Defeating The Headlock
Part I - At The Moment Of Initiation
by Christopher Caile
Editor's Note: This is the first of a two
part article on how to defend against headlocks. This article focuses
on escaping as the attack is initiated. The second
article addresses how to escape from headlocks that are
already secured, as well as how to deal with someone who is just playing.
Some of the techniques shown in these two articles are dangerous. Always
practice carefully so not to injure your partner. Also be sure to practice
under the guidance and supervision of a trained expert and teacher.
As kids we used headlocks when rolling around the living room with
our sibling, or when play wrestling with our dad or friends.
A headlock can be playful, or can be used to control another person,
and/or wrestle them to the ground. In this way, it is not in itself
dangerous. But, the headlock can also be used to hold someone in position
while punching him in the face, or used to squeeze the neck to cause
pain or unconsciousness. This is often what happens in a fight.
If you are on the street or in a bar and you are put into a headlock
standing, or pulled to the ground in one, you become an easy target
for their kicks and punches from the assailant's friends.
So what do you do? Almost every self-defense course teaches you techniques
to use against a headlock, but many techniques do not work, or are not
applicable to all situations.
In this and the following article we will illustrate two techniques
(with a few variations) that are effective against the headlock and
teach when to use them.
First, it should be said, you can react differently at different stages
of a headlock, and you can also progressively escalate your response.
Your response should also match the situation. Responding against a
dangerous attack on the street is one thing; getting out of a headlock
from a playful friend is another. Also, you should be sure that what
you depend upon will work, if needed.
Responding To The Initiation Of A Headlock
Before someone gets a secure headlock on you, there is time to react.
First, the attacker's arm comes around your neck. Then the hand or wrist
is grabbed by the attacker's other hand, and the arms begin to tighten
as the shoulder dips. You can take advantage of this movement as shown
The strategy here is not to fight the movement, but to follow it and
use the opponent's energy and power for your own escape. If done correctly
the movement is so effective that your attacker won't know what happened.
You will be there one moment (attack initiation) and them suddenly seem
If you are an aikidoka (one who practices aikido) this technique will
seem familiar. This response is practiced in my aikido organization
Wadokai Aikido founded by Roy Suenaka Sensei. Similar techniques are
also taught in many jujutsu and grappling arts.
Here the attacker has brought an arm around your head and pulls in
and down. Go with the motion. As you do, and before the attacker's arms
are securely closed, shove the fingers of both your hands (palm down)
between your own neck and his arm and wrap them around the attacker's
As your head moves down (going with the motion), roll the attacker's
forearm outward as you also pull it down and away from your neck (using
your own weight and not just arm strength). This will create a little
space for your head to slip free.
As you do this, circle the top of your head toward the attacker's ribs,
with your body circling away too -- only a slight change in the direction
the attacker was pulling you. You will find yourself outside the grip,
to the side of the attacker and with the attacker's forearm in your
What you do at this point is up to you. One option is shown above.
With the opponent's left forearm pulled back and down, it is simple
to insert your own right arm under the attacker's forearm. Extend your
right arm up along the attacker's back, your palm up.
You are trying to bend the opponent's arm up along his back (often
called a "Chicken Wing"). To do so you should circle around
behind the opponent. If you stay at the opponent's side, his arm is
difficult to bend at the elbow and you will find yourself in a muscle
against muscle situation. But if you move behind, the opponent's elbow
will easily bend making the technique effective.
From here you can easily spin the opponent to the ground (not shown).
Or, as shown here, your left arm is used against the opponent's head,
pushing the face to the right (in a combat situation the flat of the
hand is first used as a strike) -- a very uncomfortable position and
one which allows you have assume control over him. In another variation,
the left hand grabs under the opponent's neck to secure the collar of
his uniform (gi) and then pulls toward you to effect a choke (not shown).
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com.
He has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years and holds
a 6th degree black belt in Seido Karate and has experience in judo,
aikido, diato-ryu, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts. He is
also a long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine,
Qigong. He is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher
of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President
of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. In Buffalo, NY,
he founded the Qi gong Healing Institute and The Qi Medicine Association
at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has also written
on Qi gong and other health topics in a national magazine, the Holistic
Health Journal and had been filmed for a prospective PBS presentation
on Alternative Medicine. Recently he contributed a chapter on the
subject to an award winning book on alternative medicine, "Resources
Guide To Alternative Health."