Common chokeholds (different from a rear-naked choke) are interesting attacks. In most cases, the attacker has placed themselves in severe jeopardy, and then mistakenly believes they hold the upper hand.
The first thing to realize about chokeholds is that your opponent has, in most cases, employed both hands in an attack and has left the remainder of his or her body unguarded. Thank you so much!
In the following discussion, we cover different types of chokeholds and some common methods you might employ to escape, thwart, or counter these attacks. Again you will find some similar sequences in the various Kuikku Bouei Kata.
Keep in mind that no self-defense method is likely to work in all situations, or even in the situation for which it is intended. There are too many variables to allow you to conclude that any single method of defense will work in a particular situation. The methods below work in some situations but may well need to be modified if your opponent has a different leg forward, outweighs you significantly, or has you pinned against a wall. In those cases and many others you might rely partially on the material below and partially on other conceptual material and additional skills you have learned in the past. Be adaptive and open-minded and not reliant on one specific method or approach to dealing with a conflict scenario.
You might see the terms choke, chokehold, strangle, strangulation, blood-choke, and air-choke used by various martial arts systems and practitioners. The terms are often used interchangeably but there are some differences.
Technically, choking is what happens when food gets caught in your throat. It is an internal restriction of your airway. Strangulation occurs when someone applies external pressure to your neck in an attempt to restrict airflow to your lungs and/or bloodflow to your brain.
Some martial artists make a distinction between two different forms of strangulation. They often use the term “air choke” to refer to strangulation methods intended primarily to restrict airflow. They might use the term “blood choke” to refer to strangulation methods intended primarily to restrict bloodflow.
These terms are used by the public and martial artists with little regard to their formal definitions. The term choke is commonly used to refer to anything that restricts airflow, bloodflow, or both.
We will generally use the term “choke” to refer to a strangulation method. We will use the terms “strangle” or “strangulation” when it is important to distinguish between internal and external methods of restriction. Just remember that when someone in the martial arts is talking about choking they are probably referring to strangulation unless they are also talking about the Heimlich Maneuver.
If your opponent is attacking and choking you from the front they almost universally will use two hands in their choking attempt. It is quite difficult (though not impossible) to choke someone with a single hand. As a result, both hands are normally employed.
This of course means the attacker has no effective guard in place. The first thing you need to do is check your fear and realize you have a very substantial opportunity. We will learn various ways in which you might exploit your relative good fortune.
Front Choke Escape Actions
The following methods might be used to escape from an applied chokehold. Think not only about how you apply a given sequence but also when and where one sequence might be more useful than another.
- Place your open right hand on the top and to the inside of your opponent’s left elbow and hook his or her elbow with your fingers. Simultaneously place your open left hand on the outside edge of your opponent’s right elbow. Now concurrently pull down and out with your right hand as you press both upward and inward with your left hand. At the same time rotate your center to your right and slightly dip your right shoulder. This sequence of movements should be done briskly and with substantial force. Your opponent will be compelled to release his or her grip. You must now flee or strike your opponent. This escape can be easily performed in the opposite direction as well. You may also want to think about how this sequence may lead to Nage.
- Place one open hand on the outside of each of your opponent’s elbows. Immediately press both of your opponent’s elbows inward aggressively. Immediately hook both of your hands over the top of the opponent’s elbows and pull down and outward very abruptly. One or both of these opposing movements will temporarily dislodge your opponent’s hands. You must now strike or immediately flee. Consider how this might not be the best choice if you find yourself pinned against a wall.
- Drive a very forceful Shotei Uchi up under each of your opponent’s elbows to force his or her hands up and off of your neck. This will provide you with a momentary reprieve of which you must now take full advantage. You must follow this escape with a checking motion or a strike that will preclude the opponent from reestablishing their prior grip. Be prepared to move away from your opponent or to physically harm them if you believe that is necessary.
Front Choke Thwart Actions
It is better to avoid a chokehold rather than having to escape from one. Here are a few methods you might find useful as someone attempts to apply a front chokehold. As with all such skills, not method is applicable in all situations. Try to appreciate when one method is more appropriate than another.
- As the opponent’s hands advance toward your neck, open both hands and then press upward on one of his or her wrists and downward on the other wrist. Rotate your center away from the opponent’s arms and step back. You must be prepared to escape or to counter-attack.
- This is similar to the prior thwarting action, except each of your hands presses down on one of the opponent’s wrists. This may cause your opponent to lower their head and shoulders in reaction to this movement. You must immediately step to the side to avoid a possible forward lunge from the attacker. Push the attacker at the shoulder to create distance from the opponent and then prepare to escape or disable your attacker.
- Step slightly to angle 5 or 7, ensuring you move both feet to move you out of the opponent’s center, and use your open front hand to intercept and redirect your opponent’s nearest arm away from you. Now continue spinning in the same direction as before to move behind and away from your opponent. Run toward angle 5 or 7, or find some way to take advantage of your position behind the opponent.
Front Choke Destroy Actions
If you are convinced the opponent intends to cause you harm, then you may need to use methods that will ensure the opponent cannot attack you further. Here are a few you might find useful.
- In quick succession drive a right and then left Angled Fist strike into the opponent’s solar plexus. Now drive a Morote Ura Ken Tsuki upward, between the opponent’s arms and into his or her chin. Next, take a step toward angle 4 as first your right and then your left hands check your opponent’s nearest arm. Now quickly strike with a Hidari Mae Ashi Mawashi Geri to the opponent’s lower abdomen or groin. You might elect to use your left arm to grasp the opponent’s nearest arm to keep it up to prevent it from interfering with your kick. Return the kick to facilitate a future controlling action or to initiate an escape.
- As the attacker’s hands approach, step slightly to angle 5 or 7 to move off your opponent’s center line. As you move place your open Back Hand on the inside of your attacker’s nearest arm and pull briskly inward as you use your front arm to drive a Mae Empi Uchi into the opponent’s nearest elbow. Both of these movements should track generally parallel to the floor. Keeping your front elbow bent, raise it to point to the attacker’s face and then deliver a Tettsui Uchi directly into the attacker’s face as your opposite hand repositions to check your opponent’s nearest arm. Step back to facilitate an escape or press forward to better control your opponent.
- Raise both arms either inside or outside of your opponent’s two arms. Where you place your arms will depend on whether your opponent has his or her elbows in close together or spread widely apart. Form an Ippon Nukite Uchi with each hand and quickly press this strike into each of your opponent’s eyes. Return these strikes so they impact the opponent’s arms, driving his or her arms down and to the outside. Now accelerate the rotation of your arms so they circle and deliver either a Morote Ura Ken Tsuki or Morote Mawashi Tsuki to the attacker’s head. Without returning your strikes, open your hands and press Morote Shotei Uchi down into each of the opponent’s shoulders to push the opponent’s upper torso back. Step back slightly into a Neko Ashi Dachi and then deliver a Mae Ashi Geri into the opponent’s abdomen. Now step forward to further control your opponent or retract your kick to initiate an escape.
These are again almost always dual handed choking attempts in which the opponent uses both hands to encircle your throat from behind. In some cases, the attacker may attempt to use his or her grasp to pull you back so they can attack a kidney with one of their knees. They may alternately press their forearms into the back of your shoulder to gain additional leverage for the choke. This might also be used to force you down onto the ground while maintaining the chokehold. This can be very dangerous and must be immediately overcome.
Rear chokes are a bit more limiting than front chokes, but there are still plenty of actions we can take to overcome this type of attack. In all cases, you will want to initiate your movements quickly and then act quite decisively. You will also always seek to lower your chin and raise your shoulders to limit the amount of pressure the attacker can apply to your throat.
Most of the following actions can and should be practiced on both sides. This is essential so that a movement can be performed even if there is a wall or some other obstruction that might preclude a specific movement as defined below. Executing a movement on the opposite side will often allow you to avoid such an obstruction.
Rear Choke Escape Actions
If the opponent is employing a simple choke from behind, without employing elbow leverage or other forceful actions, you might consider one of the following escape methods. These methods will not work well if your opponent has managed to root you.
- Instantly initiate a small step to your local angle 3 with your left leg, allowing your weight to transfer onto this leg. Immediately upon planting the leg use it to spring in the direction of your local angle 4. You will need to move your right leg in the direction of the local angle 4. This is done so that the opponent begins to adjust for movement in one direction, which you immediately reverse, making it very hard for them to compensate for this secondary movement. Immediately upon landing on your right foot step with your left leg to angle 7 and raise your guard. Turn toward your right until your right forearm impacts your opponent’s left arm, checking and forcing it away from you.
- Reach up with your right hand and firmly grasp the attacker’s right hand at the wrist. Now lower your shoulders and move your right leg behind your left leg and in the direction of angle 3 to establish a Juji Dachi. Rotate to your right to face angle 4 in a Zenkutsu Dachi as you move your left hand to assist with the grab of the attacker’s right wrist. Twist the attacker’s arm while keeping his or her elbow pointed downward to throw your attacker to the ground. They will land on their back. Decide whether to escape or to somehow further leverage the hold you maintain on your attacker’s arm.
- Raise your right arm skyward as you step back slightly with your right leg to angle 2. Briskly turn to face your opponent and drop your right hand to apply a Shotei Uchi down and into the attacker’s face. Maintain pressure on the opponent’s face with your right hand as you step to angle 6 with your left leg and apply forward pressure with your left hand to the attacker’s right hip. Your attacker should fall backward in front of you.
Rear Choke Thwart Actions
You can thwart an attack if you sense it is coming or if you react immediately upon the first contact. Since this form of attack is often a surprise, you may find it difficult to use a thwarting action. The following actions might prove useful if you see an attack developing or if you suspected it might happen. As always, be sure to lower your chin and raise your shoulders as part of your initial response to make it more difficult to apply a choke and to reduce its effectiveness.
- As the attack begins, bend your knees slightly (to lower your center of gravity thereby affecting the opponent’s structure) and step immediately to angle 7 with your left leg as you raise both hands to guard position. Now continue turning by stepping instantly to your angle 4. Your right forearm should intercept the opponent’s left forearm, causing the opponent to be moved slightly further away. You must ensure that your right elbow remains rigid during this turn so that your opponent is propelled away. Decide if you wish to strike or escape.
- As the opponent’s hands begin to press into your throat, quickly raise both hands and, grasping the assailant’s wrists, jerk his or her hands forward of your shoulders. Now bend your knees deeply and reach back with both hands to grab the opponent’s nearest leg. Place one hand behind the opponent’s heal and the other hand across the front of the opponent’s ankle. Push back with your hips into the opponent’s torso as you quickly lift the opponent’s leg upward. Now spring forward with both legs concurrently while retaining your grip on the attacker’s leg. Use your top hand to prevent the opponent’s leg from striking your groin. As you complete your hop, release the opponent’s leg and then either immediately turn to face them or sprint away. The attacker will likely be on the ground, affording you time to escape or close on your opponent.
- Immediately step forward with one leg to avoid the grab and raise the opposite leg to deliver an Ushiro Geri into the attacker’s abdomen. Return the kicking leg to either initiate your escape or turn back to further encounter your attacker.
Rear Choke Destroy Actions
Should you feel it necessary to somehow disable an attacker who is choking you, then you may wish to consider the following methods.
- Step to local angle 3 with your left leg and then move your right leg in beside your left. Immediately raise your right foot upward and strike with an Age Ushiro Geri to the opponent’s groin. You will strike with the back part of the heel of your right foot. Without returning this leg, step in behind your opponent’s right leg and use your shin to press into the back of his or her leg to initiate a leg collapse. Step to local angle 7 with your left leg as you apply additional pressure to the attacker’s right leg. Bend your right knee slightly to force the opponent to fall. Immediately retract your right leg and then use it to deliver a Mae Geri to the attacker’s face.
- Raise your right hand up and behind your back to protect both kidneys as you establish a Kiba Dachi. Instantly bend both knees and pitch your upper torso forward. Without hesitation slip your left leg behind your right leg to establish a Juji Dachi. Keeping your chest low and parallel to the floor, rotate to your left until your head is facing your opponent. You should be in a very deep Kiba Dachi and still bent steeply forward at the waist. The opponent’s hands should now be twisted in such a way that they can no longer grasp your neck. Rise quickly as you throw alternate left and right-hand strikes to the opponent’s thigh, groin, abdomen, solar plexus, chest, throat, and/or face as these targets become available. Try to strike the attacker at least three times as your rise to standing position. Now decide whether it is best to continue the retaliation or to initiate an escape. Your retaliation should not become an assault if you have a viable escape opportunity.
- Step to angle 1 with your left leg as you raise your right arm directly skyward. Rotate to face angle 2 as you drop your right arm outside and over the top of both of your opponent’s arms. Your opponent’s arms will now both be trapped between your arm and your body at your lower right torso. Rotate back slightly to put additional pressure on the assailant’s arms and then employ a Migi Yoko Kekomi Geri to his or her nearest knee. Return your kicking leg by stepping slightly toward angle 4 and use your right arm to deliver a low Ura Ken Tsuki in the direction of angle 4. This is likely to break one or both of the opponent’s arms. Release your grip on the attacker’s arms and either escape in the direction of angle 4 or step to angle 6 with your left leg to gain a positional advantage over your opponent.
A rear-naked choke is quite different from a two-handed rear choke. It is also much more dangerous. A rear-naked choke can render you unconscious in a few seconds and, if continuously applied, can lead to brain damage and/or death.
A rear-naked choke uses the arm rather than the hands to apply choking pressures. The purpose of a rear-naked choke is to restrict or cut off blood flow from the carotid artery. The carotid artery is a major contributor of oxygenated blood to the brain. If this flow is interrupted for more than a few seconds, you may be rendered unconscious and unable to defend yourself further.
The choke is applied such that the attacker’s biceps press into the carotid artery on one side of the neck, while the forearm applies pressure to the carotid artery on the opposite side of the neck. The attacker often uses the opposite arm to interlock with the choking arm to add additional pressure against your neck. Once applied, this choke is very difficult to overcome. You will find there are precious few opportunities to use destructive skills to get someone to release a rear-naked chokehold.
Regardless of which action you employ against a rear-naked choke, you should always begin by raising both of your shoulders and lowering your chin. You should keep this shoulder and chin posture until the risk of a choke has dissipated. If you drop your shoulders or raise your chin you will make it easy for the opponent to wrap his or her arm around your neck. Unconsciousness might follow a few seconds later.
Rear-Naked Choke Escape Actions
The best approach to dealing with a rear-naked choke is to thwart it before it is applied. After this choke is applied it is very difficult to extricate yourself from its grasp. You have a limited set of options to escape this grab once someone has applied it. Here are some ways you might escape from this choke.
- Lean forward and notice which arm the opponent wrapped around your neck. Assuming for the moment the opponent is using the right arm, you will want to move to your right. Step R4L8 such that your left leg moves in behind one or both of your attacker’s legs. Note that you now have the option to strike to the opponent’s abdomen and groin (but don’t waste much time doing that). Now use both hands to grab one or both of the attacker’s legs and stand erect, lifting the opponent off the ground or causing him or her to stand on one leg. You would step L3R6 if the opponent has placed the left arm around your neck, otherwise, everything else is the same. This method does not work well if your opponent outweighs you or you have limited upper body strength.
- The above method can be modified in the event you cannot lift your opponent. Using a modified version you will place your leg (the L8 or R6 step in the previous method) behind both of the opponent’s legs. Next, wrap both arms around the opponent’s waist. Now settle backward until you fall onto your back. Because you have blocked the opponent’s legs, he or she will fall also. You must immediately rotate your body so you face the opponent and break his or her hold. You do not want them to reapply the hold while you are on your back.
- Perform the step as before but now apply pressure from your elbow or forearm into the attacker’s face or upper torso. This forces the attacker to lean back, and since they cannot move their trapped leg back, he or she will be forced to fall while releasing the chokehold.
- Lean forward abruptly and strike to the opponent’s groin with Shuto Uchi or Tettsui Uchi. While still leaning forward, strike to the opponent’s face with Nihon Nukite Uchi to force his or her head back. This helps loosen the grip around your neck. Next, grab the opponent’s choking arm at both the wrist and the elbow and spin in the direction of the elbow. This curls the opponent’s arm inward at the elbow and will position the opponent so you can use the trapped arm to perform Nage.
- Lean forward abruptly as you grasp the opponent’s choking arm with both hands. Drop briskly to your knees as you pull your down toward the floor. Pull the opponent’s arm forward as you do to reduce the chances the opponent will retain a grip around your neck. The opponent should be thrown over your back and shoulders onto the floor in front of you (usually slightly toward angle 5 or 7). This method involves a significant risk of injury to your neck and should be used only when you have little other option. If you are Uke for someone practicing this method you must ensure you release pressure on Tori’s neck as the throw begins.
You may notice that each of these methods involves leaning forward initially. This is essential. If you lean back then the opponent can easily pull you back into a sitting position. From this position, the opponent can apply even greater pressure on your neck. That is never a good thing.
Rear-Naked Choke Thwarting Actions
The best way to deal with a rear-nake choke is to prevent it from being applied. Here are some methods you might use to thwart such an attack. For our explanation, we will assume the opponent is placing his or her right arm around your neck from the back starting on your right side. You should practice this method on both sides by appropriately reversing angles and changing the sides of the body used or affected.
- As you feel the opponent’s arm moving over your shoulder and around your neck, place your open left hand on the left side of your head positioned so it is between your ear and shoulder and somewhat forward of your chin. This is intended to trap the opponent’s arm at the wrist, preventing the opponent from wrapping his or her arm around both sides of your neck. At the same time, wrap your open hand over the opponent’s right elbow such that your fingers press into the inner crease of the elbow. Next, step L7 as you concurrently press forward with your left hand and pull inward and down with your right hand. The combination of your turning, horizontal movement and manipulation of the arm will position the opponent so you can easily facilitate an arm lock and throw.
- Position the left hand as in the previous method, but now place your right hand on the outside of the opponent’s right wrist and close both of your hands tightly around the opponent’s wrist as you step L5R3. You may now employ an escaping method or pull the opponent’s arm forward while employing Migi Mae Geri. You will also find that several of the throws in the Purple Belt curriculum can be used in this situation.
- Raise your left hand, as before, but step back with the left leg to establish a brief Juji Dachi. Raise your right hand to your center and inside of the opponent’s arm. Rotate CCW to turn and face your opponent. All of this needs to be done quickly, which can be difficult. You will so find that after the turn the opponent now is positioned to apply a front headlock. To circumvent the headlock you should apply a Shuto Uchi with your left hand as you turn. This is not a clean thwarting method and it leaves you at continued risk from other forms of attack. But that is better than being unconscious at the hands of an assailant.
The absolute best way to thwart a rear-naked choke is to follow these principles.
- Never turn your back on your opponent
- Never let an opponent establish a rear-guard or turn you so your back is toward them (continue turning to face them if they attempt to turn you).
- Never stand still in a struggle. Continue moving at all times.
- Lower your chin and raise your shoulders at the first sign someone might attempt a rear-naked choke.
Rear-Naked Choke Destroy Options
There are no clear destructive actions to take in the event of a rear-naked choke. In most instances, you will need to escape from or thwart the rear-naked choke first. Once you have eliminated the risk inherent in a choke, you may have other destructive options available, but these are not directly related to a rear-naked choke. It is difficult to apply any meaningful destructive force against someone when they are attempting or employing a rear-naked choke. You may see footage of people doing a heel hook to the groin, jabbing at the opponent’s eyes, striking with an elbow to the ribs, or stomping on the attacker’s instep. Some of these actions may inflict some pain but they will also increase the determination of the opponent, who holds the upper hand in this contest. You only have a few seconds to inflict enough pain to produce a release. In the five to ten seconds you have before unconsciousness you will find it difficult to inflict sufficient pain. Your main goal should not be inflicting an injury but should instead focus on preventing or escaping the hold. Anything else will turn out to be a waste of critical time and energy.
Rear Naked Choke Pull-Back Options
We previously mentioned that an attacker may try to pull you back so you are forced to sit. This allows the opponent to then apply increased pressure on your neck or to inflict additional forms of control and injury. If the opponent can pull you back you still have a few options available. Let’s discuss some things you can try. You will normally step back with the leg on the same side as the opponent’s elbow. If the opponent is using his or her right arm, you would normally step back with the right leg (though there are opportunities if you are forced to step back with the opposite leg).
- As the opponent pulls you back, accelerate your backward movement so you have an opportunity to place your leg behind one of the opponent’s legs. Now root yourself on that leg and rotate your center forward until you can face the opponent. Your leg will prevent the opponent from stepping and he or she may be forced to fall backward as a result. It is unlikely they can maintain any meaningful grip on your neck because of your movement and the opponent’s resulting structural position.
- If you find the opponent has moved or was previously positioned so you cannot place your leg behind the opponent’s leg, then step into the void between your legs and the opponent’s legs. Now rotate in the direction of the opponent’s elbow.
- Step back with the leg opposite the opponent’s arm. If the opponent is using the right arm, then step back with the left leg far enough to place your hips further back than your shoulders. Now bend forward as far as possible and rotate in the direction opposite to your opponent’s elbow. This is hard to do, but if your opposite leg is rooted, you may have few other options.
None of these options will work if your opponent has managed to root you on both of your heels. In that event, your only option might be to press both heels into the floor in an attempt to push yourself and the opponent back as you hope the opponent will then be forced to release his or her grip. The chances of this happening at not great but you may have little else to try. The one thing you should not do is stop trying everything you can to get out of the hold.