Headlock Releases

One of the most common types of grabs is a headlock. The opponent encircles your neck with one or both arms, trapping your head and limiting or preventing your movement. These can be life-threatening attacks and therefore require an immediate response on your part. We will discuss ways in which you can obtain your freedom should you find yourself in any of the common headlocks described below.

You will notice that some of the methods described below are found in the Kuikku Bouei Kata. There might be slight variations between the method provided below and those found in the Kata, but many of the methods below are well represented in these Kata. This provides you with a practice vehicle for some of these methods and also should help you better appreciate some of the other methods that are not included in these forms.

For your ranking examination, you may elect to demonstrate any of the skills described below or any related skill from the various Kuikku Bouei Kata when called upon to perform an escaping, thwarting, or destroying action for a particular form of headlock attack.

Side Headlocks

In this headlock, the opponent approaches from the side or behind. The opponent then puts one arm around your neck and pulls you either to his or her side or front. You will normally be forced to bend forward at the waist. This headlock is dangerous not only because the opponent can apply pressure to your neck, potentially causing neck injury, but because they can also use their opposite hand to repeatedly punch you directly in your face. When they are finished doing that they might elect to throw you to the ground using your head as a point of leverage. Depending on how this is done, this could be fatal.

You do not want to be in this position a single moment longer than necessary. Here are a few things you can do in this situation:

Side Headlock Escape Actions

  1. Quickly make a fist with your Back Hand and then extend your index and middle fingers. Use your front hand to grasp the opponent’s arm to reduce or limit the effectiveness of their grab. As you do this, have your Back Hand rise behind the opponent, over the top of their head, and then down in front of their face. Place the pads of your extended fingers directly under the opponent’s nose. Now twist your wrist, press into the base of your opponent’s nose, and turn your hand over while applying constant pressure until the backs of your fingers press into the base of the opponent’s nose. Slide your front foot toward your back foot to apply additional force to your Back Hand and to allow you to stand upright. Your opponent should fall or stagger backward.
  2. Bring your open Back Hand up behind your opponent and then over the head until it contacts his or her forehead. Press back on their forehead as you bring your body erect and press your back leg into the back of the opponent’s leg(s). The opponent will fall backward and over your leg and will land on their back behind you. Alternately you might elect to grab the opponent’s collar, hair, or eye sockets instead of using the forehead as a leverage point.
  3. Press your back knee into the back of the opponent’s front leg, then use your back arm to grasp and lift this leg at the knee. Turn your center toward the opponent to force him or her to lose balance. If your opponent falls, causing you to fall as well, press your shoulder into their chest as you land. If your opponent releases their grip to maintain balance, push his or her upper torso or head down to make them fall.
  4. Use the thumb and index finger of your front hand to grab a small area of skin on the front inner thigh of your opponent. Pinch, squeeze and twist this patch of skin to cause pain in the skin and surface tissues. Push your opponent away if they loosen their grip.

Side Headlock Thwart Actions

  1. As the opponent begins to apply the grab use your outside hand to hook over the opponent’s approaching wrist to apply a check intended to prevent the encirclement of your neck. While keeping the opponent from pulling his or her arm in more tightly, drop immediately back and onto your inside knee. Place your left toward your local octagon angle 8 if the attacker is toward your left side, or angle 6 if the attacker is toward your right side. This will place you behind your opponent and in a position in which they cannot affect this grab. Stand up behind your opponent and push them in the back so they move away from you.
  2. Use your back arm to grasp your opponent’s opposite-side arm by reaching around the opponent’s back. Grasp this arm in the bicep area so that the arm can be prevented from punching you in the face. Now press your back foot into the back of your opponent’s far leg as you settle your weight backward and pull your opponent backward. You will both fall back. Roll toward your opponent and strike or push away and escape.
  3. As the opponent begins to encircle your neck use your front forearm to encircle the attacker’s forearm. Concurrently use your back arm to grasp the same arm at the bicep. Project your weight forward and roll. You will land on top of the opponent. Strike them to the face with an elbow or use some other strike or escape method to ensure you immediately take charge while on the ground.

Side Headlock Destroy Actions

  1. As you settle into a new stance raise both fists near your ears. Now drive both fists down as a Tettsui Uchi. The front hand targets the groin. The Back Hand targets the far kidney. Immediately snap both hands back up toward your ears so you can strike again as necessary. You might also strike to the thigh, middle back, or abdomen if the other target areas are not accessible.
  2. Press your face directly into your opponent’s chest, open your mouth to grasp a large mass of flesh, and bite down hard. Be prepared to move instantly as your opponent reacts. This is more difficult than it sounds but can work in some cases.
  3. Bend your knees deeply and then strike with your Back Hand using a Sword Hand strike up and into the opponent’s groin. Rotate your center toward the opponent and strike to the groin using the same strike with the opposite hand. Use this same hand to grab and raise the opponent’s front leg as you raise your torso up and then toward your opponent. The opponent should fall backward.

Rear Headlock

This is a dangerous hold and your life could be in immediate danger if this choking hold is applied. This could be applied as an air choke or as a Rear-naked choke.

If the opponent’s forearm is pressing into your windpipe then it is referred to as an air choke designed to restrict airflow. This could cause damage to your windpipe or otherwise prevent you from breathing. There is an obvious possibility for both loss of consciousness and death from such a hold if you cannot break it quickly.

If you are being held such that the opponent’s elbow is just below your chin then this is more likely a strangulation hold. Pressure can readily be applied to one or both of your carotid arteries cutting off much of the blood supply to the brain. Your assailant may use both arms, in a variety of different configurations, to increase the pressure applied to your neck. You may go unconscious in as little as five to ten seconds. If the pressure is not released you may well suffer severe brain injury or death in a matter of minutes.

You must ensure you do not lean your shoulders back when this hold is being applied. If you lean back you will be pulled down from behind. You will probably land on your rear and your opponent will have even greater leverage with which to apply the hold. This is a bad outcome as it increases your risks and limits your possible escape options.

Here are a few ways in which you might deal with such an attack. This can be a difficult attack to overcome. You must execute these maneuvers immediately. You do not have much time.

Rear Headlock Escape Actions

  1. Compress your chin downward, bend both knees, use both hands to grab the crook of the opponent’s elbow, and pull down. Now bend forward at the waist and twist toward the shoulder of the opponent’s grasping arm. Step to angle 5 or 7 so you can spin toward your opponent’s shoulder and then drop your shoulder on this side so it can slide under the opponent’s shoulder. Use your outside hand to strike at the opponent’s eyes. Grab the opponent’s hand at the wrist and perform a Shiho Nage.
  2. Grasp the crook of your attacker’s elbow with both hands. Drop your chin and raise your shoulder to limit the effect of the hold. Bend forward at the waist, yank down and inward on the opponent’s elbow, drop onto your knees and perform a forward shoulder roll. Upon completion of the roll ensure the roll cannot be sustained by the opponent and either strike or escape. The forward roll is normally done over the shoulder trapped under your opponent’s arm.
  3. Grasp the crook of the attacker’s elbow with both hands and pull down briskly. Lower your chin and raise your shoulders to prevent reapplication of pressure by the opponent. Twist in the direction of the opponent’s forearm as you step behind the opponent’s nearest leg. Concurrently pull down on the opponent’s elbow hard. You should now be bent forward at the waist and adjacent to the opponent’s thigh. Drive a hard elbow strike directly to the inside edge of the thigh and pull their elbow off from around your neck. Duck under their elbow so you are now behind the opponent. Push them away, apply a hold, or hit as you deem necessary. You might elect to use a hammer fist to the groin instead of an elbow to the thigh, but both can work quite well.

Rear Headlock Thwart Actions

  1. Bend slightly forward and, as the opponent’s arm begins to encircle your neck, raise both hands. Use your open hand nearest the approaching opponent’s wrist to check their arm. Use the other hand to pull down and inward on the opponent’s elbow as you rotate your center in the direction of the opponent’s elbow. Maintain this pressure as you use the checking hand to press the opponent’s arm away much as if you were opening a door. Turn to face your opponent at angle 6 or 8 (depending on which arm they were using).
  2. Raise both shoulders as high as possible and tuck your chin down tightly against your chest. This protects the neck and precludes the opponent’s arms from encircling your neck. Do not change this posture until you are in a position from which the opponent can no longer apply this hold.
  3. As your opponent begins placing his or her arm around your neck, grab their wrist with both of your hands and pull their arm away from your throat. Immediately spin in the direction of the opponent’s arm and use his or her arm to initiate a Shiho Nage.

Rear Headlock Destroy Actions

Your options for destructive actions are limited in this hold because of the danger it poses and the limitations imposed on your movements. Most destructive options would therefore likely follow one of the thwarting or escaping options listed above.

  1. Use the first thwart action to position yourself slightly to the side and in front of your opponent. Grasp the opponent’s wrist with your checking hand and then your opposite hand and pull the opponent’s hand down and inward toward your abdomen. This will force the opponent’s head down. Strike with a Mae Geri or Hiza Geri to the opponent’s face or chest – depending on the relative distance of these targets from your striking leg.
  2. Use the first portion of the third thwarting action to escape from the hold attempt. Position the opponent’s arm behind their back and apply pressure to their arm (in an armbar) to force his or her head downward. Meet this downward motion with a rising Hiza Geri to the face or chest. Push the opponent away and in the direction of the floor.
  3. Grasp the assailant’s elbow with both hands and pull down as you lean forward and bend your knees moderately. Raise your shoulders and lower your chin to protect your neck. Using your leg on the same side as your opponent’s elbow, step behind the opponent’s outside leg. Your leg must go behind the opponent’s leg so your calf presses into the back of their calf, not simply beside it. If necessary, move so that the opponent is forced to bring this leg forward and within the reach of your leg. Rotate quickly toward your opponent’s bicep and step to angle 3 or 4 (turning 180°) as you pull down firmly on their elbow. The opponent will likely fall onto their opposite side. Bend your knees significantly (or place your back knee on the floor), slide both hands up to the opponent’s wrist, and pull the opponent toward you such that their elbow is just beyond your knee. Twist their arm so the elbow points downward and immediately press their forearm to toward the floor. This will likely break the opponent’s elbow. You may elect to simply apply painful pressure instead until you can find a means of escape.

You may also wish to review the prior article on Choke Hold Releases. That article discusses some additional ways to handle a Rear-naked chokehold.

Front Headlock

In a front headlock, the assailant presses your shoulders down and then wraps their arm around your neck, applying pressure up and into your throat from below. This is again a dangerous position in which to find yourself as the assailant can apply tremendous pressure to your throat by pressing their hips forward and their shoulders back. Depending on how the hold is applied you may be subject to a major choking or strangulation attempt. You must react quickly.

You may also note that if you find yourself in this position it may be a simple matter for the opponent to insert his or her arm further inward, converting the chokehold into a reverse rear-naked choke. All that would be required is to insert his or her arm until the elbow is placed directly in front of your trachea. From this position, the opponent can now apply pressure to both sides of your neck. Again, the assailant’s opposite hand can be used to increase the pressures applied to your neck. Your only salvation is a thwarting action or initiating some form of Nage that will both protect your neck and generate a release.

Here again, are a few ways you might react to such an attack.

Front Headlock Escape Actions

  1. Use one arm to pull down at the opponent’s elbow while using the other arm to pull down at their wrist. Step with your back leg so it is adjacent to the opponent’s same leg (e.g. your right leg would step forward until it is adjacent to the attacker’s right leg). Slip your shoulder (the one associated with the hand grasping their wrist) under their arm and then beyond their side. Spin quickly and violently 180° in the direction of your attacker’s wrist. They should be thrown and forced to roll forward in front of you. You should ensure you remain standing upright.
  2. Grasp the attacker’s arm at the wrist. Use your other arm to press firmly into the back of the attacker’s elbow as you pull down on their wrist and twist your body in the direction of his or her wrist. Continue pushing with your hand on their elbow to push the arm over your head and to move the opponent away from you.
  3. Use both hands to pull down on your attacker’s arm. Juke them with your body to get them to step forward slightly so you can slip your leg behind theirs. Reach a hand up behind their head and grab their hair or an eye socket to pull their head backward. Press your knee into the back of their knee to collapse their leg as you raise your torso to an erect position.
  4. Run as fast as possible directly into your opponent’s Center Line. Ensure you change the direction in which you are running as your opponent shifts into various stances. You want to consistently run toward the opponent’s Mother Line. You can run forward much faster than your opponent can run backward. You may find that the opponent will eventually trip over his or her feet. Be prepared to take advantage of any reduction in the strength of the opponent’s hold. Be aware that the opponent may try to throw you by rapidly rotating his or her center. Hold onto his or her hips so you can both detect and try to prevent such a rotation.

Front Headlock Thwart Actions

  1. As the opponent begins to apply the hold use both hands to press concurrently into the front of both of his or her knees, forcing the knees back far beyond where the legs have been straightened. This forces the hips to set back and roots your opponent. It also forces their torso downward and their rear to sink backward. This dramatically weakens their grip if they have begun to apply the hold. Immediately stand and push the opponent back. They may fall backward or simply step away, depending on their relative angle and how quickly you can execute the second push.
  2. Using your hand on the mirror side of the attacker’s choking arm, check the inside of the opponent’s thigh on that same mirror side. Pull down on the attacker’s wrist with your opposite arm as you briefly lower your head and spin such that your wrist will pull and straighten the attacker’s arm. Step back to extricate your head and immediately stand up. Your opponent may fall forward in front of you.
  3. As the hold is being applied immediately step forward slightly so you can gain access to the opponent’s leg that is beneath their encircling arm. This changes the angle of their grip and reduces the strength that they can apply. Use your mirror hand to pull the knee of this leg forward as you concurrently press your shoulders forward into the opponent’s abdomen and then rise quickly to a standing position. Your opponent should fall to their back in front of you.

Front Headlock Destroy Actions

  1. Grab the opponent’s forearm using your hand that is on the same side as the attacker’s arm. Step forward with your opposite leg and drop your weight slightly. Strike with one or more Nukite Tsuki to the opponent’s groin. Use both hands to press inward from the outside on both of your opponent’s knees to degrade their structural stability. Now move your hands behind their knees and pull forward as you quickly press your shoulders into the Chudan level. The opponent should fall on his or her back before you. Use both hands to sweep the opponent’s knees apart and then apply a Mae Kekomi Geri to the attacker’s groin or face.
  2. Use an Ura Tsuki to strike up into the opponent’s solar plexus as you use your other hand to pull down on the attacker’s choking arm. Move toward your attacker’s choking arm’s shoulder as you twist and pull their arm away from their center. As you move to the side pull the attacker’s choking arm down and outward while keeping your hand in your center. This keeps your opponent bent slightly forward as you proceed toward their Back Side. Use your opposite hand to strike with a Ken Tsuki to the near side kidney. Release your grip on the attacker’s arm and position this hand near your face as a guard. Allow the opponent to rise and deliver a Tettsui Uchi with your guarding hand into the attacker’s face.
  3. Grasp your opponent’s wrist with your near-side arm (the arm closest to their wrist). Step to the outside of your opponent’s grabbing shoulder with your front leg. Immediately step behind this leg with your opposite leg into a Juji Dachi. Now spin forward out of the Juji Dachi and into a Heiko Dachi. Your opponent should bend forward and their arm should now be relatively straight and across your abdomen. Rotate your wrist so your attacker’s elbow is facing upward. Step forward and drop into a Soft Bow Stance as you drive the elbow of your free arm into the back of your opponent’s arm immediately above the elbow. Step back slightly and drive a Mae Geri into the attacker’s face.

None of these methods can be guaranteed to work in any specific situation. There are too many variables such as how centers are oriented, which leg is forward, relative sizes between yourself and your opponent, nearby obstructions, and a host of other issues that may aid or hinder the execution of one of these actions. But these actions should provide you with some ideas of how to proceed in a particular situation, though it is unlikely you will execute any of these maneuvers precisely as defined above due to the aforementioned variability of circumstances.

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