Mental Stability: Why Being Choked Is Wonderful (and Terrible too)

Female instructor Gail Boxrud is attacked and choked by male attackers. Looks helplessly pressed against the wall.

Picture by Krav Maga Minneapolis

Hands grip your neck and encircle it tightly. The pressure on your neck and windpipe increases. Hands squeeze, harder and harder. You can’t breathe. No air. The onset of panic. A rapid heartbeat. Thud, thud, thud, unable to supply blood to your brain. Black spots. Dizzy. Helpless. Then, the rush of adrenaline, a surge of anger. Release — and escape!

I’m talking, of course, about what it feels like when someone chokes you.

So, what’s it like to be choked?

Well, I can be brief: being choked is horrible.

And because it’s horrible, it’s a subject you need to deal with and should know about when you start Krav Maga. Especially because the choke defense is one of the most basic techniques in Krav Maga.

That might sound a bit discouraging, but don’t despair! I will tell you how and why being choked will eventually be less horrible and how it will even strengthen and empower you.

Being choked the first few dozen times is horrible – until you reach the point where your feelings of fear and horror vanish, and all that’s left is anger. Anger is good. Anger won’t make you freeze in your tracks as fear might. Anger will keep you going, serve as the fuel to your body engine. As long as you can be angry instead of scared, you can survive.

Lady throws such a fricking hard kick to male attacker. Looks intense!

ANGER. This lady is pissed off. ;) Picture by Austin Self Defense

Never in a million years would I have thought to ever say these words out loud, but it’s true: eventually you’ll be so used to being choked that – while uncomfortable and nasty – it won’t horrify or scare you.

You’ll be so used to the tight grip around your throat that your technique will be fast and clean and you’ll just feel smug as you beat up the guy choking you escape from your training partner’s grip. ;-D

Before I scare you completely away from Krav Maga, let me remind you of training rules every good instructor will have:

  1. First of all: we train respectfully with each other. Always. You will never be forced to do something you really don’t want to do.
  2. Secondly: a good instructor will ease you into the technique. Nobody expects you to endure a full force choke during your first time attempting the technique.

It took me a few classes (about two/three weeks) before I was comfortable enough to endure forceful chokes. I endure them because I am ready for them and I want to experience what it feels like to be choked. NOT because someone forces me.

The first few times you practice your choke defenses will simultaneously be the easiest and the scariest.

Easy because you won’t have to endure a real tight grip on your throat and really hard because you have to voluntarily let another person put their hands around your neck. The feeling of hands around your neck – even if they are not squeezing or pressuring you is scary and terrifying.

The first time I practiced the choke defenses, I felt very trapped. But I persevered and got through it, because I trusted my instructor and my sparring partners not to hurt me (intentionally, anyway). ;-)

Male has other male in stranglehold from behind, choke full force

Guys hate being choked just as much as we do. Picture by Austin Self Defense

It’s not just you or me, either. For guys it’s just as scary to be choked by another person. They might not show it, but they hate it as much as we do. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you need your sparring partner to ease up on you. Let them know you need a little break. Everyone will understand it if you need some time to yourself.

But even if you do… try again. And again. Don’t give up. This is the first (and the biggest) step you must take in order to find the strength you need to defend yourself. If you can get past this, you can do anything.

Even now, after five months of training (and a LOT of choke practice) I still feel a bit trapped when someone’s hands encircle my neck, whether they actually squeeze or not. I’m not scared, because I trust the other person to not kill me, but I still dislike the feeling.

Wanna know how I deal with this feeling? Simple: I just execute the technique as quickly and efficiently as possible! And vent my fear with a super-duper powerful kick to the groin. Yeah – take THAT, fake assailant!! You wanna mess with me??! Too bad, sucker, ‘cuz I know KRAV MAGA!!! >:D

Male sits on top of other male to choke him.

It's especially intimidating when someone sits on top of you and you can't run... Picture by Krav Maga Minneapolis

Stress training
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, one of the basic Krav Maga training principles is to train under stress. 

After all, a real fight will be stressful – so if you learn these techniques in a completely calm environment you will not learn the correct responses. Even worse, your body might freeze when you ever get in a real situation!

Krav Maga movements are focused on instinctive movements. By using the techniques during stressful situations, your body will remember them as the new instinctive reaction. Somebody chokes you? You’ll be halfway through the technique before you realise what’s happening.

What does this mean for chokes and choke defenses? Well, it means that, while you should stick to the amount of force you’re comfortable with, it’s well advised to increase the actual pressure on your neck – and thereby the stress you feel, as quickly as possible.

‘Full Force’ Chokes
Recently started doing a different type of endurance and stress drill. Our partner took a tight hold on our necks and choked us as HARD as possible. I’m talking about the real deal here. You literally can’t breathe.

However, instead of doing the counter technique as quickly as possible, we had to wait until just before we felt we were going to black out or would suffocate. Only at the last possible moment were we allowed to do the counter technique.

Why? Simple: to create even more stress and to teach our bodies to perform these techniques under tremendous pressure. When you’re really stressed out, you can’t breathe properly. When you’re held so tight that you’re about to lose consciousness or run the danger of dying, you’ll start to experience the first signs of trauma. Your vision narrows, your heart pounds like a manic. Your mouth is dry, you can’t breathe. Only one thought is going through your mind: to get free.

Male attacks other male full force from behind with stranglehold.

Can't... breathe... Picture by Austin Self Defense

Desensitization theory (OR: The moment you get used to being choked)
Well, congratulations… :/ That will be about the same way you’ll feel when you’re choked for real. By experiencing that state of mind often enough, you’ll eventually become used to it. This is known as desensitization. It’s a theory used by psychologists to help people get over their fears by exposing them to their fears (under certain conditions). It basically means that by experiencing something you’re scared of over and over again, you’ll become so used to it that it will no longer bother you so much.

This is part of why Krav Maga works and is so super effective. The stress you experience during training is so bad that when something happens to you for real, you’ll respond so fast that you won’t even get to the point you reached during training. You’ll be too busy running away from threat you just neutralized. You’ve practiced the technique under such stressful conditions during training that the choke defense has become second nature and you can focus your energy and limited thought capacity to escaping the situation.

BONUS: HOW TO choke someone properly
Of course, besides being choked, you also choke your partners in return. To that end, I’m sort of disturbed to admit that our instructor’s spent quite a bit of time to explain to us in great detail how to choke your opponent properly.

Uh. Yeah. I was shocked and horrified too the first time our instructor demonstrated the correct grips and MASSIVE weaknesses our bodies have. D: It made me realise that he, and every other Krav Maga instructor, have the skills to easily incapacitate a whole bunch of people really quickly…

FORTUNATELY for us, our Krav Maga instructors want to teach us their skills and want to help us become as awesome as they are. They’re totally on our side! Yay! :D

About Chokes
Did you know that you’re going to remain conscious for just three to eight seconds when someone chokes you full force?

If you’re lucky, that is. If someone’s really powerful, heavy or strong and grips you in the correct places this might happen even faster. It’s NOT like in the movies. It does NOT take minutes to lose consciousness.

See this movie clip? It took him 16 seconds to succumb to the choke. In real life you would be out at least twice as fast….

Of course, in real life you wouldn’t be choked by an invisible hand, either. But it’s the thought that matters. ;P

With such a narrow time frame, learning to perform the choke defenses quickly and efficiently becomes absolutely vital!

Choke facts
There are two ways to choke someone effectively.

  1. There are two major veins in your neck that supply your brain with blood. If you put pressure on these veins you stop the blood flow. No blood to the brain = knock-out. Your assailant is free to do with you as he wishes. :/ This is the quickest way to choke someone.
  2. Of course your windpipe is located nice and visibly in the middle of your neck. A good choke there, and you’ll lose all the air in your lungs immediately. It’s a bit like being hit with a sledge hammer into your lungs. It feels as if all the air is punched out of you. This is the most painful way to choke someone.
Male defends against male attacker by using preventive strike to the throat.
You see the assailant fall back due to the pressure point in the throat. Picture by Austin Self Defense.

Did you know that if you slam your hands with full force into someone’s neck and use that impact in your choke, there’s a good chance you can stun them and/or break their neck? (aka: NOT allowed during training)

Finally, just above the center of your collar bone there is a small ‘dent’ just above the bone in between your muscles. Push there, like… really hard and you’ve found a direct entry to your airway. It won’t kill you, but it’ll hurt! And is a very effective way to get someone off you. ;) That one we also use when trying to prevent someone from attacking us!

How desensitized does this make you?
When I started Krav Maga, certain situations really intimidated and scared me. However, I’ve practiced choke defenses so often that the adrenaline and anger kicks in the moment the hands touch my neck. I’m able to perform the counter techniques before I even have time to think about it.

Now when my training partner grabs me full force by my neck, I don’t even flinch – I just go in hard and get out out out within a second.

That is how used I am to being choked. o.o

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like being choked. Holy crap, no! Absolutely not! However, I’m also not terrified anymore. To lose that sense of fear is something really wonderful. It makes me feel stronger, more powerful and more in control of my life. I’m less scared of things that might happen. I know that I’m capable to withstand the extreme stress during training and it makes me feel great about myself.

To me, that is worth a lot. And that’s why I think being choked (during training, under controlled conditions) is both terrible and wonderful.

It’s completely worth it.

How about you? What did you feel when you were choked for the first time? Did Krav Maga help you be desensitized to anything else? Share your stories with me here in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter!

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Comments
12 Responses to “Mental Stability: Why Being Choked Is Wonderful (and Terrible too)”
  1. Kimmy says:

    Goed bezig!!

  2. Very nice article about chokes, it is one of the most important things in Krav Maga that’s why we practice it so much and keep repeating it. Chokes are one of the most common attacks in real life so it’s important to practice them good.

  3. Fotis says:

    The exact point of time you start loosing it and go black is very critical and its not the same for everyone. You can see people pass out with smiling!!! So I prefer to practice avoiding this last – critical- choking out drill. You may loose someone forever…. In all the rest, Great work and thanks. Fotis Greece

    • kravlady says:

      Well, I actually don’t think it can damage someone that much if you use the method where you block the veins and stop the blood flow. People pass out, but the moment the pressure is gone they wake back up. You don’t actually damage someone.

      Thanks for your comment, Fotis!! :)

      • Dennis says:

        So long you don’t hold the choke and prevent blood from flowing to the brain for to long , no damage will occur. BUT! if you keep the choke and prevent bloodflow for to long , braindamage will occur!

  4. D K says:

    I’ve had my fair share of chokes now, too. Because I’m pretty ‘delicately built’ (compared to everybody else in my group, anyway) and a woman, guys are usually quite gentle with me, and generally I don’t really tell them ‘choke me harder!’ (sometimes I do :P). But God, I hate it.

    I know how to free myself and most of the time, it works, but the feeling is just horrible. Especially a choke with the other person’s fingers on your neck. I just… Ugh, I hate it. Thankfully, that’s also the release I can do best, but I still hate it. I still feel those fingers days later…

    So I guess I know how you feel.

    Just wanted to say that I really appreciate this weblog. Not many people practise krav maga, let alone women (in my group, men really form the majority of the group), so it’s good to read all this from a woman’s perspective :)

  5. jacqui says:

    just found your blog. It’s great to find other women taking krav maga.

    I’ve been taking Krav for about 2 years and I totally agree with you chokes are horrible but so necessary.

    For years I had a MASSIVE phobia about people even touching my neck – it used to drive me crazy and make me very very anixious. But after 2 years of krav maga and being strangled from the front, from the back, from the side, on the ground, pressure tests, standing with eyes closed and only opening them when when an attack is taking place. I am truely over my phobia. It doesn’t scare me anymore. I don’t think – I just attack with full force. Scan and run.

    Changing the topic slightly, does anyone else do the following?… If I watch tv and someone is being attacked or there’ a fight scene; I’ve started analysing what’s going on and talking about ‘what I would do that situation’…hmmmm… I might be obsessed!

  6. Dennis says:

    Hey, ik had al een paar posts van je gelezen. Ik vind het enorm entertaining en zeer informatief. Volhouden! Ik doe ook Krav Maga in Brugge. En ik herken mezelf veel in wat je zegt. Bepaalde situaties die je gewend wordt door constante herhaling, zeker bij de chokes op de grond. Je ligt in een slechte positie en dan nogmaals onder stress, zoveel keer erger dan rechtstaand. Je haalt veel punten aan die elementair zijn voor een goeie en effectieve zelfverdediging. Doe zo voort!

    • kravlady says:

      Bedankt, Dennis! Ik ben blij dat je jezelf kan herkennen in de dingen die ik zeg! Dat geeft tenminste aan dat ik niet complete onzin praat. Hahaha. Train je bij Johnny? :)

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