Attacking the Neck for Restraints, Takedowns and Chokes
A martialist must have a working knowledge about the anatomy, physicality and the law when it comes to wrapping arms around the neck for any reason, a walk-away, takedown and/or any choke. Here is quick, mandatory report on what you should know on the subject in general.
First, I would like to establish my anecdotal experience. I am from an era, starting in the 1970s in martial arts and police work where chokes were very popular and roughly trained. A choke was a go-to, common enforcement move and in 26 years I have choked out about 10-12 or so people. That is not a lot, As an obsessive martial artist, training and experience has helped me use alternatives to choking. But I have witnessed and partaken in some 40 or more. Every suspect quickly recovered as we were taught to monitor the suspect’s responses. And I have been attacked by a few chokeholds, most during during arrests (read on for the worst). And in those olden training times, it was not uncommon to be accidentally choked out (and knocked out) sometimes in class. Times have changed.
Chokes were treated very flippantly in those olden times. Sadly, in the recent decades that followed, for whatever reasons – be they a lack of knowledge-training, etc., simple chokes have caused damages and deaths that have enraged into socio-political, national and international uproars. You do not want you or your students, compatriots and-or employees to be a part of such uproars. Results may include imprisonment these days, by ignoring the facts. Chokes are risky yes, but, still, a martialist must have a working knowledge of chokes and non-choke, neck grabs.
While such sport-choke and related sport neck takedown methods are useful to practice and know, they are small in comparison to self defense, crime, law and war problem-solving. So, this subject-study will include civilian, enforcement and military realities, as well as generic, applications of arm wrap, chokes and neck grabs.
Due to popularity and fandom of martial arts sports, most of the neck-related, training attention, time-hubris is spent on sport tap-out chokes down on the mats to win matches and pro fights. This sports version eats up “all the oxygen” (if you will pardon the pun) in youtube videos and internet searches. Several martial arts will claim there are “100s” of chokes, but no. Instead, there might be hundreds of chess-like approaches and situations to inch into these chokes. The choke itself is “checkers simple.” Blood and air.
And important – all neck attacks are not chokes…however, neck attacks are loosely, flippantly called “chokes” or “chokeholds” by many. We’ll be looking at the common arm-related ones not crushing-hand chokes, but crushing hand chokes might cause similar injuries as arm wraps.(It should also be noted here that choking by the hands not arms is a very big domestic violence problem. That’s another essay. But generically speaking, the injuries are very the same.)
The big two… for our rear arm wrap attack and takedown essay and yes – as well as grounded problems, here are two main neck arm-wrap-grabs for rear chokes and takedowns. See the drawings below, single arm and double arm wraps. You will find there are numerous nicknames for chokes. Some do help identify the move-position. Blood chokes are often called “sleepers” because the “chokee” thinks he is really just neck-uncomfortable and still okay… and… and… he’s out. While an air choke will probably cause the chokee to “air swim,” like he is drowning on dry land.
What are the legal and medical definitions? Law Insider defines a neck restraint as “the use of any body part or object to attempt to control or disable a person by applying pressure against the neck, including the trachea and-or carotid artery with the purpose, intent, or effect of controlling or restricting the person’s movement or restricting the person’s blood flow or breathing, including chokeholds, carotid restraints, and lateral vascular neck restraints.” (For the record, a “Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint® (LVNR®) is a control technique applied to the sides of the neck, using a combination of physiological factors to restrict blood flow to the brain which may cause the subject to lose consciousness.)
Dr. Google defines choking as a strangulation. “Strangling cuts off the flow of oxygen to the brain in one or more ways. Strangulation compresses the carotid artery or jugular veins, resulting in cerebral ischemia. Cerebral ischemia is caused by disruption of the blood supply, and thus oxygen, to the brain, particularly the cerebrum. Global ischemia is caused by cardiac arrest, shock, carotid occlusion,hypotension, asphyxia, or anemia. Focal cerebral ischemia is usually related to cerebral vascular atherosclerosis. Strangulation is defined as asphyxia by closure of the blood vessels and/or air passages of the neck as a result of external pressure on the neck.”
Non-choke neck grabs, restraints and takedowns can look like attempts at unconscious choking, but can be just temporary control measures. You can just remove-escort or takedown people via the neck area without choking them. Or you can follow up a takedown that includes a choke. With your decision to squeeze-choke the neck, your legal and medical strangulation clock is ticking…
Tick-Tock…. In May, 2023, a former U. S. Marine interrupted a disturbance and threats on a New York City subway with a choke, one that according to witnesses the hold lasted 15 minutes. The person died. The Marine disputes the time length and denies lethal intent, but nonetheless the man died. This caused a serious socio-political incident and put the Marine under indictment for murder. One must be very cautious when doing any neck wrap choke-contact for criminal and civil problems. Did a restraint slip into a prolonged blood choke or an air choke? Did the hold last too long?
Very Well Health reports that, a “A medical evaluation is crucial if someone’s been strangled. An injury to the trachea may not appear to be serious right away, but swelling in the tissues around the trachea can lead to a secondary restriction of airflow a few minutes after the neck is free.”
So how long can you squeeze? Police files report officers that have blood-choked suspects held for 30 seconds have died. That’s a short time. But shorter times are on record. There are other times the suspects hang on, struggling for longer. The old and general advice with a blood choke is to monitor the opponent. You can feel when someone “goes to sleep.”
How long is long then? “A 17-member panel of submission experts (including BJJ black belts, experienced grapplers, former MMA athletes, and medical professionals) analysed 81 UFC matches between 1993 and 2020 that ended in strangulation submission due to a LOC (as opposed to tapping). Each examiner reviewed each film (blinded to the other’s interpretation) to determine the time between full application of the technique and LOC. The mean time to LOC was 9.0 seconds, with a standard deviation of 2.5s. (Note: this had to have included ground chokes and this section of Level 2 takedowns is only covering standing rear arm wrap chokes. Still we can glean related information.) These results were consistent with previous studies in compliant volunteers, indicating that skillful application of a choking/strangulation technique will cause LOC regardless of defense mechanism…the triangle choke (probably down on the mat) displayed a significantly faster time to LOC of 7.2 seconds.” – Sam Gilbert
Crushing the trachea can cause death. There are incidents on police records of officers who are relatively untrained in this subject matter and they have accidentally crushed the trachea. The damage can range from minor vocal cord weakness to fractures of the larynx or trachea. These fractures can cause air to escape into the neck and chest, leading to significant respiratory compromise and even death if not treated quickly.
Basic neck structure injuries too… As I have mentioned not all neck-related, rear pull takedowns involve blood and air restraint, choke-to-unconsciousness intent. In terms of using the neck for takedowns and counters, in some cases you must worry about damaging the neck skeletal structure. But non-chokes are not without some medical, legal and civil law dangers.
The most damaging neck takedown I have seen and had done on me, thankfully incorrectly, is what was once called the “Ranger Takedown.” In the remote northern areas of South Korea, a criminal Army Sergeant snatched up my throat from behind with a single forearm across my neck and jumped back, as diagrammed here to the left. In the taught move, the Ranger lands on his chest. The enemy soldier lands on his back. Neck? Snapped or very badly broken. I landed instead down on my side, saving my neck, with his forearm across my windpipe. he continued to choke me. Since his hand was somewhat next to my chin, I broke a finger on his wrapping arm causing him to release me. For such escapes, always breaking a finger is not possible and will not always work, but it did for me that time.
I tell you this to explain the worst-case scenario of what a single arm, (or double arm,) rear neck-wrap takedown can do at its most “bone-damaging.” You can still single or double arm throat pull, slower, and NOT land flat down into this death move, but rather make space and pull him slowly down on his back, with you remaining bent-half-standing or kneeling. Blood choke if you must, but let go at the right instant.
Other related neck structure injuries? I know of a few rather world famous, life-long MMA champs that have stents placed in their trachea due to decades of rough training simulated chokes, and real competition chokes. This operation is called a tracheostomy.
Dr. Earl Morgan, Forensic medicine (and a Judo Black belt) adds…”In all of the combative grappling sports the “choke” hold rules require varying degrees of cervical spine protection. Of course, what makes repetitive chokes in combative grappling so safe (in class) is the health and conditioning of young martial artists. My college judo coach cautioned me to seriously consider allowing chokes in anyone over the age of 40. At the time I was in my 20’s and had no idea what the big deal was. He also spoke of the ‘40-year syndrome.’ This is where you turn 40 and suddenly you have all the aches and pains from all the ways you abused yourself when you were young, whether with drugs, alcohol, athletics, manual labor or other factors, it doesn’t matter. He was a much wiser man than I realized.”
Worrying about the counters… Through the decades in training various counters to chokes and side neck guillotines, I noticed that complying savvy workout partners, always let go of their friend-trainee’s necks when they are flipped or tripped. I don’t think many real-world opponent’s will let go of your neck, instead they reflexively hang on (to anything!) as they lose their balance. This means serious neck cranks, not seen or warned in training class. This innocent-helpful, classroom, “let go” practice leads to misleading and dangerous reality results. There is a lot that can happen between step 3 and step 4, in the drawing to right-above. After issuing similar safety concerns publically about this in the past, I received numerous reports of minor to major injuries from people countering chokes in classes. (I also heard from macho, low I.Q., half-wits denouncing me as a wus. Do they denounce Bass Rutten as a wus too?)
Even MMA great Bass Rutten wisely warns on record and on film, after demonstrating counter-choke flips like the ones shown on the right and above, that you might break your neck if the choker holds on as he flips. Needless to say a taller, stronger, heavier enemy probably won’t be so easily flipped over you. And, your body drop to flip him over could leave you… “hanging.” All practitioners should examine suggested choke counters for neck safety.
Banning chokes...I have been paid by some police agencies through the years to write subject-matter-expert studies on the validity of neck restraints and chokes. In some jurisdictions worldwide police agencies have continued to defend the use of the carotid restraint hold for decades, claiming that it is safer and more effective than using a police baton, taser, or pepper spray. Other jurisdictions have banned its use entirely while still other jurisdictions have ruled that it may only be used in extreme situations where deadly force is justified.
Most enforcement agencies worldwide have banned this “choke’ tactic (or any neck contact for that matter) for many years now. Some allowances exist for when the officer is faced with deadly force. Yet, in a strange Catch-22 circle jerk, these last-resort, life saving choke options are still NEVER TAUGHT, for fear of…being publically seen-caught just teaching the dreaded chokes!
There are some departments that allow these no-choke, neck-grabs and even neck-squeezing controls on unruly suspects and detainees, and a tiny percentage of people continue to suffer temporary and-or grave injury and death. Due to these virtually devastating socio-political problems from these “I can’t breathe” accidental deaths, and due to the rodeo-like wrestling of suspects, a blood choke can often accidentally twist and slip into a throat choke-crush. Because of this slipping mishap, I must warn police administrations against the common use of chokes in less-than-lethal situations. This usually translates to an admin – “leave the whole neck alone unless you are being killed” policy. Don’t blame me for my warning. Train your troops!
At least think about this...In a military context, other than when trying to capture prisoners, a choke is a strangulation meant to kill the enemy. But for citizens? These same legal-test concerns hold true for citizens. Civilians must be justified under a reasonable dire threat to windpipe choke someone. If you can’t comprehend the facts here, or be able to consider, discuss, teach and articulate them, you and yours might someday be in moral, ethical and legal (jail and lawsuit) dilemmas.
(This essay on non-choke and choke related neck wraps rear takedowns appear in Level 2 of my Force Necessary:Hand course, thus the essay here, which appears in the outline and my upcoming Unarmed Combatives book in 2024.)