Photo: Jimmy Lee
Editor's note: View our related step-by-step photo gallery, "Choke Escapes: 2 Techniques."
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a dynamic and entertaining combat sport whose popularity has grown significantly over the last decade, and this multi-million-dollar business appears here to stay. This brings both opportunity and challenge to law enforcement officers. We have the opportunity to learn MMA techniques and training methods that are useful to us. Our challenge is to recognize that we are facing aggressors who have been trained formally in MMA or, at the very least, informally by the entertainment industry that promotes this martial art to use techniques such as choke holds. So how do we meet that challenge? The answer is simple: training.
MMA practitioners commonly use choking techniques to defeat their opponents. In a match if you are being choked by your opponent you can "tap out" or submit to end the attack before you go unconscious or suffer a severe injury. Law enforcement officers do not enjoy this luxury.
The consequences of your being "choked out" or rendered unconscious are severe. Your aggressor can have his way with you and the weapons on your belt. The danger to you, your fellow officers, and the public is obvious. A choke attack should therefore be considered a critical attack and you should train yourself accordingly. We are going to take a look at two popular choke techniques used effectively by grapplers and MMA practitioners: the rear naked choke and the guillotine choke.
Before we do that, keep in mind two things. First, nothing will replace well trained fundamental skills. We are often looking for the "ultimate method or technique" or the "surefire solution" to our problems. The reality is that where officer safety is concerned, what rules the day are basic fundamental skills developed through consistent, high-quality training. Regardless of what method of defensive tactics or arrest control you use, there are several fundamental skill areas you must develop and maintain at the highest levels throughout your career. Awareness, balance, control, timing, and distance are but a few of these fundamental skills. No technique or weapons system can replace these, including the choke escape techniques we are about to look at.
Secondly, it is frequently pointed out that many if not the majority of the altercations officers are involved in end up on the ground. Assuming this is true, does that make you a "ground fighter?" Be careful if you answer "yes." True ground fighters prefer to be on the ground and are comfortable on their backs. They can turn an inferior position (on their backs) into a superior position with well-practiced techniques. These can surely be useful skills to have. However, we don't fight in padded rings; we don't have referees. And while we have rules, our aggressors do not. When we do fight, we are usually wearing weapons which, if taken from us, can be used against us with lethal consequences. Perhaps most importantly, even the best ground fighter who ties up with an aggressor on the ground will have a difficult time dealing with a second or third person joining the fight. Multiple aggressors are a reality law enforcement officers consistently face.
Many of the young men and women I teach in the Basic Academy program at the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Office of the Sheriff Law Enforcement Training Center already have very impressive martial arts/combat sports backgrounds. Some are even a tough match for my instructors, one on one. The game changer comes when I introduce a second and third aggressor into a combative training exercise. I do this to prove my point that once you tie up with an aggressor on the ground, you become vulnerable to multiple aggressors. Your weapons can be taken from you more easily, and you are susceptible to brutal and vicious strikes such as kicks and stomps. The more quickly you can escape or transition to a dominant position that gives you both stability and mobility, the safer you will be.
I say all this to underscore the notion that even with excellent grappling or "ground fighting skills," your training and your mindset should be geared toward controlling aggressors in ways that minimize risk to you. You will notice that in both choke escape techniques presented here, the emphasis is on escape, both from the immediate threat and from a compromising, prolonged engagement on the ground.