Ever Been Choked Out?

Most BJJ students have practiced chokes, and most of them know the feelings of light headedness that occur just before their lights go out.

Fewer students have ever actually had a brief, unscheduled nap on the mat, though. They regain consciousness and look around not comprehending why everyone is standing over them watching. It takes a few seconds to put the pieces together and they ask sheepishly, “Was I just out?”

Following an unfortunate incident where a BJJ blue belt had choked a taxi driver to death in a street altercation, a number of people asked me if the chokes in BJJ were really dangerous. One guy asked me cautiously, “How many people have died in your jiu-jitsu class?”

Thankfully none!

There have been a number of incidents over the years involving security or police officers attempting to subdue someone by “sleeper hold” with a resulting death. Without having been there and witnessing the specifics, I would wager that it was a windpipe choke that collapsed the trachea of the victim. With the airway crushed, the victims chokes to death, unable to get any breath. This is also known as a short choke in BJJ.

The majority of blood “chokes” that we do in BJJ are more accurately called strangulations. The blood flowing through the arteries on the sides of the neck is constricted and the brain is temporarily deprived of critical oxygen. Light-headedness follows, then the person loses consciousness. This is harmless — though shouldn’t be tried at home on kids — if the strangle is promptly released and a fresh supply of oxygenated blood is supplied to the brain.

I was demonstrating the Von Flue Choke to counter the guillotine choke and some students were unable to correctly apply it on a stronger opponent. They asked me to try. I applied the choke and was surprised the student did not tap immediately. A few seconds passed and he started to snore and his body went limp. I released the choke and he lay immobile for a brief moment as his brain rebooted and eyes once again found focus. He leaped to his feet completely unharmed but a little confused about the short time that he had just lost.

One of the funny things after one of your training partners has taken a brief mat snooze is that they are temporarily unaware they were out. It can be humorous to watch them try to reconstruct the events of what just happened.

However, do NOT choke others out for fun. It can be dangerous.

Also, I am not a doctor. If you want more information about the potential harms of choking people, please consult a doctor. Like all martial arts, jiu-jitsu should always be practiced safely at a BJJ school.

Have you ever accidentally taken a mat nap?


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