Fear Mongering

I’m sure you all have seen the thing where Devin Johnson got paralyzed via guillotine. So two things are naturally going to happen when you share it – one, people are going to flip out and start trying to protect themselves and their students from guillotines by unnecessarily banning them, or two, people are going to blow it off as some hype. The first is a lot safer. The second is probably better for the future of grappling. I want to emphasize – I’m not calling this guy out, he got injured and that sucks, but we can do things to reduce the chance of it happening to us and our partners. These things aren’t “don’t do guillotines.” They’re doing take downs more responsibly. We all know the guillotine’s safe once you’re on the ground, getting there is where the issues happen.

I’ll admit, I’ve been playing a bit of a fear monger on this. There are a few great ways to break a neck, and the guillotine as a take down or off a take down are among them, but the conditions have to be right. The best ways to cause neck injury from the technique are pretty obvious so it’s more about both people knowing where the major risk areas are and just being sensible. Quite frankly, that’s what I mean about IBJJF intervention. Don’t get me wrong – I AM AGAINST BANNING TECHNIQUES – but by limiting the direction someone can take a guillotine injuries can be prevented from people who aren’t able/willing to act safely. This seems like a realistic solution – the guillotine as many of you know it is banned by the IJF and the IBJJF already bans certain techniques on one side for safety (reaping the knee versus 50-50 guard for example). So let’s talk about safety, because honestly, I want kani basami back, but people can’t seem to do it without breaking legs.


So, I said the IJF bans the guillotine as you know it. That’s probably true, but won’t be true in all cases. As a general rule of thumb in BJJ, if it’s a neck crank and a choke it’s a choke, but in judo, if it’s a neck crank and a choke it’s a neck crank. This is so extreme that you will get called for a neck crank by pulling down on the head during a triangle choke in a judo match. So anything that turns the guillotine into a neck crank is banned – side note, that’s pretty much everything you do to finish it unless your opponent is just letting you do it. Arching your hips – banned. Turning their head with your forearm to get a better placement on the neck to squeeze – banned (considered a rotational neck crank). The only way that seems legal in judo is to make your space in advance, get the forearm across the windpipe, and pull directly into the trachea until they tap. Yeah – we can attack windpipes directly in judo, but we can’t drive with our hips on a rear-naked. Go figure. Nevertheless, this does provide a guillotine which has a very low risk of spine injury.

Another thing judo bans is the use of submission holds as take downs and the application in an unsafe manner. This bans using the guillotine as a sacrifice throw and trying to finish a guillotine before you have control of their hips (i.e. mid take down). Different refs will interpret when is safe in different ways, but to be honest, doing a guillotine mid take down is still going to mean you lose the judo match, so disqualification might only be an issue in the circumstance that you actually hurt the guy who’s doing the take down and get disqualified from the tournament.

Finally – head diving. Even if I were allowed to shoot doubles in judo, well, let’s say I’m in a situation where I am allowed to, I couldn’t head dive. What that means is when I go to finish a throw or take down I’m not allowed to drive with my head directly forward. There’s too great a risk of injury to my neck. It’s not just morote gari (double leg), I can’t head dive on any throw including (but not limited to) o soto gari, uchi mata, or seoi nage. It’s my responsibility as someone who throws to make sure my head isn’t going somewhere it shouldn’t.


I hate the IJF rules when it comes to a lot of things. I’m all for reintroducing a lot of techniques which were banned because of safety concerns. My reason for it is that they’re generally banned because people were idiots as opposed to the technique really being inherently dangerous. In an ideal world people would only do the techniques they know how to perform safely and instructors would put enough emphasis on how to finish it safely. Pretty much everything can be done in a sensible manner. There are a couple of exceptions.

So, the guillotine – not inherently dangerous. In fact, both people have to fuck up for it to be an issue, and it’s possible to get the same results without even doing the guillotine itself.

Breaking Necks 101 – A Simple How To (or How Not To)

To start with – DO NOT DO BRIDGES. A neck with strong muscles to protect and support the spine during high risk situations is just going to get in the way of having it broken. You want a nice thin neck that’s going to break on contact. I’ve provided three methods to put the neck at high risk below. They’re not going to break the neck every time, but they’re a great place to start jacking someone’s neck up (even your own).

Method 1
  1. Shoot your double – make sure your head is on the outside and down by their hip.
  2. When they sink in the guillotine don’t cut the angle and throw them away from your neck – totally keep driving forward so that your face goes into the ground.
Method 2
  1. Your opponent shoots a terrible double.
  2. Catch him in the guillotine.
  3. Jump guard – don’t just pull him down, jump into full guard and use that elbow to direct the head into the ground.
Method 3
  1. Your opponent shoots a terrible double.
  2. Catch him in the guillotine.
  3. As he drives forward set up a true guillotine suplex where you toss him over the shoulder that’s holding his head such that you both land on your back.
  4. Pull the head abruptly toward your chest before landing to try to keep the choke and prevent him from trying to spin out.

The guillotine stucture itself isn’t as important in the first two scenarios as the direction the head is being driven. It’s just as easy to do this by underhooking the far arm (cow catcher) or grabbing the gi and locking the head down with your elbow. Alternately if someone really is driving forward with a double and you just push down on their head as they drive you’ll be trapping the neck and they’ll go face first on their own. The important thing is locking the neck and making sure the head is one of the first things to hit so it can absorb all of that sweet, sweet impact.

To avoid injury you can change angle as the person doing the double (examples: here and here). To avoid having your neck jacked when someone jumps guard POST. That’s a lot of pressure – spread it out instead of taking it all to your neck. I’m sure that’s easier said than done in a fast-paced, high-adrenaline competition scenario, but put some time into training it. I’m generally against posting in these kinds of scenarios because you’ll see some horrible compound fractures result from people trying to post during a throw which has sufficient momentum, but in this case, broken arm beats broken neck. Definitely a lesser of two evils.

As the person who’s jumping guard or doing the sacrifice throw, consider variations which end up with you in mount. Chances are pretty good you’re controlling the position of their back and hips, so by having them do a full roll the pressure won’t be on the neck – they’ll kind of roll through it. A great way to do this is the judo throw sumi gaeshi which is frequently done with the head trapped anyway. Just make sure to bring them over the correct direction. If I have Tanner’s head in a guillotine on my right side, I’ll put my right shin on the inside of Tanner’s left thigh and drop in to a back roll over my left shoulder. I don’t let Tanner flatten out though – I continue the roll until I’m in mount. This will also prevent me from pulling to break the neck when we both flatten out (method 3). Alternately, if I end up with the arm-in guillotine I can do a scissors-sweep-esque movement where I drop to the hip away from their neck and spin. Controlling the arm should allow you to keep them from getting any real base by posting and you can just switch your hips into mount.

I really need a camera and someone willing to shoot


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