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Departments : The Winning Edge

Choke Escapes

You’ll want to know how to get out of a choke hold if you find yourself up against an MMA aficionado.

March 19, 2012  |  by James Harbison

Photo: Jimmy Lee
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.

Training Perspective

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.

CONTINUED: Choke Escapes «   Page 1 of 2   »

Comments (22)

Displaying 1 - 22 of 22

Random @ 3/17/2012 7:24 AM

I you are stupid enough to get yourself into a position where you area in a seated chook hold, you are not skilled enough to get out. You are likely to get your eyes poked out by an opponent’s finger or your throat slit by the knife you did not know he possessed.

Joel @ 3/19/2012 2:57 AM

That was the stupidest comment ever!!!

Lee @ 3/19/2012 7:10 PM

^^Agreed. What an ass

[email protected] @ 3/19/2012 7:42 PM

If you think that was a stupid comment, you've never been in a fight.

The one point the author did not touch on, is bringing edged weapons into play. It's not something departments like to talk about, but they are VERY effective in CQB. The biggest, toughest, most hard-core MMA practitioner will be useless when you disable the connective tissue in his arm and/or leg!

Be realistic with your training. MMA is here to stay, but most the techniques will get you killed in the real world.

Carry a knife, and for God-sakes practice with it!!!

K @ 3/19/2012 8:14 PM

Those instructions were about as clear as mud. This article would be much better served with a video.

KBTK @ 3/19/2012 8:40 PM

Great information in this article. it seems more and more people are exposed to the MMA fighting techniques. Being prepared, at least acknowledging and strategizing, could save your life. Not sure about depending on being able to surgically disable connective tissue...?

copz1998 @ 3/19/2012 8:43 PM

Sergeant Harbison, your article is as intelligent as it is useful. You are obviously a law enforcement trainer who has a passion for our profession and training; we need more of your kind. With the number of attacks on peace officers on the rise (according to the most recent FBI LEOKA report), self-defense training is more contemporary than ever. My hats off to you for addressing the issue, rather than giving it lip service (you need to know how to defend yourself). I enjoyed this article as much or more than your previous article. Thanks for caring enough to address the issue.

Zeke @ 3/19/2012 9:05 PM

@M Attention to detail is key in Law Enforcement. This article is about “2 techniques” (options) that you have to escape chokes. The author made no mention of wielding a knife as an option because this article obviously doesn’t address CQB with edged weapons.

Secondly, under “Consider This,” the author addresses a “What if” that was presented by a student. Pay close attention to the words “inferior position with the choke set and imminent,” and consider the fact that in almost the same breath the author states, “the time it takes to draw and shoot a gun that is already partially blocked by the aggressor's legs.” Now, if you are like most cops that [we] know, the knives that we carry are either clipped in our sap pocket, our left or right pants pocket, or in our shirt near our top button. I know, I know, there are some that carry a mini machete on the inside of their boot. But getting back to your observations, with the knives in the typical locations, just like our gun, the knife will probably be blocked as well.

You and I both know that there are roughly, hmmmm, I don’t know, five million + different scenarios that we could find ourselves in. This article addresses TWO of them. Take it for what its worth and quit trying to sour the good intentions of the author. Pay attention to the lesson being presented. It could save someone if they were ever unable to access a weapon (knife).

Dave @ 3/19/2012 9:14 PM

M, though I agree that edged weapons are an effective weapon in close quarters, do not forget that by the time you retrieve the knife and expose the blade you are unconcious. Most cops carry their pocket knives in areas on their person that is not easily accessible. In addition to that issue, it will be even harder to get to your knife while you are on the ground struggling with someone that may know more about grappling than you do! Protect the airway with both hands and make sure you do not lose consciousness. Forget about your gun or knife until you gain a dominant position. Recently I have had time to roll around with one of the Gracie brothers. Your hands are always busy protecting yourself and the "tap out" can happen in a split second. Knife or gun could not be introduced that fast. Train Train Train

Dave @ 3/19/2012 9:20 PM

By the way.....Jimmy is a Lieutenant, and the Director of the Police Academy.

Grounded @ 3/19/2012 9:49 PM

I have many years of patrol experience, and I train in MMA 4 days a week with amateur and professional fighters.  

Getting caught in a choke can happen very easily and quickly. I've seen or heard of it happening to cops many a time. Haven't any of you had your back turned to a crowd, group of friends, or family of a suspect you were trying to handcuff?  It only takes a few seconds for someone to jump on your back and place a choke. Especially these days with UFC being so popular. Almost everyone has seen chokes applied and have at least rudimentary knowledge of how to apply them. 

In my training the young high school and college wrestlers are the scariest.  Wrestling is also very popular. Your chances of getting into a fight with a wrestler is high. These young "kids" are fast, strong, and have good endurance. I can't say the same for many of my coworkers who if they work out, hit only the weights which can hinder your cardio in a fight. 

As far as weapons are concerned, how many cops get killed with their own weapons. Remember, every time you introduce a weapon into a fight, the other guy now has an opportunity to get and use a weapon.  If you're close enough to use a knife, they re close enough to knock you out or fight you for control of the knife. 
If you don't train and prepare with realistic training, you won't be ready. The info in this article is something you will practice for real in any decent school that teaches ground fighting. But it must be practiced, not read about.   There are too many intricacies that must be learned and practiced.  There is always a counter to every offensive and defensive move.  Only getting out there and doing it will teach you how. We should be getting each other into practical and routine training more often.  Not trying to learn it in articles or once a year in officer training classes. 

The most shameful thing I see; our gym offers a 40%

[email protected] @ 3/19/2012 10:00 PM

You all have very valid points. The amount of situations we can encounter is almost unimaginable, and we should try to ready ourselves for as many as possible. 

The author makes valid points as well. With the prevalence of MMA in today's society, we're more than likely to run into either someone who has trained in, or "thinks" (watched a lot on TV) they know MMA. Because of this, we obviously should familiarize ourselves with countering AND striking techniques. 

At the same time, like it was stated, finding yourself on the ground is possibly the worst place to be. No amount of training will ready yourself for a boot to the brain bucket. 

Knives, more than firearms, are a last resort tool. They are a very upclose and personal weapon, and furthermore, usually quite hard to defend their use. But then again, with the general public, it's usually hard to defend ANY kind of use of force.

I know some agencies regulate the tools we can carry. But at the end of the day, what's more important; Going home, or following an outdated policy?

There are so many great options for knives currently on the market, it definitely warrants taking a look at. 

While carrying a folder is pretty much the norm, there a some good small fixed blades that conceal neatly behind the duty belt, around the neck (with a breakaway chain), attached to body armor, and even though I'm not a fan of it, ankle/boot carry options too. 

Buy two, one live blade, and one trainer. If they don't make a trainer, dull the blade of one to make a trainer, and practice with it.  

The obvious plus of a fixed blade, is that it's already open, so less fine motor skills come into play. Even with a great design like Emerson Knives' Wave, Murphy's Law will always rear it's head!

Check out:
Benchmade CBK and SOCP
Ka-Bar TDI Line
HideAway Knives
Cold Steel Urban Pal

At the very least,

Random @ 3/20/2012 3:41 AM

I apologize from my previous emotional reaction to this article. Grappling and tournaments are a long family tradition. I view MMA like an English professor would view a paper written in Ebonics. Your bullet points are excellent. A more constructive response would have been to speak on the issue more rationally. I will tell your what I have experienced. If you are smaller than the MMA fighter, they tend to go for a double leg takedown and throw you to your left or right followed with a top mounted strike(s) or side mounted choke. If you are larger a MMA fighter will usually go for a single leg takedown, pivot, and drag you in a circle until you are on the ground, followed by a side carotid choke with one of your arms pinned on your ear parallel to your head (usually the left side). If your opponent tries to use a reveres guillotine he may be trying to separate cervical vertebrae. To prevent both single and double leg takedowns sprawl out your legs and use downward and side elbow strikes. Alternate your strikes a necessary simultaneously using outward hand blocks with the other hand. Elbows area hard to block for a Greco Roman standpoint. The sprawl and elbow saved me from a drug dealing blond college kid with a hatchet on his belt and knife in his hand. It dropped him to the Flore. I put him in a rear carotid choke. He woke up in the truck.

Chris @ 3/20/2012 5:15 AM

This is a well written article on a subject of growing importance. Job well done. I do agree at least for the online article that short videos would help to clarify the instructions given.

Dave Y @ 3/20/2012 9:03 AM

Great article. The chance of an encounter like this happening is going to increase, especially with so many people getting into mma. A great source of training in ground defense is a company called Controlled FORCE, they specialize in this area. If you are in law enforcement, corrections or military as I am their training is a must.

Cassie @ 3/20/2012 10:46 AM

Great information and definitely worth the read! Your article is, as always, very articulate and easy to understand. I appreciated the pictures as they do a good job of showing what you are presenting. This article is about two options… It would be impossible for any author to cover all the “what if” examples.

Frank @ 3/21/2012 11:21 AM

1. PROTECT the neck. Basic combat technique and should be an automatic reaction. Tuck (dropping) the chin to the chest.

Dan @ 3/21/2012 11:30 AM

Whatever tool or technique you plan to use you must have trained realistically with it from a magazine article (however well intended) won't magically come to you under life threatening stress. As Dave Grossman says, "We don't rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of our training."

Regardless of your technique, speed and violence will fix most of these problems. Officers need to be comfortable attacking a subject's eyes, throat and groin. It's not PC, it's not pretty, but it beats the alternative.

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 3/21/2012 3:20 PM

If you get to that position you have about 10 seconds before you either pass out or he breaks your neck. can get to your weapon better shoot fast even if it means you'll get hit after it passes through the perps leg.

Ramon @ 3/24/2012 12:17 AM

try the Kabar TDK knife. its a fixed blade worn on the waist, concealed by other gear on the duty belt. Easy to bring into action, no wasted time opening the knife. Nothing is ever full proof, so awareness and officer safety fundamentals are key.

clark @ 4/5/2012 9:00 AM

To whomever keeps a discussion going with the "what if factor": what if everyone had guns, what if you find yourself against the next Bruce lee, what if you were not such a hater you could actually take something from this article and use it as a "tool in your tool box".

Jose Enrico, BJJ Instr RQ @ 4/16/2012 10:48 AM

Maybe if the first person with a negative comment actually read the article you would understand what was said! You're a typical know it all dumb ass.

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