Wow, I googled ‘best BJJ submissions’ and the advice out there is ridiculous. I literally see people writing that the Gogoplata is the best jiu jitsu submission, while it should clearly in the bottom tier. I feel it’s my duty to give a realistic list of the best BJJ submissions, which is what I’ll try to do in this article. So my submission ranking here is well founded in first principles and it’s evidence based – you’ll see what I mean.
How do we choose ‘the best submission in BJJ’?
All submissions in BJJ work sometimes, so they’re all good. So how can we even distinguish between the worst and best submissions in BJJ? I propose a dual approach that’s both evidence based and from first principles.
With evidence based I mean that we look at which submissions work the most in reality. We take high level BJJ competition into account, but also low level BJJ competition and MMA competition, to make our list more robust. As a data source we use a compiled list of the most common submissions in BJJ and the UFC from tapology. We favor those submissions that:
- Work in a wide variety of situations.
- Are used by many different fighters.
- Have effectively been used by smaller fighters to beat bigger opponents.
We’ll also derive our list from first principles. These are principles that theoretically make sense and help us understand why some submissions are better than others. I won’t work out these first principles here completely, but they include that:
- Submissions in which we employ stronger muscle groups are favorable over those that employ weaker muscle groups.
- Submissions that attack weaker joints are favorable over those that attack stronger structures.
- All else being equal, chokes are favorable over joint locks, because you can’t tough them out.
The Best BJJ Submissions Tier List
I have explanations for why the tier 1 submissions are the best BJJ submissions in the article below. But if you just want a quick overview of where the different submissions fall, this is my BJJ submissions tier list:
|Tier A||Tier B||Tier C||Tier D (Trash Tier)|
|Chokes from the back||Arm triangle||Americana||Calf slicer|
|Triangle choke||D’arce choke||Anaconda choke||Buggy choke|
|Arm Bar||Kimura||Straight Ankle lock||Most wrist locks|
|Guillotine||Various gi chokes (baseball, |
cross collar, papercutter)
|Heel Hook||North south choke||(Most other submissions)|
If you want to read more about all these and more submissions I also encourage you to check out my submissions knowledge base.
The Best BJJ Submissions
Here’s the ranked list of best BJJ submissions based on our mixed approach that’s evidence based and from first principles. Please, use this list when you choose which submissions to focus on in your game, and disregard other similar lists.
1. The Choke from the Back
The chokes from the back is by far the best BJJ submission. It’s the most common submission in BJJ, no matter if it’s gi or no gi, and in MMA, across all skill levels. It’s been the most common submission ever since Royce Gracie used it to beat everybody at UFC 1, and even before that during the Gracie challenge matches. And I don’t even need to distinguish between the rear naked choke and gi chokes from the back here, because they’re all pretty much equally high percentage.
We can also understand why the choke from the back is the best submission from first principles. Firstly, you’re behind your opponent, which is easily the most overpowered thing to do in combat sports. Humans just can’t fight behind them effectively at all. Further, the choke from the back uses relatively strong muscle groups (the arms and back) to attack the weakest part of the human body, the neck.
2. The Triangle Choke
The triangle choke is the second best jiu jitsu submission. This is most easily understoof from first principles: you use the strongest part of your body (your legs) against the weakest part of your opponent’s body (his neck). And it’s a choke, which is generally preferable over joint locks.
The evidence also speaks in favor of the triangle choke being one of the best BJJ submissions. It’s frequently used in both mixed martial arts competitions and in Brazilian jiu jitsu submissions, across all skill levels. It’s only the 4th most common submission in the UFC, below the guillotine and the armbar (more on that later). But Royce Gracie used it to win his toughest UFC match against the much larger Dan Severn in UFC 2. Anderson Silva used it to beat Chael Sonnen in a UFC title match. The riangle choke has got a great track record.
3. The guillotine choke
The guillotine choke is the third best BJJ submission. If we look at the evidence, you might even think it’s the second best BJJ submission. Particularly because it’s the second most used submission in the UFC, below the rear naked choke but above the armbar and triangle choke. However, these stats are somewhat inflated because fighters that got rockey by a strike often shoot fot a takedown and get guillotined bacause of it (“Oh, you’re a wrestler now?!“).
And the first principles also explain why the guillotine choke is one of the best jiu jitsu submissions. you use your arm, and whole body to an extent, against your opponent’s neck. And the guillotine choke is still a naked choke, which is generally more high percentage than head and arm chokes (such as the Anaconda and D’Arce), because the arm doesn’t block the force from the choke.
4. The Armbar
The armbar is the best joint lock in BJJ and MMA. It’s so strong because yo use the deadlift motion of your whole body against your opponent’s relatively weak elbow joint. It’s easy to see that this is more high percentage than for example the knee bar, which uses the exact same deadlift motion to attack a much stronger joint (the knee, which is part of the oh so strong leg).
The armbar also has a fantastic track record. It’s actually the second most common submission in the UFC. But, this is somewhat misleading, because if a fighter finishes an armbar from the triangle position, it’s registered as an armbar finish rather than as a triangle armbar. Nevertheless, the armbar is extremely common in MMA, high level BJJ and also at white belt and blue belt BJJ competitions.
5. Heel Hooks
Heel hooks are the fifth best submission in BJJ. Let’s start explaining this by our first principles. In the heel hook we bridge into the side of the knee while twisting the heel, which effectively employs a lot of force against the ACL and MCL, which are some of the weakest ligaments in our body. Further, heel hooks lead to catastrophic injuries, so they can’t be ignored as easily as som other footlocks.
Heel hooks also have a lot of evidence in favor of them. Currently, they’re the most common submission in no gi jiu jitsu. However, they haven’t caught on in mixed martial arts yet, aside from with a few grappling specialists. It may only be a matter of time before they become common in the UFC, but in no gi people are already getting better at defending them as well.
Don’t Agree With Me? Read This
Let me address some obejctions to my submission ranking that I’m sure some people have.
Shouldn’t heel hooks be higher in the list?
I think there are some people that would want to put heel hooks (much) higher on this list. However, I think that the evidence in favor of them is still too young. And based on first principles, we have to accept that the arm bar looks stronger, just because arms are so much weaker than legs, and therefore easier to control and attack. But, if heel hooks stay as dominant as they are now, and start working in MMA, I’ll reconsider my position.
Also, heel hooks are relatively risky. In MMA they can leave you exposed to punches (ask Ryan Hall about this). And in BJJ they almost always lead to a degree of back exposure. And people are getting better and better at countering leg locks with back takes, so this is quite a big downside.
Isn’t the guillotine better than the triangle?
Some people will ephasize the frequency of guillotines and want to put them even higher in the list. But, we should also consider that guillotines fail very often in the UFC. In those cases, fighters end up on bottom, which is very bad.
Simply put, UFC fighters try the guillotine way more often than the triangle. But if we didn’t look at absolute numbers but instead at success rates in terms of percentages, triangles would do better.
BJJ Submissions Tier List (Honorable Mentions)
The following are not among the tier 1 absolute best submissions in BJJ, but they’re still very good. Let’s call them the tier 2 submissions, in no particular order:
- Arm triangle
- D’arce choke
- Various gi chokes (baseball, cross collar, papercutter)
And let’s call the following tier 3 submissions, in no particular order:
- Toe hold
- Anaconda choke
- Straight Ankle lock
- Peruvian neck tie
- North south choke
If I didn’t mention your favorite submission by now, it’s probably because it belongs in the trash tier. Submissions in the trash tier include:
- Calf slicer
- Buggy choke
- Most wrist locks