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The Judo Choke: Safety Rules

Choking techniques must be taught and supervised by a qualified instructor. Since the Judo syllabus has always contained more well-developed choking techniques than any other martial art and they are practiced in real contest situations, Judo instructors usually have extensive experience in the proper application of chokes. Judo is well known for the "Judo choke", but many other martial arts are now teaching choke holds without the wealth of background and experience most Judo experts have. Chokes are potentially fatal and should be treated seriously. As taught in Judo though they are a temporary incapacitating technique of short duration whose proper execution should be quite harmless. Judo choking techniques have been used in Judo classes and at thousands of Judo tournaments all over the world for more than 100 years without one reported fatality. It is only with the appropriate emphasis on safety and supervision that this record can be maintained.

Care should be taken when teaching chokes to children whose physiology is different and naturally less developed than adults. In most Judo tournaments in the U.S. chokes are not permitted for children under 13 years old. Children approaching this age may be prepared by learning basic chokes with escapes and defenses, always under strict supervision. Feeling different chokes being applied in practice to you and learning when to submit is an important form of preparation for tournament and for learning how to choke others. At this very young age, and in fact for beginners of all ages, the emphasis should be on recognizing the effect of chokes and protecting yourself while always avoiding extreme pressure and unconsciousness in practice.

Chokes may be practiced from either a standing position or on the ground but the ground is inherently safer. When applying a standing choke with the intention of gaining the full effect you should recognize that the victim will not be able to remain standing. In tournament and practice the person being choked should always be immediately taken to the ground for better control and to prevent an accidental fall which could injure the athlete as they go unconscious.

Learning when to give up is an important part of training to avoid the risk of unnecessary periods of unconsciousness. While judoka should not give up any opportunity to escape from a choke, they must also be trained to surrender in a timely fashion when necessary by recognizing when defeat is inevitable and when further resistance will result in unconsciousness. Once you allow yourself to be choked unconscious your life is literally in your opponent's hands, and the practice of any martial art requires that the student learn ways of avoiding this condition of ultimate helplessness. Since it is virtually impossible to speak while being choked, the universal signal for submission is tapping of the opponent or mat repeatedly.

The most important safety rule when applying a choking technique is to release pressure immediately when the opponent submits. When applying a choke one should be sensitive enough, and have sufficient control over the opponent, to recognize when he or she loses consciousness so that you can immediately release pressure. Loss of consciousness can be detected easily by the sudden lack of resistance and generally limp feeling of the opponent's body as well as the color of the face and the eyes closing. Sometimes if the choke is held too long convulsions may begin, but the effects of the choke should generally be recognized earlier with proper training and supervision.

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The second article in this series on Judo Chokes will examine resuscitation techniques (Kappo) used to revive practitioners who have been rendered unconscious by Judo chokes.


Canon of Judo. Mifune, Kyuzo. Tokyo: Seibundo-Shinkosha Publishing Co., LTD., 1956

Kodokan Judo. Kano, Jigoro. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986

Judo in Action. Kudo, Kazuzo. Tokyo: Japan Publications Trading Co., 1967

Judo. Tomiki, Kenji. Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau, 1956

The Overlook Martial Arts Reader. Nelson, Randy. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1989

Emergency Care for Choke Holds. Boulay, John. Ottawa: "Coaching Review"

Deaths Allegedly Caused by the Use of "Choke Holds". Koiwai M.D., E. Karl.

This page 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."

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About The Author:

Ohlenkamp is a martial arts writer and founder of He is a certified United States Judo Association instructor, referee, master rank examiner, and master coach (the highest level of certification), and he was awarded United States Judo Coach of the Year for 1999. He holds a fifth degree black belt in Judo and a sixth degree black belt in jujitsu and has over 31 years of training and experience in various martial arts as a competitor, instructor, team coach, and tournament official.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

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

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