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Blood Chokes: How Do They Work?

Bottom Line: blood chokes are the most common type of choke used in martial arts, such as BJJ and MMA. They work by cutting off the blood supply to the brain, which results in a loss of consciousness in a matter of seconds. Blood chokes are quite safe, as long as the choke is released as soon as the defender passes out. Holding a blood choke for an extensive period of time can result in serious, long-term injury, or even death.

Ever wonder how and why someone goes to sleep from a choke?

The answer is a blood choke: a chokehold that cuts off blood supply to the brain.

This is the most common type of choke to see in BJJ or MMA. Done right, blood chokes are safe, and an 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, 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 you fall asleep at night, you don’t realize you’ve been choked out until you wake up.

This leads to a strange moment when you come back online. You’re usually lying on your back wondering what’s going on, 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) that you just got choked out.

After this short period of disorientation, you’re usually back up 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.

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. A good rule of thumb to follow is ten seconds – hold the choke for ten seconds, without letting off any of the pressure, and usually this will be enough.

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.

How to Defend Blood Chokes and Chokeholds

Once you know how to do a choke (or any other kind of submission), you should have a good idea how to defend it as well.

To put the choke on, you need to block the carotid arteries on both sides of the neck. So, to defend the chokehold, you need to create space on at least one side of the neck, so blood can reach your brain.

You can do this by fighting your attackers arms, breaking the lock on their chokehold, or just loosening it enough to give you space. You can also turn your body, if it’s not being controlled, to change the angle and thus take the pressure off the carotid artery.

Are Blood Chokes Safe?

Blood chokes, when done in a supervised gym environment, are actually quite safe.

If the choke is released soon after the defending person goes to sleep, blood flows back to the brain, and there are usually no after-effects.

The danger is when a blood choke is held for too long. Extended loss of blood to the brain will cause long-term damage, and eventually death.

Extended loss of blood flow to the brain was cited as one of the reason’s for George Floyd’s death. In his case, the pressure on his neck was held well after he lost consciousness.

Another potential danger with a blood choke is the passed-out person falling and landing on a hard object. The choke itself may not cause damage, but if you pass out, fall, and hit your head on a table or hard floor, this can be quite serious. That’s why it’s best to only do chokeholds in a supervised, safe environment like the gym.

In Summary

Blood chokes sound scary, and look scary, when you see someone pass out from one. However, they are fairly safe, as long as they’re used only in a regulated and supervised environment, like a BJJ or MMA fight.

Learn how to do a blood choke properly, and you’ll find yourself finishing chokes with a lot higher success rate, even against larger and stronger opponents.

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