Neck Cranks And Their Place In Jiu-Jitsu

If you’ve ever been in some sort of hold and the muscles and joints in your neck started to feel pain, you’ve been neck cranked.  Neck cranks, like certain leglocks, are somewhat of a taboo in competition oriented Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Some comps allow for them, but for the most part they’re a no-no.  They are also viewed by many as an impolite set of moves.  I recently saw a meme on Jiu Jidiots with a picture of a little boy standing in front of his instructor with the caption “Professor where do neck cranks come from?” and then the response from the instructor “Son neck cranks come from chokes that are defended improperly”.  I have some thoughts on this…

For starters, neck cranks can be legitimate techniques.  In fact, there are a LOT of  neck/face attacks which avoid closing off the carotid arteries or the wind pipe but elicit submission.  These moves exist in many grappling arts, and are completely legitimate.

Neck Cranks CAN be a result of poorly defended chokes.

If a person is being choked, their defense can often result in their neck or chin being twisted.  In this sort of situation, the rules (or lack thereof) can determine what is or is not acceptable for the other person to do.  In an mma fight or certain grappling competitions, the person applying the choke turned crank can go ahead and crank away.  However, in many academies and in many popular tournaments, if it no longer looks like a choke it is no longer legal.

A poorly or hastily applied choke can become a neck crank

When applying a choke on someone you don’t want to injure, try to secure your position and apply the choke slowly enough that if it does turn into a crank, they have time to tap.  If you are being choked by someone and don’t have a good way out and feel popping in your neck, TAP.  If you are too prideful to tap to what has gone from being a potential choke to a definitely neck crank, it’s your own fault if you get injured.

I try to make a point of asking my training partners after I’ve secured a choke that may or may not be a crank if they tapped to the choke or the crank.  This allows me to gauge the effect of my intent.  I personally always intend to CHOKE and not crank my training partners because I don’t want to injure them unnecessarily, but if I do inadvertently crank their necks, I want to be aware of it so that I can make the changes I need to my game to avoid doing so in the future.

Cranks may have a place in grappling

Unlike chokes, neck cranks are fundamentally similar to joint locks in that if you clamp down on them fast during training you will likely injure your training partners, similarly as a training partner if you are being neck cranked, remember that unlike a choke, a neck crank can do permanent damage to the neck joints and should be treated accordingly.

Be careful with neck cranks as they can potentially injure training partners, but also be aware that they can be a potent weapon in any grappler’s arsenal.

CORRECTION: this article initially used the match between Josh Barnett and Dean Lister as an example of a neck crank applied effectively in competition.  It has since been brought to my attention by many of our readers that the move was in fact a chest compression/choke rather than a neck crank so I have removed the mention of that match from this piece.  Thank you for fact checking me!

Emil Fischer is an active blue belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training with Strong Style Brasa and is sponsored by Pony Club Grappling Gear and Cruz Combat. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and




  1. Barnett did not submit Dean Lister with a neck crank. It’s a chest compression.

    The submission factor comes from the fact that your chest can’t expand to pull in more air, but as you exhale, your chest collapse and it gets tighter and tighter. You’re fighting to prevent your chest from collapsing and that burns up all your air reserves until the CO2 content is too high and your body goes into panic mode… and that’s where the tap happens.

    Try it, and you will see there is very little pressure on the neck in that position. It’s a very safe submission.

    For a good example of neck crank in competition, check out the twister

  2. As the commenter above noted, Barnett used a chest compression choke, NOT a neck crank.

    That being said, complaining about neck cranks is like complaining about footlocks…learn to defend against them instead of complaining about people doing them. It’s not that hard, and it waters down the art when people ban legitimate submissions instead of evolving their game to overcome them.


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