Strikers can knock people out while grapplers choke them out. When someone loses consciousness through a hold on his neck, this is usually due to a blood choke. But what exactly is a blood choke?
A blood choke is a chokehold or a stranglehold that cuts off the blood and air supply to the brain by pressuring the carotid arteries in the side of the neck. When properly executed, a blood choke can send someone to sleep in seconds.
Blood chokes are perhaps the most critical submissions in BJJ because they are the most effective and can potentially send everyone to sleep regardless of size, strength, or toughness. So, learning how to use them effectively should be a crucial part of your training.
A blood choke is a technique that closes the carotid arteries through pressure, thus restricting blood flow to the brain. Oxygen is transported to the brain by blood, and the abrupt interruption of this flow results in a quick loss of consciousness. This is known as being choked out.
The correct word for a blood choke is strangulation. A choke is when something obstructs the airflow to the lungs, which can be food, water, or external factors like a chokehold.
A strangle is the act of restricting blood flow to the brain. But in grappling, both are referred to as chokes, with the terms used to distinguish them being air chokes and blood chokes.
The airways are close to the carotid arteries, so each strangle partially reduces the airflow, and each choke will reduce the blood flow, but the main goal of the two is different.
Air Chokes vs. Blood Chokes
What interests us most as grapplers is the efficiency of both, and blood chokes are far superior in this regard because they can send someone into dreamland in around 10 seconds or less.
Unlike joint locks or other painful positions or strikes in MMA and self-defense, all of which can be endured thanks to the power of will and adrenaline, when the blood supply to the brain is halted, you will lose consciousness regardless of mental toughness. This is why blood chokes are the most potent and effective weapon for jiu-jitsu practitioners.
Air chokes, on the other hand, apply pressure to the front of the neck and compress the trachea or larynx to stop the airflow to the lungs.
This can also lead to a loss of consciousness, but it takes significantly more time. Most people can hold their breath for a while, and air chokes will rarely wholly close the air pathways, so for a person to go to sleep from an air choke, it may have to be held for minutes.
Air chokes are also much more painful and can get a tap quicker because of the extreme discomfort they cause. People always tap to air chokes due to pain rather than because they are going to sleep.
But they can also be endured, and pain tolerance is sometimes infinite in a fight. In sparring, air chokes usually elicit quicker taps, while blood chokes lead to an inevitable result when applied tight enough.
Interestingly enough, blood chokes are a much safer option, regardless of how scary it looks when someone is choked out. The loss of consciousness due to a strangle is mostly harmless if the pressure is relieved in the first minute.
Lasting brain damage can occur only after minutes of pressure or, in some extremely rare cases, if the person has some preexisting heart conditions.
In the heat of battle, blood chokes are not pleasant, but they are also not very painful, and sometimes, people even go to sleep before they understand they’ve been caught tight enough.
The same cannot be said for air chokes, which in more severe cases can cause damage to the trachea, and a crushed trachea is a life-threatening condition.
Usually, there isn’t lasting damage, but the pain can be excruciating, and air chokes often leave sore throats and pain for days.
So here is a quick summary of blood and air chokes
- They are more effective because they can knock someone out in 10 seconds
- Generally, they are much safer and can hardly lead to lasting or permanent damage
- Less painful and more effective
- The better solution for self-defense
- It is much more painful and usually leads to quicker or instant submissions when applied, especially in sparring.
- It needs much more time to choke someone out and can be endured for much longer.
- It can inflict serious damage and, even in minor cases, lead to bruising and soreness.
So, while both types are effective ways to defeat an opponent and have their uses, a jiu-jitsu player should always prefer to strangle an opponent rather than choke him.
How To Do A Blood Choke
A blood choke attacks the carotid arteries, which are on both sides of the neck, so for it to work, you need to put sufficient pressure on the sides of the neck.
There are different blood chokes, but the common thing among them is the mechanics. A good way to visualize this is as a triangle around the head, with the point under the chin being the tip. The goal is to squeeze the triangle.
From the shape I’ve described above, it’s easy to determine that all triangle chokes in BJJ are blood. This includes classic triangles, reverse triangles, arm triangles, and the like.
Regardless of the details in position, the mechanics are the same: You form a triangle around the head of the opponent and put pressure on both sides of his neck.
Other popular blood chokes include properly applied rear naked chokes and most lapel chokes. By properly applied, I mean a rear naked choke attacking the sides of the neck.
Often, the strangled person will move, or the attacker may deliberately attack the front of the neck and elicit a tap due to pain, which is not a blood choke but is still an RNC choke.
In the same way, a guillotine choke can be a blood choke or an air choke, depending on the angle of the head and the way you apply the pressure. If you want the opponent to nap quickly, attack the side of the neck.
Doing a blood choke sounds easy, but in reality, there are a lot of small details that can go wrong. It usually takes 10 seconds to choke someone out, and if you’ve been holding and squeezing with all your force for more, it means the arteries are not completely closed, and there is some room.
This leads us to the next point.
How To Defend Blood Chokes
Each strangulation has a slightly different defense, but you will always need to make room and relieve the pressure at least on one side so the blood and oxygen can continue flowing to the brain.
This is usually done by fighting the hands to break the grip or open up a little space. Often, you don’t need much; if you get a small gap, you will still be miserable but conscious.
Then, you can start moving your body to an angle without pressure on the side of your neck. At the same time, it’s the attacker’s job to control the body if he wants to complete the choke.
How Long Does It Take to Choke Someone Out?
The time it takes for someone to go to sleep from a choke depends on several factors, the main of which is the tightness of the choke, but it’s usually between 8 and 14 seconds.
The most significant factor is how tight the arteries are closed, which depends on the strength and technique of the strangler. A black belt will naturally have a much better triangle than a white belt, just like a well-conditioned 240-pound man will have a better squeeze than a 150-pound newbie.
Then, more experienced grapplers have stronger neck muscles and can easily withstand weaker squeezes. But if a choke is executed perfectly, no amount of muscle or experience will save you; the result is always a quick nap.
Blood chokes, or strangulations, are the gold standard of submissions in jiu-jitsu. When executed correctly, a strangle will render an opponent unconscious, regardless of size, pain tolerance, or mental toughness.
Blood chokes are also relatively painless and harmless, even when the opponent starts snoring, making them ideal for training, competitions, and self-defense, where legal repercussions must also be considered.