Principles of Judo Choking Techniques
"Different Chokes for Different Folks"
by Neil Ohlenkamp
The practice of choking and strangulation techniques is a subtle art that requires more attention to detail than many other skills in Judo. Yet most texts on Judo do little to enlighten the conscientious student on the finer points of choking and strangulation. Most in fact imply that any pressure on the neck that makes the opponent give up is a good choke.
For example the general description of choking techniques in Kodokan Judo by Jigoro Kano is "you use your hands, arms, or legs on the opponent's collar or lapels to apply pressure to his neck or throat." This excellent comprehensive manual of Judo does not identify where on the neck the pressure is to be applied or the most important objective of these techniques, which is to subdue violent opponents with temporary unconsciousness.
In Judo practice there are three basic ways of choking or strangling an opponent, as well as some combinations of the three:
- Compression of the carotid arteries on one or both sides of the neck restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
- Compression of the windpipe (trachea) stopping or reducing the flow of air to the lungs.
- Compression of the chest and lungs preventing the opponent from inhaling (often used during pinning techniques).
These methods are sometimes distinguished by different terms and may be referred to as choking, strangling, wringing, or neck locks. However they are grouped together as a class of grappling techniques called shime waza. Shime means constriction and waza means technique so this group of techniques are all those involving constriction. The english term "choking" in Judo technically refers to the constriction or blockage of the windpipe which prevents breathing, and "strangulation" technically means compression of the arteries to prevent blood from reaching the brain. However, in this article and in most Judo classes the term choking techniques is synonymous with all of the kinds of shimewaza.
Carotid strangulations are also safer and involve less pain than the other choking methods making them easier to practice and to acquire sufficient skill to be confident in their use. Besides making them more effective, this makes them more compatible with another principle of Judo, "mutual welfare and benefit." A skillfully executed technique will give the Judo student the ability to produce unconsciousness or submission with little pain or forewarning to the person receiving the technique.
A good strangulation hold should render the opponent unconsciousness without injury or significant pain in a matter of seconds regardless of whom the opponent is. The most basic requirements for applying such an effective strangulation are:
- Make sure your own body always has complete freedom of action so that you are in the best position for the technique you intend to use and you are flexible enough to be able to respond to your opponent's attempts to escape. Your position should be stable so that in applying the technique you can use your entire body.
- Lead your opponent into a position in which it is most difficult to put up resistance, and control all of his or her actions. Your opponent must be unstable and under your control as much as possible. Very often this means stretching out your opponent's body backwards.
- Train your hands to get an accurate hold the minute you begin a technique, make your choke work in a very brief time, and once you begin the pressure refrain from continually releasing to adjust your position. Your techniques will have much greater effect if you are firmly resolved not to let your opponent get away but to continue until the end without slackening. Constancy of pressure, rather than extreme force, is what is called for. Excessive reliance on strength would indicate a defect in the technique since very little pressure is needed to compress an artery and render a person unconscious.
Entire books can be written on the key points and details of choke holds. Students of Judo around the world have been modifying and refining these techniques for a century, testing them in contests as hard fought and serious as Olympic competition. They have developed many variations in the details of how best to utilize the legs, hips, chest, head, arms and hands to maximize the effect of the choke. In some chokes the hands and arms may use the lapel as if it were a thin cord to encircle the throat, in others they may twist or rotate powerfully into the neck, and in yet others they may pull or push to apply pressure directly to the carotid triangle or trachea. Even the same basic choke can be applied effectively in multiple ways depending on the position, relative size and movement of the opponent as well as the training, strengths and preferences of the individual.
Explaining the techniques in detail is beyond the scope of this article but as a brief reference, some of the basic chokes of Kodokan Judo are:
- Nami juji jime or normal cross lock from the front with arms crossed grasping the collars with the thumb inside.
- Gyaku juji jime or reverse cross lock from the front with the fingers inside.
- Kata juji jime or half cross lock with one hand fingers-in and one hand thumb-in.
- Hadaka jime or naked lock applied from the rear with the forearm across the throat.
- Mae hadaka jime or front naked lock (sometimes called the guillotine).
- Okuri eri jime or sliding collar lock applied from the rear with one hand reaching around the neck grasping the collar with the other hand reaching under the arm to the opposite collar.
- Kataha jime or single wing lock from the rear with one hand around the neck to the collar but the other hand under the arm and behind the neck.
- Katate jime or one hand choke from the front or side reach across the throat to the collar.
- Ryote jime or two hand choke from the front grabbing the collars with the thumbs inside and turning your fists into the sides of the neck.
- Sode guruma jime or sleeve wheel choke from the front reaching around the back of the neck with one hand and across the front with the other and grabbing your own sleeves.
- Tsukkomi jime or thrust choke from the front grasping a lapel and pushing the fist directly into the side of the neck.
- Jigoku jime (hell strangle) from the rear with one leg and one hand across the throat while the other leg and hand controls the opponent's arms.
- Sankaku jime or triangle choke from the front using the legs in a figure-four position around the neck and arm.
Choking techniques must be taught and supervised by a qualified instructor. Since the Judo syllabus has always contained more well-developed choking techniques than any other martial art and they are practiced in real contest situations, Judo instructors usually have extensive experience in the proper application of chokes. Judo is well known for the "Judo choke", but many other martial arts are now teaching choke holds without the wealth of background and experience most Judo experts have. Chokes are potentially fatal and should be treated seriously. As taught in Judo though they are a temporary incapacitating technique of short duration whose proper execution should be quite harmless. Judo choking techniques have been used in Judo classes and at thousands of Judo tournaments all over the world for more than 100 years without one reported fatality. It is only with the appropriate emphasis on safety and supervision that this record can be maintained.
Care should be taken when teaching chokes to children whose physiology is different and naturally less developed than adults. In most Judo tournaments in the U.S. chokes are not permitted for children under 13 years old. Children approaching this age may be prepared by learning basic chokes with escapes and defenses, always under strict supervision. Feeling different chokes being applied in practice to you and learning when to submit is an important form of preparation for tournament and for learning how to choke others. At this very young age, and in fact for beginners of all ages, the emphasis should be on recognizing the effect of chokes and protecting yourself while always avoiding extreme pressure and unconsciousness in practice.
Chokes may be practiced from either a standing position or on the ground but the ground is inherently safer. When applying a standing choke with the intention of gaining the full effect you should recognize that the victim will not be able to remain standing. In tournament and practice the person being choked should always be immediately taken to the ground for better control and to prevent an accidental fall which could injure the athlete as they go unconscious.
Learning when to give up is an important part of training to avoid the risk of unnecessary periods of unconsciousness. While judoka should not give up any opportunity to escape from a choke, they must also be trained to surrender in a timely fashion when necessary by recognizing when defeat is inevitable and when further resistance will result in unconsciousness. Once you allow yourself to be choked unconscious your life is literally in your opponent's hands, and the practice of any martial art requires that the student learn ways of avoiding this condition of ultimate helplessness. Since it is virtually impossible to speak while being choked, the universal signal for submission is tapping of the opponent or mat repeatedly.
The most important safety rule when applying a choking technique is to release pressure immediately when the opponent submits. When applying a choke one should be sensitive enough, and have sufficient control over the opponent, to recognize when he or she loses consciousness so that you can immediately release pressure. Loss of consciousness can be detected easily by the sudden lack of resistance and generally limp feeling of the opponent's body as well as the color of the face and the eyes closing. Sometimes if the choke is held too long convulsions may begin, but the effects of the choke should generally be recognized earlier with proper training and supervision.
Resuscitation Techniques (Kappo)
Immediately release the victim and lay him or her flat so that blood may flow naturally back to the brain. Placing the victim on his or her side, with the head resting on the arm, will prevent vomit aspiration and facilitate breathing if necessary. Monitor the victim closely to make sure the airway is open and the victim is breathing. The opponent will generally regain consciousness spontaneously and be unharmed. If the athlete does not regain consciousness in 20 to 30 seconds and remains unresponsive to your efforts to revive him or her, medical assistance should be sought immediately.
Judo instructors should obtain CPR training and certification for use in case of a breathing or other emergency. Even without chokes Judo is a strenuous physical activity that carries some risks for which the instructor should be prepared. Try to awaken the patient with vocal or physical stimuli such as tapping or shouting. Check for breathing by putting your face close to the patient's mouth and looking at the chest, listening for air exchange, and feeling for a breath. Keep the airway open and initiate rescue breathing if there is no breathing. If a pulse is absent, commence chest compressions.
There are many old methods of traditional resuscitation that can also assist the victim in recovery. If the outcome is less than desirable these interventions may not be defensible in U.S. courts. They have generally been replaced by CPR which is based on more modern medical knowledge. Among sports coaches and medical professionals in the U.S., CPR is commonly recognized as the appropriate response to a medical emergency. Nevertheless the traditional forms of resuscitation are considered advanced techniques of Judo and instructors may wish to study them to complete their training for historical purposes or for use in special circumstances.
Traditional resuscitation techniques include:
- The direct massage of the carotid triangle on the neck to open up a collapsed artery or to manually stimulate the carotid sinus.
- Methods of assisting the victim in waking up and focussing attention such as slapping the victim, striking the sole of the foot, or yelling.
- Methods of inducing or simulating breathing through massage of the chest or diaphragm, expanding and contracting the lungs. Three such methods of Kodokan Judo are Sasoi Katsu, the inductive method, Eri Katsu, the lapel method, and So Katsu, the composite method.
For traditional Eri Katsu kneel to the right of the victim and support his or her upper body with your left arm around the shoulder. Put the palm of your right hand on the abdomen, just above the navel, and press up against the solar plexus or pit of the stomach. This will cause the diaphragm to rise, expelling air from the lungs. Reinforce the action by bending the upper body forward with your left arm. Gently release your pressure to allow air to enter the lungs. Repeat this procedure until respiration is restored.
For So Katsu lay the victim on his or her back and kneel astride the hips. Place your hands, fingers spread apart and pointing toward his or her head, on the bottom of the rib cage. Lean forward and press against the ribs to make him or her exhale, then relax the pressure. Repeat this procedure, rocking forward and back, until the victim can breathe without assistance. Similarly this can be done with the victim on his stomach.
As with other martial arts and most aggressive competitive sports, Judo practice includes the risk of serious injury. Of all the types of techniques practiced in Judo however, choking techniques have proven to be among the safest resulting in relatively few injuries.
Kodokan Judo by Kano, Jigoro. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986
Judo in Action by Kudo, Kazuzo. Tokyo: Japan Publications Trading Co., 1967
Judo by Tomiki, Kenji. Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau, 1956
The Overlook Martial Arts Reader: Classic Writings on Philosophy and Technique by Randy F. Nelson (Editor). Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1989
Emergency Care for Choke Holds by Boulay, John. Ottawa: "Coaching Review"
Deaths Allegedly Caused by the Use of "Choke Holds" by Koiwai M.D., E. Karl.
How Safe is Choking in Judo? by Koiwai M.D., E. Karl.
The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu by H. Irving Hancock and Katsukuma Higashi. G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1905
Judo Research Abstracts: Judo Information Site at JudoInfo.com