Monday, September 20, 2010

Insidious Effects of Training Methods and Combat Effectiveness Pt 1

Marc Tedeschi, in his 1,136 door-stopper Hapkido: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique, raises the issue of the focus on combat effectiveness with respect to chokes/strangulation techniques (shime waza):

It is important to realise that some chokes used in competition (eg judo) were specifically modified for sport use. Rules often limit technique or encourage methods of application that would be inherently risky in self defence. For example, when applying a rear naked choke in judo, your head is often placed to the side of an opponent's head, to secure a stronger hold and restrict head motion. In a real fight, this places your face within striking distance, allowing an opponent to poke your eyes or back punch to the face. This response is not legal in judo competition, hence not a concern. If you originally trained to choke in competition martial arts, you may need to modify certain aspects of your technique (2000: 428)

The logic is impeccable. Tedeschi then provides descriptions and illustrations of 26 chokes from 12 different positions including 'front standing (upright), front standing (bent over), side standing, ... front kneeling, ... front-top mount (supine attacker) ... and front reclining.' One of the chokes from a front standing (upright) position is a 'front double lapel choke' which is seen demonstrated in the youtube clip below.

There is no doubt the technique will render your opponent unconscious, as demonstrated in the video clip. However, while you are using both hands in applying the technique, whether you are standing or on the ground either on top of or under your opponent, what is the opponent doing with their hands? Their hands which are free to do whatever they like to any part of your anatomy for as long as they remain conscious. When applying strangulation techniques from the front of the opponent, standing or on the ground, all the anatomical targets on the front of your head, neck, and body are open to be attacked by your opponent. Both your hands are being employed in the execution of the technique and are therefore unavailable to defend against the opponent's assault against your eyes, face, throat, groin, and body.

Renzo Gracie and Royler Gracie, in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique, refer to this technique as front collar choke. They advise to pull the opponent down to your chest which 'prevents him from defending the choke ... [and] in addition, in a street fight, he prevents his opponent from punching him as the strangle is being applied' (2001: 51). Does pulling the opponent's head to your chest as you're applying the technique prevent them from attacking your eyes or groin with their hands which are free to do whatever they like for as long as it takes for them to be rendered unconscious? No.

This technique is called nami juji jime (normal cross strangle) or gyaku juji jime (reverse cross choke) in judo. It is taught in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and many other jujutsu styles. It is taught in mixed martial arts. It is taught in hapkido and I've seen it taught in various percussion based martial arts. And most concerningly of all, it is seen in military close combat manuals.

The guillotine choke is another choke which is applied from the front of the opponent. It is a very popular technique these days due to its use by Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the mixed martial arts. An illustration of the technique while standing taken from a US military close combat manual is presented below.

Am I alone in seeing the risk posed to the groin particularly, but also possibly to the face and eyes while applying the technique? A risk which continues unabated until the choke renders the opponent unconscious. It is suggested a strangulation technique targeting the carotid artery can render a person unconscious if both carotid arteries on either side of the neck are occluded continuously for 10 seconds. You have to apply sufficient force to both sides of the neck continuously for at least 10 seconds while they are struggling and attacking your groin and/or eyes.

As Tedeschi explained above, tactics and techniques which are risky in real combat or self defence situation may be developed and adopted when techniques are prohibited in training and/or competition. Gracie and Gracie explain that eye gouges and groin attacks are prohibited in the sparring training which dominates Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Eye gouges and groin attacks are prohibited in judo randori and competition, as they are in mixed martial arts competitions. They are not prohibited in real combat nor in a real self defence situation. Any strangulation technique when applied from the front is inherently risky when attacks to the eyes and groin are not prohibited. I find it amazing how many martial arts, and military close combat systems as we've seen, who emphasise their focus on the combat imperative include strangulation techniques from the front, whether standing or on the ground. These techniques are effective in training when attacks to the eyes and groin are prohibited, but this should not be the measure of their combat effectiveness.

Gracie and Gracie, when describing the reduction in combat effectiveness of Jigoro Kano's judo because of the prohibition of techniques in his randori, explain that his student's didn't train the use of these prohibited technique nor to defend against these techniques. Gracie and Gracie include defences against the guillotine choke, but none of these defences involve attacks to the groin or eyes.

All training methods to prepare a person for combat have limitations. It is the nature of the beast. Where problems can occur is when these limitations are not understood and/or appreciated. When the training method becomes the measure of combat effectiveness as is often the case when sparring is employed as the principal training method in preparing a person for combat. Tactics and techniques can be developed which are inherently risky when placed in a 'real-life' situation where there is no prohibition on the tactics and techniques which may be employed by all parties involved in the combat.

This case study is used to illustrate the insidious effect training methods can have on the development and adoption of tactics and techniques to be used in combat. It can be seen to be another example of Karl Friday's 300-year old debate which shows no sign of resolution in the foreseeable future which I referred to in a previous blog on training methods and combat effectiveness. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a kata training proponent when it appears I might be taking aim at sparring/randori. The possible pitfalls of kata training are well known and well publicised. However, the possible pitfalls of sparring/randori (which is widely promoted as being the superior method for preparing a person for combat) are not so well known and not so well publicised. My point is that if the focus shifts from combat effectiveness to effectiveness in training, tactics and techniques may be developed which expose the student to risk if relied upon when defending themselves.

The next couple of blogs will examine other situations where the training methods have influenced the development of tactics and techniques and which do not necessarily reflect the combat imperative.


  1. just a short Comment
    in real self defence strangulations are not the most effective solution, for choking you must be closer to the adversary and there are potential harful defenses in such situation best are avoiding ( external that are more easy for beginner), followed by arm locks breking arms or kicks or throws all this solution are more fast also.
    Yours Sincerely
    Attilio Sacripanti

  2. Doctor Sacripanti

    I am overwhelmed that you are reading my blog. And more so that you would comment on one of my posts. Obviously your book has been a guiding force in my work and for this I thank you. The book I'm currently working on is right up your alley and I would love to get your thoughts/comments/critique of it.
    John Coles

  3. All your points about "dirty" counters to chokes are true, as you describe the chokes. The problem is that people who are good at grappling will not apply the chokes "in a vacuum", but rather in conjunction with positional dominance.

    For example, the cross choke as described above isn't ideal. But a grappler could fall back into closed guard to finish, tucking their chin and burying their face as they finish the choke. They could also work a throw, obtain mount and apply the cross collar choke.

    Now, the mount is often demonstrated in a way that makes it look like the bottom person could grab someone's balls or whatever, but in actual application a grappler will often use their knees to shove the bottom person's arms up and out of the way. If they apply the cross collar choke it's with their head based out on the ground above the bottom person's head. This is a pretty safe place.

    Regarding the guillotine choke, as shown perhaps it leaves the choker vulnerable, but if the choker sprawls their hips back and down then they will be well protected.

    These are just a few examples of typical BJJ ways of setting up chokes. Many instructional documents, books and videos are bad or lacking details that make or break a submission or position.

  4. The above poster makes a good point. There are many contexts where the "position before submission" mindset will neutralize many defensive techniques, possibly even dirty ones, which an opponent may use.
    There are also positions/submissions however which can still condition the practitioner in a way that does the realistically reflect a no holds barred situation.
    The guard, for example, the pride and joy of the BJJ community, is very susceptible to ground and pound if posture is not effectively controlled.
    I myself have been cut very badly from an elbow from having someone in my guard.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.