Blood Chokes: How Do They Work? 

Ever wonder how and why people go to sleep from chokes? These are blood chokes.

This is the most common type of choke to see in BJJ or MMA. Done right, blood chokes are a safe and incredibly effective way to finish a fight or neutralize an attacker.

Learning just how these chokes work will help you to complete more submissions, as well as knowing how you need to defend against chokes.

Read on to find out more.

Why Do People go to Sleep from Blood Chokes?

It turns out, getting choked out is not as scary as you’d expect (I’m speaking from experience). Blood chokes are generally painless, and have few ill-effects after the choke is over.

As the name suggests, your blood flow is the main player here.

There are two carotid arteries, whose job it is to carry oxygen to the brain via the blood. These arteries run along each side of the neck. If they’re blocked, the brain won’t be able to get any oxygen. And without oxygen, the brain will shut down.

OpenStax College, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I know you’re not here for a biology lesson (nor am I qualified to give one). So that’s about as deep into the science as we’ll go.

The important thing to know is that if you block both carotid arteries for long enough, it’s good night. Even the toughest guys will pass out – one of the reasons BJJ is such a great tool for smaller fighters to take on bigger, stronger opponents.

It’s important to notice once someone has been choked out, as prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain can be extremely serious. However, if the choke is released and the arteries are opened again, there are generally no lasting effects.

What Does a Blood Choke Feel Like?

It looks scary from the outside, but in truth, there’s actually very little to worry about. It’s not painful, just a little confusing.

If the choke is slow enough, you’ll notice you start to get lightheaded, and start seeing stars. Many of you will have experienced this when you leave it a little late to tap. This means your brain is starting to get low on oxygen, and you’re close to passing out.

When you get choked out for real, it’s a strange feeling. Just as you don’t usually notice the exact moment fall asleep at night, you don’t realize you’ve been choked out until you wake up.

This leads to a confusing moment when you come back online. You’re usually lying on your back wondering what’s going on, often with a crowd of people standing over you. It’s common to still think you’re fighting or rolling, until it dawns on you (or someone tells you) you just got choked out.

After this short period of disorientation, you’re usually back up more or less to 100% fairly quickly. If you’re rolling or drilling, you should be able to take a moment, drink some water and get your bearings, and get back at it.

Blood Chokes vs Air Chokes

The majority of chokes in BJJ are blood chokes. They’re the most effective, as they take the least strength to put on, and can’t really be resisted through brute strength. They’re also safest, almost never having any lasting damage.

Most common blood chokes include the rear-naked choke, triangle choke (leg triangle and arm triangle), as well as many lapel chokes (such as the bow-and-arrow or loop chokes). Some variations of the guillotine can be too, like the high-elbow guillotine.

The other style of choke is the air choke. This works by cutting off oxygen to the brain via the windpipe, rather than the carotid arteries, usually by putting a large amount of force on the throat.

For this reason, air chokes are a lot more painful, and can be much more dangerous, as there’s a risk of damaging the windpipe.

Due to the pain, you’ll usually see people tap out before they go to sleep from an air choke. However, some people will tough it out, which can end up working as a defense, where it wouldn’t for a blood choke. It also takes a lot longer to actually pass out from an air choke, compared to a blood choke.

Air chokes are usually front chokes, like the guillotine, d’arce or different styles of necktie (Peruvian necktie, Japanese necktie). These chokes can sometimes be done as a blood choke though, which is often more effective.

How Long Does It Take to Choke Someone Out?

The length of time a choke takes to set in can vary, depending on different factors. If it’s not quite in right, or you don’t have a tight squeeze, it can take a little longer than if a black belt is doing the choke.

For air chokes, it takes quite a while to choke someone unconscious. Think about it – you can probably hold your breath for a little while, right? Same thing. People usually tap from the pain before actually going to sleep.

Blood chokes are a lot quicker. A perfectly executed choke with a really tight squeeze can go on right away. You can be fine, and then two seconds later deep asleep.

Other times it will take a little longer, especially if you’re not super strong. It’s said that after 10 seconds with blood flow to the brain it will shut off, so this is a good rule of thumb to use for blood chokes.

If you put it on, try for 2 seconds and let go, you can often leave the submission right as the other person was thinking about tapping. But if you hold it for 10 seconds, any properly executed choke will give them two options: tap, or nap.

How to Choke Someone Out

Now you know the science, all you need to do is apply it to get the choke (easy, right?).

It might be hard to tell exactly whether you’re shutting off the carotid or not (it is under the skin after all). But if you’re holding a choke for a long time and your opponent is still fighting, you should have an idea of why it’s not working.

Chances are, if your RNC or triangle isn’t working, it’s probably because the other person has some room on one side of their neck. So think about your choke and how you can apply pressure to both carotid arteries, and keep the pressure.

Wait 10 seconds, and if you’ve done it right, your partner will be snoring.

It’s just science.

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