October 10

Kesa Gatame: The Devastating Ground Hold


kesa gatame


Kesa Gatame or as many people call it- The Scarf Hold is a staple of Judo training from the first lesson.

It is also seen in Wrestling where there is no doubt it would have first been seen and where it is called the Head and Arm hold.

And in this article we are going to breakdown one of the most powerful techniques in grappling, Judo and Self-Defence.


Let’s do this.

How To Apply Kesa Gatame


There are several versions of Kesa Gatame and depending on your system, body shape and style you will pick one that suits you.

However, to apply the basic Kesa Gatame you will have your body next to the body of the opponent.

From there you will take hold around the head and also take the arm of the opponent with the other hand.

Your body weight should be directly on the opponents as well.

My good freind Matt D’ Aquino from Beyond Grappling demonstrates Kesa Gatame perfectly in this video below.


What Does Kesa Gatame Feel Like?

It feels like your whole body is being crushed at the same time as you are being asphyxiated.

It is so brutal that it was  banned by most government agencies in their restraint programmes.

One of the reasons for this is that the hold lead to the death of individuals being restrained.

In essence, the scarf hold delivers what we call positional asphyxia.

This means that a person can be asphyxiated as a result of their body position.

Because Kesa Gatame applies pressure to the chest (in the Judo version) the person on the bottom struggles to breathe and this can be further exacterbated if the person of the floor is intoxicated or overweight.

Death can be quick and happen in seconds.

However you can vary the technique to avoid this from happening.

Kesa Gatame In Self Defence 

Kesa Gatame does have great uses in self-defence.

Firstly, if I have to use it in a real fight (which I have), I am not using it to choke anyone out, as a choke goes, it is not great and causes pain far faster but we aren’t looking for the tap out, so you need to use it as a holding position.

To do this, take the kesa as you would normally.

However with this kesa you are going to grasp behind the back of the head and bring the head towards you.

Your aim is to bring his chin to his chest.

With the neck in that position it brings their shoulders even further off the ground and makes escape very difficult.

Once in that position you can do a range of things.

My personal favourite is locking the arm undet the leg and punching to the face.

They have no defence and as such you end the fight really quickly.

Kesa Gatame In Grappling Sports

Former UFC champion and well known catch wrestler Josh Barnett took on one of the worlds best grapplers Dean Lister.

A man who hadnt been submitted for 16 years!

This was a classic match up which you can watch below (until it gets removed). Josh the bigger man came in looking out of shape and slightly reminiscent of Dan Severn with his black trunks yet he made this a one sided fight.

The final submission comes right at the end but please take a look at it, watch the power of kesa gatame in action.

In a world where the rear naked choke gets so much press its nice to see an old school move back in fashion.

Remember that wrestling and Judo are designed not to put a person in another grapplers guard. They are all about throws and takedowns where the thrower ends up past the legs where brutal moves like kesa gatame can be applied.

I have a lot of respect for Jiu Jitsu but all fights start on the feet not on the ground.  

Judo and similar arts including Sambo were developed without the reliance on the guard game and it  a factor worth considering.


Kesa Gatame is a versatile tool for any grappler.

Once dismissed as an old school Judo technique, it is infact a devatstaing technique with a wide range of options.

Learn it, train it and use it if you end up scrapping on the floor.

Thanks for reading.

Andrew Holland



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