A Brief Anatomy of Strangling, Choke, and Triangle Techniques

A Brief Anatomy of Strangling, Choke, and Triangle Techniques

This week’s blog is by my good friend and colleague by Steve Scott.

Using strangles and chokes is serious business and is not for the immature. It’s better to tap out than pass out. The action of strangling may often (but not always) cause pain, especially when using the legs, and could have lethal consequences if applied long enough. That’s why they used to hang bad guys in the Old West: it hurt, and it was effective. Aside from that obvious point, cutting off the blood supply to the brain deprives the brain of oxygen and causes unconsciousness. The fact is, when you strangle or choke someone you are depriving him of his breath, and no matter how tough a guy is he still has to breathe. Apart from the physical effects, depriving someone of his ability to breathe has a big psychological impact on him.

You usually want to focus your choke on, or directly below, the Adam’s Apple (thyroid cartilage). The thyroid cartilage is located right under the hyoid bone, a small bone that supports the thyroid cartilage and has many functions in swallowing. The trachea (windpipe) is located below the thyroid cartilage and is a flexible tube made up of cartilage. All these things are tough but not really made for having somebody else squeeze them with great intensity! The sides of the neck contain the carotid arteries, which are large arteries and the brain’s major source of blood. When they are constricted, most of the blood going to the brain doesn’t get there anymore. Deprived of oxygen for even four or five seconds, the brain starts to shut down and unconsciousness occurs. If the brain is deprived of oxygen for four to six minutes, clinical death can occur. Whether you make an opponent pass out from constricting his carotid arteries or constricting his windpipe and connected organs, you still deprive him of oxygen.

Using strangles and chokes is serious business and is not for the immature. I have coached for many years specializing in submission techniques and sincerely believe strangles and chokes are more dangerous than armlocks. A broken arm or leg can mend, but the effects of the brain cells lost from being choked cold always stay with you. The lack of oxygen to the brain kills brain cells and these brain cells don’t grow back. Lose enough of them and neurological damage can take place.

It’s better to tap out than pass out, especially in training. Don’t be macho and risk serious injury and possible problems later in life. By the same token, if you’re strangling an opponent or training partner and he taps out, he means it. Release the pressure and stop choking him for his safety. An old saying goes, “When in doubt, tap out.” You’re not any less brave, less tough, or less of anything. You’re using your survival instinct to let your opponent know it’s time to stop choking you. Don’t risk your health or be a risk to the health of others. Practice safe and practice smart. It’s better to tap out than pass out.

The Difference Between a Strangle and a Choke

It’s common to interchange the words “strangle” and “choke.” Specifically, “strangle” describes all the techniques we associate with any technique or move that attacks the neck or throat. “Choke” is more specific and refers to an action that obstructs or blocks the windpipe.

Often, we refer to any strangle aimed against the side of the neck and the carotid arteries as just that, a strangle. Any strangle that close, blocks, or obstructs the front of the neck at the throat is often referred to as a choke. A choke makes an opponent gag and sputter and is often more painful than when you cut off the blood supply to his brain pressing against his carotid arteries. But we all use the words “choke” and ‘strangle” to mean either action, so it really doesn’t matter if you call it a “strangle” or a “choke.” We all know what is meant.

Triangles Chokes from the Bottom Guard Position

The oldest and most basic way of performing a triangle choke is when the attacker is on the bottom fighting from his buttocks, back, or backside. As a result, this position produces a large number of opportunities (and as a result a large number of applications) for a triangle choke.

Historically, fighting from the bottom in what is now commonly called the guard position has been known in Japanese judo (both Kodokan judo and its offshoot Kosen judo) as newaza (grappling techniques from a supine or reclining position). Japanese judo athletes, especially those who followed the Kosen form of judo where the emphasis was (and continues to be) on ground fighting, favored strangling techniques, and triangle chokes from the bottom were developed to a high standard.

Likewise, Brazilian jiu-jitsu exponents have traditionally favored fighting from the newaza or guard position and have developed highly refined triangle chokes from this position. The triangle chokes applied from the bottom guard position have proved to be a mainstay in many modern forms of sport combat including MMA (mixed martial arts).

From a coaching perspective, initially presenting the fundamental skills of the triangle choke from the bottom guard position seems to be the most effective way to develop the technical skills necessary for effective triangle chokes from any starting position.

This is what I do as a coach, and it has been my experience that athletes who initially learn triangle chokes from the bottom guard position gain a better fundamental understanding of what the triangle choke is about and ultimately progress in skill acquisition more quickly and develop a more disciplined approach to applying triangles from any position. Literally, the best way to learn triangle chokes is from the ground up.

The attacker on bottom lies at an angle and sideways to his opponent (the two bodies forming somewhat of an “L” shape) as shown in this photo. The advantage of this side angle position is that it allows the bottom grappler to “have longer legs.” In other words, the side angle of the bottom grappler’s body in relation to the top grappler’s position closes the distance between the two grapplers and allows the bottom man to extend his legs further, trapping and forming a triangle easier. This side angle also allows the bottom grappler a good opportunity to roll his opponent over onto his side to complete the strangle or apply an armlock.

The Primary Parts of the Triangle: Anchor Leg and Tie-Up Leg

Each leg has a specific function when forming a triangle. Fundamentally, the triangle with the legs is formed with (1) an “anchor” leg and (2) a “tie up” leg. The anchor leg is the leg that the attacker slides over his opponent’s shoulder and initially uses to trap the defender’s head. The tie-up leg is used to form the triangle by hooking onto the anchor leg.

Think of it this way: both legs trap an opponent’s head, shoulder, and arm, and the leg that the attacker initially slides over his opponent’s shoulder to wrap around his neck is the anchor keeping the opponent’s head in place. The other leg is the leg that is used to tie up, secure, and form the triangle trapping the opponent’s head, shoulder, and arm to create the strangling action.

The above is an excerpt from The Triangle Hold Encyclopedia, by Steve Scott, Pub Date May 1, 2022, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN 9781594396496.

About the Author

Steve Scott is a professional judo, sambo and jujitsu coach residing in Kansas City, Missouri. He was born in 1952 and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He holds 8th dan (Hachidan) rank in judo and 7th dan rank in shingitai jujitsu. Steve is the author of over a dozen published books on the subject of judo, sambo and other Martial Arts. Starting his judo career in 1965 and his sambo career in 1976, Steve has been active at all levels of competition, coaching and … More »

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