As more and more martial artists recognize the value of augmenting their self-defense skills with grappling, we at Black Belt thought an overview of the various categories of techniques was in order. So with help from BJJ techniques master John Machado, one of the top grappling authorities in the United States, we offer the following examination of the big three: pain-compliance techniques, breaking techniques and choking techniques.

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BJJ Techniques in Self-Defense Moves

Category 1: Pain-Compliance Techniques “Pain is one of the tools available to you in grappling, but it has limitations because a lot of people don’t feel pain,” BJJ techniques expert John Machado says. “Sometimes when you try a pain-compliance technique on someone’s arm, leg or neck, he’ll feel nothing. He doesn’t have to be drunk or on drugs; he just doesn’t feel it.”
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Fortunately, pain-compliance techniques work most of the time in self-defense moves — about 70 percent, John Machado estimates.

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The majority of the self-defense moves involving pain compliance function by crushing a muscle or extending a joint in an uncomfortable direction, John Machado says. “The biceps lock works by ‘cutting’ the muscle. Another technique might work by extending the elbow, knee or neck to cause pain. The side neck crank is a good example. You don’t want to break the neck; you want to cause pain by hurting the neck muscles.” In schools that teach BJJ techniques such as leg locks, the calf crush is a popular pain-compliance technique. “You can do a foot lock on the ankle, or you can hold the calf and ‘cut’ it,” John Machado says. “A lot of people will tap right there. Just remember that for some, there’s no effect.” He advises martial artists to avoid spending an undue amount of time trying to make a pain-compliance technique work when training in self-defense moves. “When you apply a hold, watch your opponent’s reaction,” he says. “If you see him lifting his hand to tap, it’s a sign the lock is working. Otherwise, quickly move to a different hold.”
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During that short period in which you’re gauging the effectiveness of your self-defense moves, limit the amount of effort you exert. “You shouldn’t go 100 percent because you never know for sure that the lock is even going to work or whether he’ll counter it,” John Machado says. “You should apply the technique and use enough pressure to make it work. You know from practicing it in the dojo how much force that requires — how much effort it takes in a perfect situation. If it doesn’t have an effect, just move on.” Pain-compliance techniques will serve you well in training for efficacy of both BJJ techniques and self-defense moves, John Machado says. Before you try them in a tournament, though, find out if they’re permitted.

BJJ Techniques in Self-Defense Moves

Category 2: Breaking Techniques Breaking techniques target the body’s joints, not the bones. Some of them are so cleverly designed that they attack more than one body part at the same time during execution of self-defense moves. “When you do a triangle choke, for example, you’re doing a neck crank, a choke and an armbar,” John Machado says. “You can finish your opponent with all of them together. The kimura usually targets the shoulder, but it can also attack the arm with an inverted armbar. It depends on the angle.”

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The most efficient breaking techniques in the BJJ techniques spectrum use both of your arms against one of your opponent’s limbs. The strength differential makes it relatively easy for you to hyperextend the joint, rupturing the ligaments and even breaking the bone. “The techniques are even more effective when you have your whole body working against one joint — whether it’s a knee, wrist or elbow,” John Machado says.
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In breaking, leverage is everything. “Without it, you can’t do the moves because jiu-jitsu is based on leverage,” he adds. Many attempts at executing one of the most popular breaking techniques — the cross-body armbar — fail because the fulcrum, or the part of your body against which the opponent’s arm is forced, isn’t slightly above the elbow. “If you do it that way, you don’t have the lock,” John Machado says. “You’re putting pressure on the bone. You need to switch to a different technique quickly because if you don’t, he’ll escape.” Breaking techniques are good for self-defense moves, but before attempting one, you must determine if the situation will permit you to safely execute it. “You don’t want to use an armbar in a fight in a nightclub with hundreds of people around,” John Machado says. “Every technique has its place, and that’s not the right one for an armbar.”
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Likewise, if you’re in law enforcement, you probably don’t want to take a suspect down with BJJ techniques that involve breaking because of the legal issues involved, John Machado says. “You’d probably be better off using a short armbar to make him cooperate with the handcuffing procedure or subduing him with pain compliance.” In epic battles, just how debilitating is a broken limb? “In any form of combat, you have to deal with adrenaline and the fight-or-flight reaction,” BJJ techniques master John Machado says. “Sometimes a person doesn’t realize that his arm is broken until the end of the match, so he keeps on fighting back. That’s why, in some respects, chokes are superior.”

BJJ Techniques in Self-Defense Moves

Category 3: Choking Techniques The fighting arts teach two types of choking techniques: air and blood. “You can suffocate someone to death if you squeeze the throat, or you can subdue him the right way, which is by squeezing the arteries on the sides of his neck so blood stops flowing to his brain,” John Machado says. It’s obviously imperative to learn the difference before adding such an option to your self-defense moves or BJJ techniques repertoire. “You should never do a choke against the windpipe because you can kill your opponent,” he says.
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The key to making your technique work for self-defense moves is to attack the arteries by making a V-shape with your arm and position his windpipe in the crook of your elbow, he adds. Once you begin applying pressure, it takes about three to five seconds for unconsciousness to follow. Blood chokes can be effected with your arm or your opponent’s uniform. “Both are very important in grappling and very effective,” John Machado says. “The arm choke is powerful. You can do it while wearing a gi or while not wearing one, so it works in a variety of situations. You can be on the beach in Rio and get into a fight and choke someone out using your arms. Or you can be in a cage tournament and use the same move.” But the key to success with self-defense moves that incorporate BJJ techniques, he says, is learning how to execute the choke with the collar. “It’s more useful because everybody is wearing something — a shirt, a jacket, a uniform,” he says. “Even a T-shirt can work. There’s a chance it’ll rip, but if you know how to grip it deep and pull, you’ll have a better chance of making it work. The thing to remember is, if you can get your hand in deep enough to grab the T-shirt right, you can probably do an arm choke. It’s all about being versatile.” When it comes to choking, builders of bulging biceps beware when trying to execute BJJ techniques as self-defense moves: Skinny arms are easier to insert into tight spaces such as the gap between a resisting opponent’s head and shoulder or chin and chest, and bony limbs make the constriction more immediate. “And if your biceps are too big, it’s hard to even get your arms in deep enough,” he says. Caveat for execution of self-defense moves: Depending on the state or country in which you live, you may want to forgo all-out choking as a strategy among your self-defense moves because juries often misinterpret it as an attempt to kill. “It’s better to use a choke to restrain someone than it is to render him unconscious,” John Machado says. “A choke is like a gun: You cannot use it on everybody who assaults you.” Believe it or not, there are people who are immune to some choking techniques, John Machado says. “It’s very rare, but I’ve encountered martial artists who cannot be choked out. One was a friend of mine in Brazil: Renaldo, an old-time black belt under the Gracies. When we would see him, he would say, ‘Come and test your choke.’ He would give us his neck, and we couldn’t choke him because of the way his body was built. “At my school in Culver City, California, I have one student like that. If you try a collar choke or cross-choke on him, your grip will get tired before you beat him. With a full back choke, though, he’ll tap.” If you ever encounter an opponent who’s resistant to chokes, John Machado says, follow the same principle described above and move on to an armbar or some other grappling technique. About the Author: Robert W. Young is the executive editor of Black Belt. For more information about John Machado, visit

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