Techniques>Chokes and strangles>Choke and strangle defense

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Choke and strangle defense


Chokes and strangles are difficult to get out of once they are applied, so the best defense is to prevent them from being applied. If you are aware of the possibility of chokes and strangles know some basic defenses against them, you will be able to defend against them. Most people will tense their neck and shoulder muscles when they feel a choke or strangle being attempted, but this makes it more difficult to escape and more susceptible to the effects. Whereas, if you are relaxed and yielding, you can lessen the effects and may be able to slide out of the hold.

Defensive techniques

Front choke/strangle defense. When choked or strangled from the front, you can poke at the eyes, kick the shins, or smash the points of your elbows into the arms and bounce off them into the attacker’s face while stepping backward. If it is too late for to do these things, turn sideways, raise the inside arm straight up, swing the arm over the choking arms, and drop your weight onto the attacker’s arms. These may release the hold or at least release some of the pressure so you can mount a fierce counterattack.

Rear choke/strangle defense. Instantly drop, turn, and attack the attacker’s face. You only have a split second before you will weaken from the effects of the hold so you must react instantly. If the attacker is choking with straight arms, punch one arm straight up, rotate body to that side, swing the arm over and under the attacker's arms, and lift the arms under the elbows. This will break the choke and permit counterattacks.

Mugger choke/strangle defense. This is a common mugger attack. A two-person attack team walks up behind a person. One suddenly grabs the victim in a rear naked choke and quickly starts pulling the person backward so the person is leaning backward and off balance. From behind, the other attacker quickly goes through the victim’s pockets, taking anything valuable. Then, the first attacker drops the victim on his or her butt and runs. It is all done very quickly and smoothly from behind. The victim is not injured and he or she never sees the attacker. Many times, the victims’ partner or bystanders don’t even see it happen or see the attackers.

If this happens to you, you must react instantly to have any chance of escape. Turn your head into the crook of the choking arm and pull down on the forearm to release pressure, bite the arm, and stomp the attacker’s toes or kick the shins. A backward headbutt is possible, but if the assailant's head is too close, the butt may be ineffective. If you are already being pulled backward, launch yourself backward explosively with your legs to knock the assailant off balance. You may land atop the assailant and injure him or her. If not, you are at least prepared for the fall and the assailant will be caught unprepared. If you are falling forward, pull forward, and tuck and roll, dragging the attacker with you.

Another defense is to suddenly drop your body straight down while thrusting the leg that is opposite the choking arm straight backward while turning your body forward and downward, toward the opposite direction. The object of the movements is to throw the person over your shoulder that is opposite to the choking arm and to fall atop the person.

Sleeper strangle defense. The sleeper hold, also known as the mugger’s yoke, figure four headlock, or carotid choke, has been outlawed by most police departments because, although intended only to induce unconsciousness, the carotid arteries of some people will not reopen once the hold is released. However, the choke has been used in judo competition for over a hundred years with no problems. Application of the choke is described in the choking techniques section.

To defend against the choke, hold an arm in front of your neck and tuck your chin as someone attempts to apply the lock, then use your free arm to counterattack the assailant. Once the choke has been applied, turn your chin into the crook of the choking arm, while raising your shoulders and pushing down with your chin to relieve some of the choking pressure. Try to bite the arm. Reach backward and try to peel off the fingers of the arm that is behind your head to weaken the choke so you may escape.  If you have a pen or some other hard or pointed object, jab into the attacker's hands or other body parts. 

Defensive tactics

In demonstrations of defenses against choking techniques, the attacker is friendly. Even when told to squeeze hard, the attacker still does not want to hurt you, so they don’t squeeze very much. However, when an attacker is intent on killing you, he or she will grab your throat and squeeze like they were trying to pop the top of your head off. The attacker’s hands and arms will feel like steel. People who are angry enough to kill you are extremely strong, and, if they are on drugs, pain is not a problem for them. You will only have a few seconds to do anything and whatever you do must work the first time, for you will not be conscious for a second attempt.

If you are larger or of equal size with your attacker, or if the attacker is not intent on killing you, many escape techniques may work, such as grabbing the thumbs. However, most empty hand attackers are larger and stronger than their victims. Prying up their thumbs so you can grab them is difficult and takes too much time.

For a smaller attacker or one not intent on killing you, who is two-hand choking you from the front or back, do the disco dance move that John Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever where he steps one foot back and shoots the opposite arm straight up. To do this as a defensive move, step one foot back for balance, shoot the opposite arm straight up. swing the arm down and over the attacker’s two wrists, bringing the arm upward under his arms, thus trapping his arms. Then, for an attack from the front, continue to spin backward and strike the attacker’s temple or jaw hinge with a reverse elbow strike. For an attack from the back, continue to spin forward and strike with a front elbow. The same basic technique is used when attacked from the front, back, or sides. There is no need for you to grab, very little strength is required, and it easy to remember and perform.

For a larger attacker or one that is intent on killing you, when you have only a split second to react before blacking out, jab both thumbs deep into the attacker’s eyes. Have the thought, "No SOB is going to try to choke me to death and still be able to see for the rest of his life." If the attacker’s arms are longer than yours or he or she is behind you, then attack instinctively whatever opening presents itself to make the attacker bend his or her arms or allow you to spin to face him or her. Then it’s thumbs into the eyes. The eyes are a relatively large target for the thumbs. The thumbs are short and strong so if you hit anywhere near the eyes, you can still force the thumbs into the eyes. Even if only one thumb is successful, it will usually end the attack.

  • Koiwai, E. K. (1999). How Safe is Choking in Judo?
  • Ohlenkamp, Neil. (1995). Principles of Judo Choking Techniques. [Online]. Available: [2004, December 31]. Used with permission

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