuff that's not really there again? :)
    • Tommy Good thinking! :D I think it depends on the situation though. Rotating your head to the left (in order to get your chin in) is a good idea as long as this doesn't mean that your right carotid artery is exposed to the choking arm (which it almost certainly will be), thereby making you fall asleep even faster! Experiment with it, maybe you'll find some way :)
  • Eugene
    goya is totemo oishii deshou~~!! you didn't learn that in your extended oki stay?? this was a very insightful article, jesse. i've never actually thought about how i'd get out of one of these. i always picture in my head that i'd land my strikes before the guy could get close to me. this is my dream at least. if i were to get in this hold, there's prob a 90% chance i'm going nighty night. thanks for another 5% chance towards me! haha
  • Matthew D'Avanzo
    There's only one reliable defense vs. a grappler: learn how to grapple. Judo is an excellent fit with Karate on so many levels.
  • Leo
    I see Tekki. Damn fine article, bookmarked!
  • Gerry
    Would an option be to dig a knuckle into a pressure point on the arm?
      • Gerry
        I'm actually starting a BJJ class next week so somewhere along the way I will - hopefully I won't piss anyone off though!
        • Mat
          I tried using pressure points in MMA. They get VERY pissed off about it, and quickly stop rolling friendly with you. What was your experience?
  • Mil
    Hi, I see this is an old article but since I recently discovered this site I am browsing random articles and came across this one. The technique looks functional but don't you have to be equally strong to your opponent or at least similarly? My point is that I am about 54 kg woman stronger than most women my ... hmmm ... size but still I don't see how I could push away the arm of my opponent even if he is relatively strong man. I will need to use some weak spot. Has anyone tried another approach - may be as suggested above using some of the pressure points to at least loosen the grab, win some time and make a gap for another technique? I am just thinking out laud... I also want to say - great work with the site. I intend to read every single article and the more I read the more I like it! Keep the good work Jesse-san and thank you for sharing your knowledge, experience and thoughts!
    • Mil-san, thanks a lot for your comment! Obviously, since this technique is from MMA, I suggest you use some sneaky Karate tactics to adapt it for self-defense (i.e. finger jab in eyes, groin slap etc). Try it out in the dojo and let me know how it goes! ;)
  • Mat
    I'm sorry but not only has the order of this "escape" been listed wrong, but it doesn't work anyway. In fact, you're teacing a dangerous fiction that may get people seriously hurt. If it was this simple to prevent the choke (let alone escape) don't you think million dollar fighters like Connor McGregor would be using it? Chin tucking (and shoulder lifting - not mentioned) is what you do to PREVENT the choke, not what you do once it's on. But far, far more importantly, simply pulling the throat arm down doesn't work It's locked on the other bicep. You have to attack the arm BEHIND the head, not the one strangling you. Loosen that first, THEN attack the choke arm. And even that is almost certain to fail against good chokers.
    • Mat-san, take a chill pill. There are dozens of RNC escapes, and they all have their time and place (having a professional MMA fighter as brother taught me this the hard way) :-) Maybe one day I'll teach you another one. Cheers!
      • Mat
        I'm perfectly chilled thanks Jesse. I think that I'm going to trust the people who do this for a living at a high level. With millions of dollars on the line, if there were "dozens" of ways to escape from this position, they'd regularly be escaping wouldn't they? As it is, apart from a knockout, this is one of the most feared positions to find yourself in. I notice you didn't address provide technical disagreement with the actual substance of my disagreement. Simply waving your hand and appealing to the authority of your brother hardly cuts it. I look forwards to you teaching me even ONE effective escape once this choke is in place properly.
        • If the choke has sunk in, the only escape I can recommend is eye poke (thumb in eye socket) and a last second prayer. Good luck!
          • Stewart
            Eye poke won't work because he can move his head back or to the side enough to relieve the poke's pressure. Meanwhile, his choke remains in place -- if anything, his adrenalin surge will make the choke even tighter and you're done. I think the last chance you've got is to push your (right) shoulder up, force your chin down to the left, turning your head to the left and down. Pinch and twist the skin of his right tricep and try to grab a finger of his left hand that is behind your head. The suddenness of your aggressive defense is to your advantage. You might have two seconds
  • Mark
    What is the athlete's name applying the RNC?

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