Monday, November 25, 2013

"Choking: A Dangerous Weapon?"

Women's Health Magazine's "Domestic Terror," by Meghan Rabbit presents some pretty staggering statistics. According to their stats, 1 in 4 women has been victim to severe physical violence by an intimate partner and almost 1 in 2 has experienced psychological aggression. Clearly, this is all sorts of fucked up. (It wasn't addressed in the article, but this issue certainly is not exclusive to women. Plenty of men have wound up in relationships with abusive partners as well). Domestic violence is horrible for victims of both sexes and the problem is more widespread than I thought.

Most of the article chronicled one woman's story of suffering, surviving, and ultimately escaping an escalating cycle of abuse. It was a captivating story, for sure. But what really grabbed my attention was the blurb at the end of the article, entitled "Choking - A Dangerous Weapon." According to the blurb, choking in domestic violence cases "is one of the strongest predictors that a victim is at risk for more serious violence, including a major assault or even homicide."

In jiu jitsu, choking each other on the mats is harmless. We can tap out at anytime and it is generally within our power not to go unconscious. If we are stubborn and refuse to tap, our partners are trained to release us as soon as we go to sleep. I tap really early to joint locks, but I try longer to fight through chokes, even to the point of feeling light-headed, since the effects are fleeting and not damaging to my body. I've never been put to sleep before, but I have put others to sleep and it no big deal.

Trying not to tap!!

Violently choking someone with attempt to harm or intimidate is obviously a different story. According to the article, "even one episode can lead to long term neurological problems, such as difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or even seizures." Or worse, it can be deadly.
Choking someone can be harmless in one setting or it can be devastating in another. Since it can have serious consequences, there are folks who want to make sure it carries a serious punishment. While choking someone is often charged as a misdemeanor in court, "some 30 states are trying to make it a felony instead by classifying it as 'second degree strangulation,' given prosecutors another tool with which to charge abusers with a more serious crime." In North Carolina, the state where I live, choking is indeed a felony. I have mixed feelings about this. As a feminist, a decent human being, and an overall disliker of bad guys, I am glad that abusers in my state can be put away for longer periods of time.  But as a jiu jitsu practitioner, this makes me nervous. Choking someone out is something that is safe and taken lightly in my world, but it is serious in the eyes of the law.

I don't carry a gun, a knife, a taser, or a can of pepper spray in my purse. Jiu jitsu is my weapon of self defense. Jiu jitsu is what I rely on to keep me safe. It is a weapon that I hope I never have to use, but one that I am training to use without hesitation should I ever need it.

I hope that I never have to defend myself against a rapist, but if I do, I would be thankful to have drilled thousands of triangles, allowing me to throw them quickly, fluidly, and without much conscious thought, should I ever be held down that way. If my safety depended on it, I believe that I could triangle an attacker without hesitation. But what then? Would the onus be on me to prove that this was a self defense situation? The #1 defense of rapists is to claim that the assault was consensual. If people believed his story, would I be the one under suspicion? Could I become the felon?

I may sound paranoid here, but an MMA fighter in my community was sentenced to a long prison term for using his training to defend himself against a much larger attacker, in a pretty clear cut self defense situation. The case did not involve choking, but it proves to me that juries do not understand MMA or jiu jitsu. They understand guns and will let you "stand your ground" and flat out shoot an adversary. But to use nonlethal martial arts training to subdue an attacker? That just might get you arrested.

Self defense is not always clear cut to onlookers. What about a highschooler who has been a victim of chronic bullying, who finally stands up to her tormentor? What about a concerned party-goer who observes a belligerent drunk threatening his girlfriend? Jiu jiu prepares its practitioners to deal with these scenarios. If they choke out one of these assailants it is not "strangulation" the way jurists may see it, but a use of nonlethal force that results in no lasting damage. It is perhaps the gentlest way to subdue an attacker. It is disconcerting to think that it also carries the severest of penalties. In light of the article, I appreciate that anti-choking laws make a lot of women safer, but as a martial artist, they make me feel more vulnerable.



  1. Could you please post some references for this?

    "I may sound paranoid here, but an MMA fighter in my community was sentenced to a long prison term for using his training to defend himself against a much larger attacker, in a pretty clear cut self defense situation."

  2. yeah. I do not claim to have unbiased references, but the story is here, including a witness account:

  3. I do not have enough knowledge on the subject , so I have a doubt which you could clear. Suppose you choke an attacker unconscious and leave the place, do you think the attacker will be injured if he is not attended for long ?

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  5. It would depend on how long you hold the choke. There are no guarantees, but if you let go of the choke as soon as he the attacker goes to sleep, I would expect him/her to be fine

  6. Thanks for reminding the world that men are survivors of domestic violence, too. Imagine ( female ) cops scoffing at your tears; social workers' initial meetings assume you're the abuser. Bro-Dudes look at your muscles and assume you're a coward or a liar.
    BJJ has opened my eyes to a world of options for self defense, but I'd still probably have gone to prison if I used it at all in my home, no matter how justified. Jiu-Jitsu's inner game, however, has changed what situations I'd let myself be part of. That's the "art" in martial art!
    Anyhow, awesome article, and cheers to you!