5 posts / 0 new
Last post
Anf's picture
Getting choked out

If I were to pick just one reason why I avoided the grappling arts for so long, it's because I fear being choked out.

I have recently stepped out of my comfort zone, and started a mix of aikido and jiu-jitsu, but I'm still so much the beginner that people are going very easy on me so far. Which is great. But progress is obviously important.

I know, I can tap out. One thing I'm quite proud of is I do actually seem to be able to leave my ego at the door. I will tap, then happily discuss what happened and see if I can learn how I might have done things differently. All great.

But what if one time the choke goes on a bit fast, or somehow, for whatever reason, I either fail to tap or my tap goes unnoticed? We all know about the long term risks of impacts to the head from combat sport, but what do we know about the risks of being temporarily rendered unconscious or incoherent?

I guess the question is, am I right to be a bit worried about this?

Tau's picture

Anf this will all be covered in The Secret Project ;-)

For most of us chokes are perfectly safe. As a rule anyone with a history of cardiac disorders should not have chokes (or strangles) applied to them. In theory chokes don't present a problem to structures around the neck aside from the trachea. In practice, such as in the reality of a violent encounter or when sparring chokes will often also involve a degree of strangulation.

For me there are two key things:

1. health screening to ensure your training partners can safely have them applied

2. Promoting the tap mentality

Any club dickheads need to be weeded out as chokes certainly can be dangerous if used recklessly.

Generally, in martial arts poeple don't pass out through chokes as they're painful and take a considerable amount of time to work. As a comparitor, consider capital punishment by hanging. Unless the neck is fractured from the drop, death from hanging can take up to twenty (painful) minutes with conciousness being present to some degree for most of that. I know that's grim but it gives an idea of the tolerances of the human airway. Whereas strangles can be insidious in their effect chokes tend to have multiple warning signs before they're at a point of danger such as fitting, "posturing" of the hands and incontinence. Needless to say chokes can kill.

So yes, they can be very dangerous. However in martial arts as long as you have half responsible training partners and instructors they should be safe.

deltabluesman's picture

I do quite a lot of grappling (mostly no-gi) and I've never been accidentally choked out.  I often visit gyms out of town and I've never been accidentally choked out.  (On a couple of occasions I've had blurry vision after a long class with collar chokes, but I think that's due primarily to dehydration.  I never had any problems and it cleared up.)  Like you, I always tap early.   Crucial to have a club where everyone always respects the tap. 

To reduce risk, I would recommend getting in the habit of always tapping the opponent's body.  Sometimes people get into a habit of tapping the mat.  I think this is a bad idea because if it's loud in the gym, or if your opponent's head is down, he might not hear it.  So always tap on the body where they can feel it.  (If both of your hands get trapped, then obviously you'll have to use other methods.)

The only other thing I can think of is to be careful of demonstrations with blood chokes.  For example, let's say you're an instructor and you're teaching the class how to finish a collar choke.  You apply the choke at the beginning of the demonstration.  Uke taps, then you "loosen" the choke and start to talk through the position.  Sometimes, if you get too caught up in teaching, you might forget that the choke is still applying some pressure.  And if the uke is the kind of person to "tough it out", you can have scenarios where the person accidentally goes out because the choke is tighter than you realized and sneaks up on them.  But this is very rare and not worth worrying about IMO.  It's never happened to me and I've never seen it happen to any of my instructors.

Most of the time, people get choked out because they're competing in a tournament and they don't want to lose.  Or they're treating a sparring session in class like a high-stakes tournament.  As Tau said, the key is to have a responsible instructor and respectful training partners, and the risk will be very low.

In terms of the main dangers of grappling, the ones I always keep in mind are: (i) overly aggressive sparring partners, (ii) standing guillotine chokes, (iii) wrist locks, (iv) heel hooks, (v) big throws, and (vi) guys who seriously outweigh me.  I might be forgetting something.  At this point, the one I am most wary of is the standing guillotine choke, because it's pretty popular in a lot of gyms and some grapplers are very sneaky with it.

(And of course, the overly aggressive sparring partner will always be a huge guy who outweighs you by forty pounds and who loves standing guillotines.)   

PASmith's picture

As far as I'm aware getting choked out (strangled really if it effects the blood supply) is not as damaging as getting knocked out by a concussive blow.

When getting choked out you are tricking the brain into shutting down through restricting blood supply and stimulating the nerves that monitor blood pressure in the head. Like hitting the re-start button on a computer.

Obviously it's not ideal but if it only happens a couple of times no long term damage occurs.

I've come close to strangle KO's a couple of times. Both when trying to fight out of a triangle in BJJ and not realising how close I was to passing out because things actually didn't feel that bad.

I've heard that in some gyms/dojos getting choked out was almost a rite of passage. Neal Adams talks abut being choked out by Brian Jacks when he trained with him as one such rite of passage.

Anf's picture

Thanks all. Good advice as always.

I will continue with the grappling but I next need to decide what to do with the one spare evening I have.

I'm thoroughly enjoying doing styles that are completely new to me. Actually that's not quite true. Part of me hates it because I keep drifting towards karate and similar which is where my background is, catching myself doing so, then getting frustrated at the fact I automatically do something different to what I've just been shown, which can be frustrating. But I'm loving being pushed outside my comfort zone.

So I will stick with my current grappling as a minimum.

With my one more spare evening, I'm thinking either the bjj club, where obviously grappling is their primary skill, or muay thai, where maybe my striking might take on a whole new dimension. Or I might do a few months of one then switch. Either way, many thanks for the reassurance that as I progress with the grappling it's quite unlikely that I'll come to any serious harm.