The punch that knocks you out is the one you don’t see coming.
This is often true of submissions in BJJ.
A sneaky submission capitalizes on the element of surprise, preventing your opponent from preparing or establishing a defense. The surprise can also induce panic, which might get you the tap even faster. Just the anticipation of an attack can allow your opponent to prepare, physically and mentally. For example, in expectation of an armbar, the arm tenses and the body prepares to pull the elbow away, come on top, and stack. Just the threat of choke can convince your opponent to bring the chin down and hands up into a defensive posture. Sneaky submissions often come from positions that your opponent doesn’t expect submissions from. They also come from bait-and-switching. Like a convincing feint in striking, baiting with one submission and then attacking another, throws your opponent off guard.
Knowledge and body awareness are key for defending against sneaky submissions. Even if you don’t use them, by learning these submissions and their mechanisms, you can learn the defense and more importantly, how to avoid the setup. That’s where body awareness comes in. Successfully defending a submission is good; preventing one from starting in the first place is better.
Remember, any submission can be sneaky when set up correctly.
Here are three of my personal favourite sneaky submissions plus a bonus.
The Ezekiel choke was the first submission that really surprised me. The key to maintaining its element of surprise is the set up. It can become obvious from the positioning of the arm under the head, but if your opponent’s mind is on defending something else, you can catch them easily. In this video, Rafael Lovato Jr explains the choke in great detail, along with some great insight into the use of submissions to maintain position. By being offensive with submission attempts, your opponent is too preoccupied with defending, to escape to a better position.
Baseball Choke from Bottom
This choke is sneaky because it involves having your opponent pass your guard to sink it in deep. The key to success is setting up the right grips at the right time. The setup can be obvious to someone who knows the choke and if they defend properly, you may end up in a bad position or submission. In this video, Dion Watts from Watts MMA demonstrates the technique from a bottom position and from standing. I’ve seen it work regularly from various bottom guard positions (butterfly, closed guard, half guard).
This choke, from Charles Siler from Marcelo Alonso BJJ, is similar to a loop choke, but from a more innocuous grip. When I started using it, none of my training partners saw it coming.
Bonus! (because I haven’t tried it yet)
Ninja Roll Choke
Mike Bidwell of BJJAfter40 has a neat series of chokes he calls the ninja roll choke. I haven’t had the opportunity to try it in rolling, but it looks quite effective. It is a lapel choke using your own gi and Mike has several set ups for it on his Youtube channel. My only issue with the choke is the use of your mouth to pass the lapel, but you can get the lapel in the right positions with other methods. A sweaty lapel just isn’t something I want in my mouth.