EA Sports UFC And The Rear Naked Choke

I’m sitting cross-legged in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class filled with other game journalists. The instructor has just asked us a question: ‘anyone in the room ever been choked out?’

Awkwardly, tentatively, I’m the only person in the room to raise their arm. Yes, I have been choked out before.

There’s an explanation for this.

I grew up in Scotland — a cold, harsh country where people mostly while the hours away drinking and threatening to stab one another. Case in point: my friends and I used to strangle each other. For fun. As fans of WWF we’d take turns putting each other in a sleeping hold until we’d legitimately put each other to sleep. One day my Mum caught us doing it. She was pretty furious. She threatened to stab us.

Back then choking someone out was as simple as copying Rowdy Roddy Piper on television. His special move was the sleeper hold and, as a young Scottish kid pretending to beat up his buddies on the playground, his example was as good as any.

I’m about to find out that putting someone to sleep is way more complicated than wrapping my gangly arms around someone’s neck and squeezing really tightly.

But first, a tangent. I write about video games for a living. The Jiu Jitsu class I’m referring to took place at a preview event for EA Sports UFC, EA’s first attempt at a fully licensed UFC game.

Secondly, a clarification. I’m a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Huge. I watch fights from all the organisations, Bellator, WSOF, UFC... I read websites daily. I subscribe to Reddit/r/MMA. I know the names of the fighters. I follow them on Twitter. My level of MMA fandom is almost at the level of my video game fandom.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I sat cross legged in my very first Jiu Jitsu class thinking I knew what I was talking about and that I was ‘hot shit’.

I did not know what I was talking about. I am not ‘hot shit’.

I am just regular old shit.

Take the ‘Rear Naked Choke’ for example. The Rear Naked Choke, as far as I can decipher, is the closest thing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the strangling game my friends and I engaged in. Given my experience you’d think I’d be somewhat of an expert, but I was clueless. If I learned anything in my short time trying to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu it was this: even the simplest moves require set ups. Even the simplest moves are complicated.

With the rear naked choke I was supposed to have ‘hooks-in’. Meaning that I couldn’t just grab someone’s neck and start squeezing – that’s a position way too easy for an opponent to defend and escape from. In order to successfully choke someone out, it was important for me to take my legs, tie them up in my opponents legs then go for the choke.

And then the choke itself. Good technique was very specific and precise. You are supposed to grab your own bicep, you are supposed to squeeze at very specific points. I wasn’t aware of that. I wasn’t aware of any of this. In Scotland we just choked each other to sleep. For a laugh.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu it seems, is all in the details.

Which is all just a convoluted way of saying that EA Sports UFC is a game that takes care of those details. I suspect that’s why a horde of game journalists were invited to this class in the first place. To take the lesson, then head upstairs, play the game and then have that ‘whoa, I just did that in real life, that’s a fairly accurate rendition of the rear-naked-choke’.

The details. It’s all in the details. But what’s interesting about EA Sports UFC, and all sports video games for that matter, is this: it allows you the player to take those details for granted. It allows you to forget details in the way that masters forget them: in that the details become so well learned that you can simply fight on a higher plane, like an expert. MMA fighters with black belts in Jiu Jitsu aren’t fumbling and bumbling their way into a rear naked choke, wondering if they’ve got their left arm where their right arm should be — they move with the volition of muscle memory in full flow. Hours of practice render the most complicated moves instinctual and predatory. Sure, fighting is a thinking man’s game, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is often described as a physical, brutal chess game — but these men and women aren’t deliberating for hours over a single move, they’re buffed up Kasparovs chunking strategies dozens of moves ahead. Complicated manoeuvres flow easily and it all looks simple. It’s not simple.

But thankfully EA Sports UFC makes it simple — and I mean that in a positive way. I spent 20 minutes trying to learn the most efficient way to put another human being to sleep. I don’t want to do that in a video game about fighting. I want to be empowered, I want to do things that make me look super cool. I want the shortcut because video games are escapism and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Because, ultimately, every movement you make in video games is a metaphor. Some we take for granted, like a button press equals a punch in your opponent’s goddamn face. But when it comes to the subtle art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu those metaphors because a little more complicated to decipher. Exactly how will you represent that? How will you negate those 20 minutes I spent hugging another man, learning precise movements. How will you make that a video game thing.

I like EA’s solution. I really do. A mini game that wears its metaphor on its sleeve. A metaphor so simple and abstract that it’s actually difficult to describe it without making it sound like the most boring thing on the planet. At its simplest (and it is simple) you must defend by pushing the right analogue stick in one direction for a specific amount of time. The player attempting the submission can stop the defense by moving the right analogue stick in the same direction at the exact same time, but also must also be aware of timing movements on the left analogue stick to advance the submission.

It’s a good metaphor. It’s a metaphor that takes care of those pesky details and allows you to compete on that higher level. Almost as if you were an expert with thousands of hours of martial arts and didn’t just completely put the wrong arm onto the wrong bicep, almost as if you didn’t just completely fuck up one of the simplest moves because you have no idea what you were doing.

Like all good sports games, EA Sports UFC lets you pretend you know what the hell you’re doing.


    Awkwardly, tentatively, I’m the only person in the room to raise their arm. Yes, I have been choked out before.
    There’s an explanation for this. I grew up in Scotland

    Explanation could have ended here

    Last edited 19/06/14 2:13 pm

      Or also just this

      How will you negate those 20 minutes I spent hugging another man, learning precise movements. How will you make that a video game thing.

    Mark, if you like MMA you're surely going to get a kick out of this:


      Looks interesting but really not a spectator sport, was getting motion sick watching that as it was and that was with it being interspersed with interviews

    Did you enjoy it and are you going back for more training @markserrels ?

    I’ve been training Jiu-Jitsu for the past 6 years and I love it to death.
    I remember my first classes and (like you) thinking I had some idea of what I was doing based on my knowledge of MMA.

    You can see something done and THINK you understand it, but unless someone teaches you how it’s done and you practice it you’ll never get it to work.... and even then even when you think you’ve got your fundamentals down, you meet someone who shows you that you know absolutely nothing.

    I still get that after 6 years and I know people who still get it at black belt. The sport is just incomprehensibly deep, particularly when training with a gi.

    Looking forward to getting hold of UFC this afternoon. I’m of the understanding that the gound game is pretty simplistic (it was in the demo anyway), but like you were getting at, it’s not about being technically difficult- it’s about being able to get into the game and enjoy the fights.

      Isn't BJJ great?! I started about three years ago and the catalyst was actually EA Sports MMA... Sounds strange but I was fighting online everyday my record was around 2500-600 so I nwas putting a lot of hours into it just because I enjoy MMA and the BJJ side of it. But one day I thought to myself - why dont i put this energy into actually doing it?!

      So three years or so on and i pick up the EA Sports UFC game - Im making my character last night and went through the first fights of the career mode - thoroughly enjoying it - and then I started unlocking some moves with the points I had earned... I went for moves which are MY go to moves in real life - gogoplata from mount, and arm triangle from side control... It spun me out!!! Here i was 3 years ago playing a game and going "it would be sick to do that!", but now I am playing a game and saying "well I do that all the time and catch people with it so my character HAS to be able to do that!"... It was a real moment for me and reminded me of the progression I have made over the years!!!

      Keep at it I've found the BJJ community here in SA absolutely genuine guys(and some girls) who love a good scrap and help each other to keep improving! I hope Mark keeps at it - its a sport everyone can do and if you love the game - may as well do it!

        HAHA that’s awesome. I do the exact same thing and i'm looking forward to putting my character together tonight so he's a (hopefully much better) representation of my own pretty average grappling style.

        Also where on earth are you training that you head for the gogoplata from mount as a go-to move? Is that something they teach in your gym? I'm maybe the only guy at my gym who hits gogoplatas from a high/rubber guard with anything near regularity but it’s not part of our general syllabus and I’ve never hit one from mount.
        I’ve thought about trying a few times but it’s too hard to get close on guys my own size/ experience and crushing the trachea of a skinny white-belt trying a move I’ve never been taught just seems kinda mean….

        It’s actually one of those moves that I’d be fine if EA sports didn’t put it in a the game and one of the things I was worried about when I saw the first trailers. EA sports putting all the flashy stuff in at the expense of proper basics.
        I can do a flying cage kick but Jon Jones and Alexander Gustaffson hit the exact same “power slam” takedown despite having completely different styles, I can hit a gogoplata from mount but the fighters can’t touch gloves at the start of the match, Jon Jones can’t throw a traditional leg kick but he can do a cartwheel kick….. I know these things look badass on the trailer but I think I’d prefer they focus more on fundamentals.

        There’s NEVER been a mounted gogoplata finish in the UFC. To my knowledge Vinny Magalhaes is the only guy ever to compete in the UFC who’s won a fight with one, even then that was outside the UFC and he was cut over a year ago….. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the move is there, but I bet the game is missing basic subs or transitions so it can be.

          No no one teaches that at my club it's just something I go to since having a Nick Diaz gogplata wallpaper on my pc for like a year a few years back. I've just developed my own tech with it and it seems easy for me - being light and flexible - to get my legs involved to help from the mount... Some guys know its coming from me and they'll get the sweep but then you end up back in ALMOST a rubber guard so just work from there.

          I cant remember correctly but Nick Diaz back in the day smashed Gomi(Not in the UFC at that time though) with a beautiful gogo but my absolute fave is Shinya Aoki - Think hes hit it from mount a couple of times.

          Dont get me wrong its just something I enjoy - I dont condone going for it but I train with a lot of guys who are bigger so from mount a lot of limb options arent really there for me as they tend to power out when we are rolling. So i usually bring my leg up stick it under their throat and from there its on - they dont expect it most of the time unless they roll with me a lot lol... But like I said in my comment earlier if the head arm choke/arm triangle is there i like to nestle my head under their shoulder and work for that too... Gotta be a bit sneaky with the bigger guys and i find chokes easier on bigger necks too haha

          Im big on triangles too - Im that leggy kind of annoying guy btu so is my instructor - hes a bit flashy and loves the flashy stuff so he promotes that shit but always picks on the basics too so its a good balance. We go to another affiliate club every month and they are a lot more technical but the unorthodox ends up getting them when it comes to rolling time! The comment you made about the flashy stuff in the game missing out some basics is true - But I cant complain because thats also very true for my game in real life lol

          Keep rolling man - enjoy it and feel the flow

    I don't like how the guy in the top picture is staring into my soul! D:

      That was your avatar asking, why did you let me get into this position
      For the users!

    "I did not know what I was talking about. I am not ‘hot shit’.

    I am just regular old shit."

    This line was gold. I might borrow this one Mark. I'm borrowing it. I hope you don't mind.

    My karate instructor used me for a demonstration of the rear naked choke once. He decided to hold on a bit longer, and used me as a demonstration of the end result - he put me out. Next thing I know, I'm shooting to my feet with no idea where I am or what I'm doing there. The disorientation lasted a short while, slowly returning my appreciation of my position, whereupon I declared (still light-headed) that I must have somehow fallen asleep, which brought raucous laughter.

    Apparently I flopped around on the floor a bit while unconscious. Apparently highly amusing.

    But when the technique was applied properly, I was unconscious in maybe 10 seconds or so. Takes almost no time when the person doing the choking knows what they're doing.

      A BJJ instructor would have you out in less than 5 seconds... lol

        True. I think my instructor was doing it a tad slow on purpose, but it's hard to tell when everything's turning black haha.

          Time fades and it can feel like forever lol

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