Saturday, 1 August 2015

Takedown #2




Perhaps readers may be able to elaborate on this more than I can, but there used to be a practise in Judo – maybe this practise is still cultivated in some Dojo today – where a student undergoing a test for a higher grade was required to “choke out” an uke, either into direct or partial unconsciousness, and then be expected to revive him/her by applying shiatsu.


I did witness such a thing once, from the sidelines so to speak, and it made me uncomfortable. As a beginner, and as a Judo outsider, I took no stance either way, and just melted away from the very thought of such a condition for testing.
Much later only, did I ask myself: what would a neurologist say to such a practise, or a cardiologist for that matter, since the flow of air was being interrupted to the point of loss of consciousness? Was such a thing beneficial for the heart or for the lungs or for the brain?

Two methods of choking exist: air wave chokes directed to the front of the throat, cutting off the air supply; and blood flow chokes, wherein pressure is applied to the carotid artery at the side of the neck.

Every martial art contains in its repertoire methods of choking/strangling…or as we now politely say in Jiu Jitsu, “neck restraints”…and these are initiated from all possible angles, all with similar results – incapacitating the opponent, or worse.

Takedown #2, today’s study, concludes with an air choke that could also, depending on your ability to relax, produce additional pressure on the carotid artery, allowing for quick, and devastating, results.

Who is back to help us? – our old “villain” friend Sensei Murray Mahoney, the one with the legendary smile, and the man-who-would-be-strangled, Anthony Fritz. (Mahoney switched over to the role of the “good guy” for TAKEDOWN #1. He gets better press now and it will probably be difficult for me to convince him to be an agent of destruction, even for nostalgic reasons). So Anthony has the difficult task of again playing the villain.

All chokes are adaptable to a stream of situations. Rapid, complex, simple or slow, a fight sequence is as unpredictable as pure chance, given the enormous number of imputs – location, terrain, states of mind, slippage, muscle memory, time of day, etcetera and so on.

1.  We begin with the approach which is, for beginners, always from the front, facing the assailant. We were taught to approach the assailant sideways from the front, minimizing our own body area as a possible target. In other words, moving in sideways makes us a smaller, narrower target.

2.  Mahoney might strike or slap or otherwise distract Anthony as a preliminary movement that seeks to destabilize the assailant, setting him up for the next movement. That all depends, of course, on the situation. The situation – does he have a knife? Is he armed with a gun? His friends…are they nearby? – governs the strategy you enforce. That may change, in the matter of a second. As a martial artist, your mandate is to adapt.

In this step, Mahoney pushes Anthony’s right shoulder with his right hand and pulls Anthony’s left shoulder toward him with his left hand. It looks simple enough, doesn’t it, yet Mahoney at this point, can resort to a “light touch” power where both hands deftly slap at Anthony’s shoulders, almost like an iron hand strike. Mahoney did the same to Anthony’s leg in Takedown #1 when we asked him to drop down while pulling the back of Anthony’s ankle and striking his femur lightly with his right arm. The same exquisite sense of touch applies.

Never just go into practising a movement without first entering the correct state of mind. The sequence plays out like this – whether performing randori, sparring, push/sticky hands or forms/Kata or weapons work – mind first, next…intention, then only do we follow up with physical motion.



3.  Mahoney’s touch strikes to the shoulders forces Anthony to spin around into a primary choke hold. Mahoney has many options if he encounters a glitch in the spinning process: he can redirect Anthony’s shoulders the other way…clockwise to counter-clockwise; he can redirect Anthony into a “clothesline” type of hook about the throat or neck following by a “clothesline” type of takedown. Many options are open to him…as long as he remains in an open and mindful state, just like the most seasoned push hands or sticky hands practitioners.

4.  Following the sequential order, Mahoney further destabilizes his assailant by shifting his left hand down to the middle of Anthony’s spine and pushing inward, breaking the young man’s balance. Other options remain, in case things go wrong here. That indeed is combat, options opening up into further options.

Combat is fluid and flexible. A state of combat readiness remains long after the battle is over, sometimes years later. The question should then be asked based on the manner in which the experience of battle occupies the centre of the combatant’s life…is it a burden or is it a gift?


5.  Mahoney starts taking Anthony to ground. He maintains several points of contact and control: the first, and obvious one, is with his forearm across the throat; the second, is the left hand at Anthony’s back; and the third, is the close proximity of Mahoney’s chest wall and abdomen which creates a wall that presses up against Anthony and provides the core of the choking technique.

I asked my Jiu Jitsu teacher, Shihan Ron Forrester, what I might do if, at this point in the sequence, I start to lose control of the assailant.

“Fall forward.”

“That will break his neck.”

“Yes, that does tend to break his neck.”

Forrester was a student of combat, and he was admittedly providing his perspective of an extreme combat situation. Readers might not wish to take matters that far. Consider a drunken relative at a wedding reception who, while toasting the bride and groom, brings up some distasteful references to the past. Not exactly a life and death state of crisis, unless you’re the best man, who is now blushing profusely, and who may soon be hiding beneath the table.

6.  Forrester’s message was always clear – maintain control throughout using proper biomechanics. Indeed, as Mahoney positions himself on the ground, he pulls back across Anthony’s throat while he pushes forward with his chest. I refer to this action as placing the assailant’s throat into a vice.

For the bent knee-choking forearm combination, we follow a basic rule: if the right arm chokes, the right knee is down. Simple. That type of forearm-knee alignment provides greater depth and stability to the choke.

Being on the receiving end of a real choke is far from a pleasant experience, especially when it slices in across your throat from somewhere unseen behind you. Instantly, it feels as though your head and your body have been separated, in essence it is a form of decapitation. Your head seems tiny, as if it’s up out in space somewhere; your body no longer exists. Your first and only thought is: why is this happening to me?

If the assailant is military, s(he) will snap the trachea back in one quick move, by-passing the rest of the choke since time is of the  essence in the field of battle and friendly lives might also be at stake.


Which is why I always give the following warning: a confrontation between two neighbours about whose dog peed on whose lawn is not a red alert. Readers, please consult with an attorney or a law enforcement professional before deciding to leap over that fence.


7.  Now we arrive at “the twist of fate”. Mahoney’s grip involves putting his right palm into his left as you can tell in the close up I thoughtfully included. This allows him to roll his wrist and forearm back and up into Anthony’s throat.  Whenever Forrester performed this on me, I thought: “What did I do wrong?” My senior, Sensei Bruce Stanton, has a talent for this part of the routine which is just as crisp. Glad to be alive is not an understatement once one finds oneself released.

I had a Black Belt student long ago, very powerful, very respectful and very calm. One time, we were all in a street demo and he was tasked with striking another Black Belt who had donned one of those thousand dollar impenetrable suits that resemble attire from a bomb disposal unit. Supposedly, the face mask was unbendable. Well, he punched it, snapping it back against itself, and the Black Belt inside received a bloody nose. The puncher, the same otherwise calm Black Belt, would never allow anyone to choke him, frantically so.

I hope he isn’t reading this but I suspect the panic was a residue from his younger days. We all carry some stuff of maimed innocence around with us, however small.  It’s too bad he’s moved and not training with me now, now that I have the tools to dissolve that sort of “monkey-on-the-back”.

Here’s a quick aside concerning technical integrity and the ability to adapt a technique to the requirements of combat. I’m not quite sure whether many North American readers will be familiar with FC Barcelona, a giant in international football (soccer) at the club level but I hazard to guess that most other readers in the world will be.

FC Barcelona, or Barca as the team is popularly referred to, plays a level of game where they have mapped out the field for ball control. When their game is really on, they practise a level of patience and passing finesse which is indeed other-worldly. They probe, move inside their triangles, probe again, pass again, they shift this way, they shift that way…and the touch on the ball measures exactly to the need of the moment. Their style of play is beautiful, and necessary, in its scope. Again, like the best of martial techniques, the members of the team are able to adapt technique to the needs of the moment while maintaining the integrity of that technique. 

Here’s a sample BARCELONA

As a further aside, some of the big teams used to play a friendly game or two on lazy summer days at the old Varsity Stadium in Toronto, so readers from Portugal I hope you’re jealous because I saw the Black Pearl himself play, EUSEBIO, along with Simoes, when Benfica came to town.

And here’s a gaggle of hens story if you like football complications. Two European mid-level teams were playing a one o’clock game at Varsity, and they were evenly paired at one-to-one when the one team jumped ahead with a goal that the other team – and the majority of spectators – immediately disputed. The players and manager of that team leaped about in anger, and they were soon joined by about a hundred or so of their fans, who had descended onto the pitch. The referee was a seven foot three inch Scot whereas the fans of the disputing team were all really quite small in comparison, something akin to a group of wayfaring Hobbits. Enter then one lone Metropolitan Toronto police constable on top of a horse, an animal that clearly wanted to be back in the safety – and sanity – of the barn.

Nevertheless, the small crowd of eager combatants surrounded the referee who began flailing out kicks in all directions with the result that many of the little Hobbits began flying backwards while the horse decided to turn for the sidelines, clearly frustrating the constable on board.

The Scot was quite good at kicking, better than most of the forwards on both teams, and he soon cleared the pitch of the rest of the Hobbits along with the players and manager of the disputing team. All the while, the majority of the crowd had remained in their seats, where they enjoyed a good view of the spectacle. At this point in the proceedings, there were no more boos and other signs of outrage; most of us sat doubled over in our seats, convulsed in laughter.

To this day, I have no idea whether the final score of 2 – 1 held, nor does it ever trouble my sleep. After all, it’s the game that counts!

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