Set A Choke, Break A Choke — Part Two

This article originally appeared for patrons at Patreon. Due to its length, I’ve broken it into two parts.  Part One can be found here, and includes discussion of the chokes in general and defensive considerations of air chokes in particular.  This section discusses defense against blood chokes, and offense of both blood and air chokes.

100_2182Being choked from behind—when the attacker uses biceps and forearm as a vice on the sides of the neck for that blood choke—is a very different experience. It can be more of a “Hey, what are doing back there?” experience because the pain isn’t always as acute as the air choke. By the time you hit the, “Hey, I feel funny…” realization, you’re halfway to any set of techniques being useless because everything below the neck will soon stop listening to you.

Yes, if the choke is set well, the person being choked will have only seconds to react before the body begins to lose strength, coordination, and eventually consciousness. I emphasize setting a choke well—by which I mean how quickly and cleanly the person doing the choking hits the right position and placement—because poorly-set chokes can have dire consequences for the person expecting to shortly have an unconscious victim and the person who doesn’t want to be unconscious.

Remember: aside from the occasional vagus nerve issue, the blood choke has a lower chance of causing fatal and lasting injury. But if the arm-vice ends up hitting the windpipe instead of the major arteries, and the person choking thinks the delay in unconsciousness must be happening because she isn’t squeezing hard enough so tightens her grip… Yes, this could be bad.

From Jess’s perspective as the one being choked, he should know he doesn’t have much time, but can certainly make good use of that time. If Pat’s vice isn’t strong enough, Jess can gain enough room to tuck his chin into the crook of the elbow in front of him. That helps keep his airway clear and makes it a little harder for Pat to maintain vice-like pressure on the critical points. If Pat’s hold is too tight and too close under his chin, Jess will need to do all sorts of other things to encourage Pat to loosen her hold enough to gain that crucial chin-space. This includes jamming fingers into any soft target, striking and pinching and twisting in the groin area, stomping on feet or dragging a heel down Pat’s shin… you get the idea.

And once Jess gets a clear airway and reduces the pressure that’ll lead to swift unconsciousness, Jess will need to do all those things anyway.

And remember gravity? Jess can use it to his advantage by bending forward. It breaks Pat’s connection with the ground, and that weakens Pat’s force and leverage. The move also puts the sensitive groin area in easier reach. For Jess, this’ll feel counter-intuitive because it feels like pulling oneself into the choke rather than away from it. Oh, well.

If Jess is strong enough and coordinated enough, he might be able to ram an elbow into Pat’s gut before hooking Pat’s leg to toss her backward. Or maybe Jess only seems to drop his weight, but instead bends his knees just enough to the launch himself up and—if he’s lucky—ram his head into Pat’s chin. Or Jess might seize Pat’s elbow, twist his body, and throw Pat over his shoulder or hip.

That last one is often shown as the super-cool end to a choke. But keep in mind Pat’s decision to let go in the midst of the throw is an element of self-preservation. Not everyone has it, and not everyone will act on it. Pat might, in a panic, hold on to Jess’s neck even more tightly for fear of being thrown. The result then is Pat will drag Jess to the ground with her, possibly wrenching his neck in the process.

So if Jess can’t successfully complete a throw, he will be employing those strikes mentioned above at every opportunity. The application of something hard to something soft should never be underrated. And since Jess has (assuming Pat is competent) very little time, he can’t afford to be squeamish about it. He’ll dig his fingers and fingernails into things that will hurt. He won’t be scratching; he’ll be gouging. Clawing out chunks of soft tissue. Or he might ball one fist inside the other to increase the power of the elbow to the gut or ribs.

Or he might draw that hidden knife and drive it deep into Pat’s inner thigh, and hope Pat bleeds out before he passes out.

Possibilities, my darlings! They are endless!


Now let’s look at this from Pat’s perspective as the person doing the choking. After all, it’s entirely possible Jess is the bad guy here.

If Pat has Jess straddled on the ground, there’s no way Pat should depend solely on the choke to keep Jess under control and/or ensure Jess’s death. First of all, as mentioned above, using an air choke to neutralize a threat takes a relatively long time, and giving a panicked opponent who’s fighting for his life time to fight back is an excellent way to increase Pat’s chance of losing the fight.

So if Pat wants Jess out of commission, she can use gravity, power, and speed rather than strength and time. In other words, she needs to drive the web between her thumb and forefinger against his windpipe at speed, and with the full force of her bodyweight. Performed hard enough and swiftly enough, she can then use her hands to pin Jess’s wrists down while he suffocates from the broken and swollen windpipe.

(Yes, I usually say to use something hard—knuckles—against something softer—windpipe. But using that webbed area allows Pat to set hands in place before ramming against the windpipe. Other techniques involve aiming at a moving and uncooperative target.)

If Pat has Jess pinned to the wall or the floor, Pat best be pinning other things as well. While it’s true no one can fight for long without air and blood reaching the brain, it’s also true that using two hands to block air and blood flow leaves no hands to block fists and feet and knees. Pat can use her own elbows to pin Jess’s arms or inhibit his ability to take a strong swing at her, or use her forehead to break Jess’s nose, or physically close the distance to prevent Pat from getting adequate momentum for his strikes to hurt her enough to make her stop choking him.

If the pair are standing, Pat best be prepared for Jess to drop his weight. Unless she’s strong enough and tall enough to hold him up with one or both hands, Pat will lose her choking grip and be left scrambling.

On the other hand, if she’s savvy enough and quick enough, she’ll suddenly let go so he drops faster than he expected, and she’ll ram her knee into the face Jess voluntarily put within range her before Jess grabs her waist or legs for a tackle. That would be awesome… unless Jess has an edged weapon that comes out at the same moment.

Yes, an unexpected knife changes everything.

Do you see the possibilities you can play with once you have a couple principles in mind? Once you have a feel for the form of choke-included fight? Are you having fun yet, my darlings? I am!


Lastly, here’s the blood choke from Pat’s perspective.

To set a good blood choke, Pat must use one arm as the vice and the other to enforce the vice. Pat’s enforcing arm can be a bar along the upper spine, with her clasped hands closing the vice around the neck. Or her enforcing arm and hand can be used to press Jess’s head forward, deeper into the choke. The vice is closed by the tucking the hand of the vice-making arm into the crook of the enforcing arm’s elbow.

No matter which one she uses, the closing of the vice is critical. It gives the choke power from both arms, the shoulders, and the back—reducing the likelihood Jess will simply be able to pull the arm away or twist aside. In all cases, Pat wants to consider her own head to be attached to Jess’s head. Not only does this increase the force applied to the choke, it keeps Jess from using his head as a weapon against Pat’s face.

Remember how Jess pulled Pat forward in order to keep her off balance? Pat will use the same principle by tipping Jess backward. Bumping the back of Jess’s knee or hip while tugging him back towards her can do the trick quite handily. If she pulls him backward quickly enough, he’ll be pulled off his feet completely, and gravity will make Pat’s arm-vice even harder to break. As long as she’s ready to hold the sudden weight, and as long as she can keep moving backward to keep him from regaining his footing, she has him at an incredible disadvantage. She needs to hold on, knowing that every blow Jess might land or attempt to land will get weaker and weaker with each… slowing… second…


As I said at the beginning, this is barely scratching the surface. The potential to discuss chokes for hours begins with a single and simple, “But what if I tried this move?” It’s the butterfly effect—one small change that alters everything from subtle body mechanics to final outcome.

If Jess takes two seconds to determine a strategy instead of one, if Pat’s heel skids on wet pavement, if Jess has less mobility in his right arm than the “average” person, if Pat is exceptionally squeamish about fingers near her eyes, if Jess leans right instead of left, if Pat straightens her knees a little too much… Any of those things, all of those things, impact who wins and loses.

As always, keep in mind what your characters choose to do, and will be able to do, depends not only on their personal training, experience, and physical condition, but on the training, experience, and physical condition of their opponent. In real-life circumstances, people who are trained can be overpowered, and people with no experience will still manage to escape. I’ve thrown men almost twice my size, and successfully avoided being thrown by them in return. But I’ve also been unexpectedly wrenched off my feet by fighters who knew how to counter my counters, and ended up face-down on the mat with a decisive splat.

The bottom line: There are no guarantees, and there are no surefire techniques. A fighter who can always-always escape a pinned-on-his-back front choke by jamming his fingers under the chin of his attacker will have quite a problem if the person choking him this time has longer arms. A fighter able to execute a fabulous hip-throw of a person setting a blood choke from behind will have to come up with a Plan B if she comes up against someone who knows how to ground themselves exceptionally well. Add in the mindset, emotional state, expectation of triumphing, fear of pain or death…

Chokes can trigger such panic and escalate the fight so quickly, you’ve got to keep all those other factors in mind when writing them into a fight. Panic reveals character traits as well as training experience. So does ruthlessness—whether it comes from the character doing the choking or the one being choked. Anyone can win, and anyone can lose, and the reader will believe it as long as character, action, and outcome are consistent.

Indeed endless possibilities. And as long as those pieces are integrated consistently, you’ve got good stuff.


This post is made possible through the generous support of patrons via Patreon–where all self-defense articles and fight scene breakdowns are posted for an exclusive period before being made available to the public.  If you’d like to see the articles sooner, be part of choosing article topics, or check out other benefits, consider becoming a patron!


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