Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Techniques to Try: Defense against a front choke

This is not a good place to find yourself. Ever. 
You have very little time to react and you need to get air immediately. Very few empty-hand attacks will put you in as much danger, and you need to respond to the threat right away. 
Front choke 

Fig. 2 - Yellow (carotid arteries), green (trachea),
blue (carotid artery and trachea)
There are three things that can be happening when you're being choked: 
a) You are losing oxygenated blood to the brain if pressure is being applied to the carotid arteries (yellow line in fig. 2). This can cause you to pass out, but it can also cause brain damage and, of course, death. 
b) Air is not being allowed into the lungs if the trachea at the front of the neck is being blocked (green line)
c) It's possible that both the trachea and the carotid artery/arteries are being affected (blue lines).

You have very little time before you pass out from a choke (literally seconds), so it's good to be familiar with a couple of defenses against a front choke: 

  • One way that you can decrease the pressure on your trachea/carotid arteries is to flex your neck muscles. Flexing the muscles engages them and forces them to expand and provide some protection for your trachea and arteries. Just like the picture on the right here, you can flex your neck muscles by turning the corners of your mouth downward, and by concentrating on making your neck feel tight and strong . Instantly you should see how different your neck looks, and if you feel your neck before and after you flex it, there should be a noticeable difference. When your neck is relaxed, it should feel soft; when you have flexed your muscles it feels much harder. 
2. REMOVE HANDS & STRIKE HARD (see this great link on hard striking from IKMF Toronto)

  • Your hands will likely naturally come up to your attacker's hands because you obviously want to pull them away from your neck. Use that natural inclination to quickly pluck their hands away just enough to get some air, and then strike hard. When you 'pluck', cup your hands, and pull the attacker's hands away from the neck by pulling on their wrist(s):

Look at her left hand - she has grabbed her attacker's wrist, and has pulled away just enough to get air

Check out this video on how to defend yourself against a front choke by plucking the hands away


Note: part of the reason that this technique works is because she is moving. Just like the expression "a rolling stone gathers no moss" suggests, it's difficult to hold onto someone who is moving a lot. Here, all this woman is really doing is windmilling her arm (and if it doesn't work for you the first time, windmill again and again and again and HARD), and she strikes after. 

There is no sense in continuing to engage this person, because the chances are that he'll either a) attack you again b) you'll get hurt. Your only concern at this point is to be safe, so run away to a public area and call the police. Report all incidents of abuse and/or assault. 

  • Fancy martial arts techniques. While they may be fine for someone who practices martial arts regularly, I am not a fan of recommending them to women with little or no martial arts background. In all honesty, even as a martial artist, I'm a firm believer in doing techniques in real life that are simple, effective, and can allow me to get the hell outta there as fast as I can. My safety and health are too important to me to want to try to prove something. 
  • Avoid trying techniques that will require some real power to get the release. This video is a great example of some really unrealistic moves to teach women with no previous training. You have so little time to get the hands off your neck that trying to strike upwards at the elbows will only be effective if a) you have the strength to deliver a serious blow, and b) you actually remember to do it when your brain is in panic-mode: 

*There are about a billion variations on this escape, and if you don't like the ones that I've posted above, feel free to share your favourite(s) in the comments section below! Ladies, if you are interested in checking out some different YouTube videos, there are a bunch of great ones. Ultimately you're looking for techniques that are fast, effective, and realistic. The only way you will know which one of them works best for you is to grab a partner and try some of them out. 

Have fun and be safe. 


  1. The two techniques I like for the type of choke demonstrated above are:

    1. pivot upper body to either left or right, raise arm high above head, and drive down hard with elbow. (I like this one because it involves gross muscle skills and is easy to execute). This technique was used by the heroine at the end of the awful movie "Enough".

    2. Bring both hands up and grab attackers wrists (almost like your hands are trying to touch their own shoulders), and pull hands away toward the left and right respectively. (I like this one because it relies on the same principle of escape as do the standard wrist grabs - move against the space where the attackers fingers touches thumb - and requires little to no strength)

    There are others, of course. And there are situational variations which make the two above more or less useful.


  2. I teach the first one that you mentioned in every seminar I teach - it's especially great if you are pushed up against a wall and have no where to go. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDjnFGl5-Ug)

    The second one you suggested sounds very similar to the technique in the first video I posted. It's definitely a good one!!!! Easy, practical and the chances of you getting hurt while executing the technique are very slim.

    I also like taking two fingers and pushing them into the indentation above where the collar bones meet, applying force in a candy cane-motion (back and down)to their throat while simultaneously stepping back with the left leg and turning the body while you step away and extend your arm. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK_8_1-zCJU) I like it because it takes no strength, the entire technique is in the turning of the body, the elongation of the arm, and the pressure you are applying with your fingers to their throat. This particular video leaves something to be desired, because I would like to see way more force applied to the throat and a bigger step away, as well as the instruction to run away if it's possible, or to strike as hard as you can before you try to run away. The downside to this technique though is that if you are really being choked with some serious intent, the turning of the body and elongation of the arm a) will cause a ton of chaffing around the neck from all the friction of the turn and b) if not executed with the proper distraction to the throat, it still might not work - you need to REALLY drive those fingers in the throat whilst simultaneously doing your step and turn.

    1. ugh....I remember having that spot in below my neck plunged like you describe. Not a fun experience.

  3. I recently checked out your blog and plan on returning often. May I commend you for your examination of the finger to the throat choke defence. It can be used effectively, but it is not without it's limitations. You have outlined several key points about making it effective. It's refreshing to read your assessment of the downsides as I often see this taught in a bunch of women's self defence courses as a 'foolproof' technique.

    1. I couldn't agree with you more. Too often, instructors forget to outline the weaknesses in techniques. No technique is absolutely foolproof, as there are a million variations in the attack-scenario that can dictate a successful outcome or not. I think that part of being a strong instructor comes with managing the expectations of your students. Not every technique works the first time you try it, and if it doesn't work, students need to try something else immediately.

  4. Self Defence is the most important technique...