Thursday, August 12, 2010

Being choked - a realistic approach to a dangerous attack

I was surfing around YouTube the other day, watching clips of various martial arts and artists in actions.  I stumbled across some choke defenses being demonstrated.  It struck me how silly some of the techniques being taught are, and how poorly they were being taught.

I was watching one clip of a teacher showing a student what to do if they were on the receiving end of a choke, from the front.  In this particular clip, it was a large man choking a petite woman.  The defense she was demonstrating was to put her index and middle finger together, reach up over the attacker's arms, turn her hand upside down (like an upside down gun) and then to push the two fingers into the attackers throat.  He immediately let go, stumbling backwards as her fingers found their mark in that lovely little niche at the bottom of the throat.

They were smiling.  She laughed, I expected high fives all around.  He said something along the lines of "See how easy it is?"

Well, it's not really that easy.

Chokes are serious business.  If someone is choking you, they are trying to hurt you.  They may be trying to kill you, or rape you.  Chokes also come on quick and a talented person can put you unconscious in a matter of seconds.

Any defense techniques being taught need to be realistic, effective and fast.  The technique being taught in the video can work, but in order for it to do so, you must not be off balance, you must have some finger strength, it must be done properly, (in and down to the throat) and the attacker must not be tensed up or have put their chin down.  That's a lot to ask or figure out when you may have only a second or two to react, if that.

The most important thing to do is teach yourself to react instantly and instinctively the second someones hands go on your throat.  The only real advantage we have here is that someone choking you is not something that's ever o.k. (outside the dojo). You don't need to try to figure out what your attacker's motives are.  It's not something like a bump or a slap on the back or a grab that might not actually be threatening or too serious given the circumstances.  A choke means bad intentions.

There are lots of good techniques out there but the two key points in my mind are to:

1.  React instantly.  Do something.  Anything.  And do it hard.
2.  Tuck your chin (it'll buy you a second or two before you go unconscious)

These aren't really two separate steps as both need to be done at the same time.

The point of this post is not to evaluate what techniques will and won't work.  It's purpose is to point out the necessity to train realistically for one of the most dangerous attacks there are.  Gross motor skills are probably the way to go as being choked is a high stress traumatic event.  Degradation of fine motor skills is rapid with the loss of blood and oxygen to the brain.  Don't be timid, you may only get one chance.  Lights out = Game over.  So train as if your life depends on it, because if you're being choked, it just might.

Still have fun in your training, of course, but be aware of the need to really consider what it is you're practicing defending against when you train.

Be safe.


  1. Excellent post! My husband wanted to show me how difficult it can be to break a front choke hold and got me to try a few things to release his grip on me. The only things that worked were techniques where I could unbalance him first, so, (if I had room to step back) step back into a back stance and swing my arm right over and crash it down hard onto both of his arms - he found it impossible to hold on with this. Another technique was to reach under his arms and grab one (with either one of both of my hands) and pull down hard on his elbow. This unbalanced him and made him let go with that arm. I could follow both these techniques up with a strike to his face/neck. Nothing else I tried worked. As you pointed out it's much harder to break a determined persons grip on your neck than you realise!

  2. choke defense, i think (and know you do too) should be tested at some point under some sort of similar force as an attack... and against a wall... and on the ground... etc. this also makes you more comfortable with a split second of that disgusting choking feeling (which may help you not panic as much in a real situation)....

  3. Sue, unbalancing your opponent is crucial. The technique you described sounds similar to one of my favorites. You point either one of your arms straight up (reach for the sky), turn your body and step into your attacker in the direction of your raised arm. (ie: if right arm up, step in with right foot) Your arm comes over both his/her arms and then down. I have seem very small people use this against very big people with success. Both the attackers arms are tied up and you can come back easily with your elbow to the head. I also like this as it can be done equally well when you are against a wall or if your are being forced backwards. With serious attacks, we need to find commonality of technique so we can react more effectively.

    J.C., The sickening feeling of a choke can easily paralyze the unprepared. It's always awful, but you're right, if you've felt it before you can still think when it's being applied.

    Thanks for your comments.