How to Escape a Headlock

You don’t see many side headlocks in MMA, but they’re common practice in the school yard or when you’re dicking about with your mates.

On the other hand – front headlocks or standing guillotines are very common and very effective.

Generally speaking, you always want to keep your chin up and keep your ‘base’ underneath. So get your feet as close underneath your head or upper body as you can to have a stronger position. Like you’re about to do a barbell squat.

Looking to the side – towards your opponent and shrugging your shoulders can also make it tricky to sink in a choke.

Pull down on the choking arm to take pressure off too.

Escaping a Front Headlock

Option 1

Weave your arm inside (this is the easiest and my fave)

If you are caught in someone else’s right arm/armpit – swim your right arm inside his/her left elbow

Only issue with this escape, is it doesn’t work with “power guillotines” or front naked chokes in MMA.

Option 2

Spin to the back

If you have space and you are stuck in the right-armpit still, spin clockwise with your feet and throw your left arm so you take the other person’s back or get to their side.

Option 3

Arm over shoulder

The old-school BJJ defence is to just throw your arm over his/her shoulder on the opposite side

This prevents them from getting any purchase or pressure on the choke

If you are stuck in his/her right armpit, throw your right arm over his left shoulder

Option 4

Standing sit-through – drop to your hip

Whenever you’re stuck, dropping your level is a good ’emergency escape’ – either dropping to a lunge, to your knees, hip or on your bum

If you are stuck in a front headlock, under the other person’s right armpit, you will want to:

  • Step your feet as close to the other guy’s feet as possible – ideally outside his left foot/left hand side
  • Fall on your bum/hip as if you are trying to do a sideways roll

This standing sit through, done at speed with spike your opponent on his head – like in round 5 of JDS Vs Cain in the UFC

front head lock escape

Don’t use this unless it’s an actual fight of some sort, as done at speed you’ll spike the guy on his head

If you want to try this in training, you can drop to a lunge first, and then sit through and roll. Dropping to a lunge with one knee forwards also makes it near impossible to pull guard.

If you are in BJJ or MMA – you may want to drill dropping to a lunge to stop people pulling guard, you can then look to weave your arm inside, spin to the back or sit through. It’s possible with some types of front chokes however, it could make the choke tighter – so experiment (safely).

update – don’t drop to a lunge, it makes the choke tighter!

Escaping a Side Headlock

Lateral Roll

My fave way of escaping a side headlock is to roll underneath the guy/girl.

Step foot that’s furthest away from him/her in between his/her legs and do a sideways roll

Ideally you need to grip hold of something, e.g. their back or leg, but if they keep hold of the headlock they’ll roll with you anyway

side headlock escape

For both types of headlock, the best initial defence is to have good posture – ideally a strong neck and back, so you can stand up/posture up

About Drew

MMA, Fitness & Marketing enthusiast from North Wales, UK. A Stoic Hippy with no hair. Not to boast but - 1st Class Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, MSc in Nutrition from the University of Liverpool. 20 years experience of weight & fitness training.
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