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The Judo Choke

By Neil Ohlenkamp

Choking techniques are some of the most universally taught techniques in the martial arts and are found in jujutsu, aikido, Brazilian jujutsu, karate and in many Chinese, Philippine and other arts. Of all the arts, Judo is perhaps best known for the variety and sophistication of its many chokes.

When you are against a very strong or determined opponent and everything else seems to fail, the choke has proven over time to be one of the most dependable techniques. If done properly, it acts quickly and causes no physical damage and minimal pain. But if incorrectly applied, chokes can be dangerous, even potentially fatal. In fact deaths attributable to incorrect applications have led to choking techniques being banned in some law enforcement jurisdictions. (1) If chokes are taught safely, as in Judo, as a temporary incapacitating technique of short duration done with proper execution, they should be quite harmless.

The practitioner must be careful, however. The practice of choking techniques is a subtle art that requires attention to detail. Yet most texts on Judo do little to enlighten the conscientious student on the finer points of the technique. Most texts in imply that any pressure on the neck that makes the opponent give up is a good choke. (2)

In fact, there are three basic ways of choking an opponent, as well as some combinations of the three. In Judo, while all three are sometimes used, emphasis is always on the safest methods.

This scissor motion is shown in the illustration.

Compression of the carotid arteries on one or both sides of the neck restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This is the preferable and safest method. Notice how in the accompanying illustration the person executing the choke has his arm positioned around the neck (elbow in front) so to squeeze the sides of the neck but avoid pressure on the windpipe in front.


Notice how the forearm is positioned directly across the windpipe so pressure will cut of air flow into the lungs.

Compression of the windpipe (trachea) stopping or reducing the flow of air to the lungs. While sometimes effective this method can be potentially dangerous and should be practiced with care. Notice how in the accompanying illustration the forearm is positioned directly across the windpipe so pressure will cut of air flow into the lungs. While a lapel of a uniform pulled across the windpipe to restrict air flow does not have a hard surface, a hard bony forearm, or a policeman's night stick (law enforcement situations) can potentially cause damage and should be avoided.

Compression of the chest and lungs preventing the opponent from inhaling (often used during pinning techniques). This is a totally safe method often used in conjunction with either of the above methods. If you have ever had a heavy opponent pressing down his weight on your chest you would understand how effective this method is in curtailing your ability to breath.

These methods are sometimes distinguished by different terms and may be referred to as choking, strangling, wringing, or necklocks. However they are usually grouped together as a class of grappling techniques called chokes, or shime waza.

The first choking method, compression of the carotid arteries, is stressed in Judo and is the most commonly taught in Judo classes around the world. This method is desirable because it requires the least force, is the quickest acting of the choking techniques, is the most universally effective against all opponents, and it is most in keeping with the efficiency principle of Judo, "maximum effect with minimum effort."

These photos illustrate a simple rear naked (meaning use of just the arms) choke (hadaka jime). As it is applied the forearms are squeezed together (the wrist of the right hand also bent inward) to press against the sides of the neck, thus restricting blood flow through the carotid arteries. If done correctly the windpipe is not effected.

This type choke is also often taught in karate, kung fu, law enforcement and self-defense classes since it is a useful standing technique. A defender can, for example, block an attacker's roundhouse (hook) punch (aimed at the head) with a simple vertical arm (to the inside) and then sweep the attacking arm to the inside thereby spinning the attacker's body so his back is turned towards the defender. The attacker is pulled backward and down as the choke is activated. If done properly the person will be incapacitated within seconds.

Medical tests have established that the amount of pressure needed to occlude the arteries is six times less than the pressure needed to collapse the airway. Directly stopping the blood supply to the brain also results in loss of consciousness about six times faster than indirectly reducing oxygen in the brain through restricting breathing or the flow of air to the lungs. Excess pressure directly against the larynx can also be dangerous since the applied pressure in some extreme cases can collapse this structure and permanently cut off the practitioner's air supply.

Another effective rear choke (kataha jime) uses the lapel of the uniform to exert pressure on the carotid arteries (minimal pressure also being applied to the windpipe). The opponent's left arm (lifted to his back) and controlled as part of the technique.

Carotid chokes are also safer and involve less pain than the other choking methods, making them easier to practice and to acquire sufficient skill to be confident in their use. Besides making them more effective, this makes them more compatible with another principle of Judo, "mutual welfare and benefit." A skillfully executed technique will give the Judo student the ability to produce unconsciousness or submission with little pain or forewarning to the person receiving the technique.

The illustration at right shows a simple front choke (kata juji jime). The hands (palm up) are positioned as far up along side the neck, thumbs to the outside, fingers inside the lapel of the uniform. Once a solid grip is established the arms scissor open (elbows going outward) as the opponent is pulled forward to create a powerful carotid choke.

A good choke hold should render the opponent unconsciousness without injury or significant pain in a matter of seconds regardless of who the opponent is. The most basic requirements for applying such an effective choke are:

Make sure your own body always has complete freedom of action so that you are in the best position for the technique you intend to use and you are flexible enough to be able to respond to your opponent's attempts to escape. Your position should be stable so that in applying the technique you can use your entire body.

Lead your opponent into a position in which it is most difficult to put up resistance, but in which you can control all of his or her actions. Your opponent must be unstable and under your control as much as possible. Very often this means stretching out your opponent's body backwards.

Train your hands to get an accurate hold the minute you begin a technique, make your choke work in a very brief time, and once you begin the pressure, refrain from continually releasing to adjust your position. Your techniques will have much greater effect if you are firmly resolved not to let your opponent get away but to continue until the end without slackening. Constancy of pressure, rather than extreme force, is what is called for. Excessive reliance on strength would indicate a defect in the technique since very little pressure is needed to compress an artery and render a person unconscious.

Entire books can be written on the key points and details of choke holds. Students of Judo around the world have been modifying and refining these techniques for a century, testing them in contests as hard fought and serious as Olympic competition. They have developed many variations in the details of how best to utilize the legs, hips, chest, head, arms and hands to maximize the effect of the choke. In some chokes the hands and arms may use the lapel as if it were a thin cord to encircle the throat; in others they may twist or rotate powerfully into the neck; and in yet others they may pull or push to apply pressure directly to the carotid triangle or trachea. Even the same basic choke can be applied effectively in multiple ways depending on the position, relative size and movement of the opponent as well as the training, strengths and preferences of the individual. (3)

In whatever choke you apply, however, you should always have the safety of your partner in mind. There is no substitute for good technique. If you want to learn how to choke effectively and safely seek out a qualified Judo instructor.

Another effective and widely taught standing choke taught in aikido, jujutsu, karate, kung fu and in many other arts is a defense against a straight punch is shown here. The defender deflects a straight punch to the inside (or dodges it to the outside) with one hand while bringing the other arm under the punch (across the attacker's body), as if reaching for the attacker's ear (opposite the striking arm), the wrist ending on the opponent's shoulder. The deflecting arm goes behind the attackers head, the two hands gripping and pulling the attacker in (the actual grip and elbow position differ depending on the art). The punching arm and shoulder and the side of the neck are then pressed together to create the choke which often ends in a take down.

Next Page: Safety Rules


(1) In an article, "DEATHS ALLEGEDLY CAUSED BY THE USE OF "CHOKE HOLDS" (SHIME-WAZA) by E. Karl Koiwai, M.D. the author examined deaths allegedly caused by "choke holds", 13 by law enforcement officers, and 1 by a student learning Vo et Vat, a Vietnamese version of judo. He noted that the victims were not cooperative and often under the influence of drugs and were thus difficult to restrain (often a hard object such as a night stick was employed). He concluded that "All these findings indicate that tremendous force was exerted on the necks of the suspects" while "the police department training manuals emphasize that control hold should be used only when necessary to stop a suspect's resistance and not necessarily to cause unconsciousness."

The author also concluded: "In judo, the participants are taught to "choke" properly and in turn have been "choked" and have the ability to realize its effects before unconsciousness ensues. The officials, referee, judges, and coaches can recognize the player when he is "choked out" (becomes unconscious). If enforcement officers are to use the choke holds to subdue violent suspects as a last resort, they should be properly trained and supervised by trained certified judo instructors."

(2) For example the general description of choking techniques in Kodokan Judo by Jigoro Kano is "you use your hands, arms, or legs on the opponent's collar or lapels to apply pressure to his neck or throat." This excellent comprehensive manual of Judo does not identify where on the neck the pressure is to be applied or the most important objective of choking, which is to subdue violent opponents with temporary unconsciousness.

(3) Explaining the techniques in detail is beyond the scope of this article but as a brief reference, some of the basic chokes of Kodokan Judo are:

o Nami juji jime or normal cross lock from the front with arms crossed grasping the collars with the thumb inside.

• Gyaku juji jime or reverse cross lock from the front with the fingers inside.

• Kata juji jime or half cross lock with one hand fingers-in and one hand thumb-in.

• Hadaka jime or naked lock applied from the rear with the forearm across the throat.

• Mae hadaka jime or front naked lock (sometimes called the guillotine).

• Okuri eri jime or sliding collar lock applied from the rear with one hand reaching around the neck grasping the collar with the other hand reaching under the arm to the opposite collar.

• Kataha jime or single wing lock from the rear with one hand around the neck to the collar but the other hand under the arm and behind the neck

• Katate jime or one hand choke from the front or side reach across the throat to the collar.

• Ryote jime or two hand choke from the front grabbing the collars with the thumbs inside and turning your fists into the sides of the neck.

• Sode guruma jime or sleeve wheel choke from the front reaching around the back of the neck with one hand and across the front with the other and grabbing your own sleeves.

• Tsukkomi jime or thrust choke from the front grasping a lapel and pushing the fist directly into the side of the neck.

• Sankaku jime or triangle choke from the front using the legs in a figure-four position around the neck and arm.

• Jigoku jime (hell strangle) from the rear with one leg and one hand across the throat while the other leg and hand controls the opponent's arms.

Editor's note: This article was adopted from an article by Neil Ohlenkamp entitled "Principles of Judo Choking Techniques - Different Chokes for Different Folks" appearing on his website and is copyright © 1995/96/97/98 by Neil Ohlenkamp, Encino Judo Club, California, USA. This article was originally published in the January 1996 edition of "Judo Trends Magazine." It is posted with the author's permission. also wants to thank Sensei Mike Hawley (a teacher of aikido and a black belt in judo) and his assistant Paul Britzzalaro of the Kintora Martial Arts Center in Buffalo, NY for their demonstration of several Judo chokes used in this article.

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Judo, judo choke, karate, self-defense, hadaka jime, kataha jime, hadaka jime, neck lock

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