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Self Defence

'Lights out' - The art of Shimewaza

By Kevin O'Hagan

In the animal kingdom many predators know that when they want to go for the kill, they will attack the throat and neck area. This quickly subdues their prey and will bring it down fast.

In the world of self defence the only guaranteed way to stop a determined attacker in their tracks is by slapping on a hard and tight strangle or chokehold. There really isn't any other unarmed fighting technique that carries the brutal efficiency of closing down the airway or blood supply when executed correctly.

Whether it be the sporting arena, self defence or serious combat, strangulation and choking are the top 'manstoppers'. Regardless of your assailant's size once the hold is in place they are going to sleep.

A punch or kick doesn't carry the high percentage finish as the chokehold. The arm bar or shoulder lock will not stop a fired up attacker. The strangle will.

I can recount dozens of stories of individuals who carried on fighting after having an arm or leg broken. An eye gouged an ear bitten or after receiving a good kick in the balls. The human body is hugely resilient to punishment when it goes into fighting mode. Many of the highly touted pressure point strikes and 'ninja death holds' will not work under live combat conditions.

When an individual is high on large quantities of alcohol or drugs the knowledge of shime waza (strangulation) is crucial to bring this type of dangerous foe under instant control.

These types of holds will deal with dangerous individuals fast.

I remember some years ago on a seminar the legendary Roy 'pretty boy' Shaw speaking about how a prison warder took him out with a classic sleeper hold.

Roy Shaw was at one time probably the most dangerous man in Britain. He was a ferocious fighter on the cobbles, in the ring, and in umpteen hardcore prison institutes including Broadmoor. But he was controlled in this particular instant with a technique he had not encountered before. This story illustrates the power of these holds.

I have worked with and taught many security personnel who have had to rely on a strangle or choke on many occasions to stop a particularly nasty situation.

In the world of cage fighting and MMA the strangle is right up their as the most fast and efficient tap out and finisher.

Today in training the word choke is generically used to describe the choke and / or strangle. But both are very different in their applications. We are going to explore the differences and also look at exactly what happens to the human body when they are applied to it.

The stranglehold attacks the carotid arteries and slows the blood flow to the brain whist the choke puts direct pressure on the windpipe closing down the airway. 


Running down the neck both sides of the windpipe are the common carotid arteries that divide into internal and external caratoid arteries. Near the base of the neck the artery enlarges, this is called the Carotid Sinus, running with the Carotoid Arteries are the Vertebral Arteries. All these supply oxygenated blood to the heart. The internal Carotoid supplies blood to brain and eyes, external supplies the face and scalp. In addition, two vertebral arteries rise from the subclavian arteries and run up the neck through openings in the cervival vertebrae to supply blood to the brain and skull.

This blood collected in the brain is eventually emptied into 2 large veins, one on either side of the head called internal jugular veins which carry the blood down the neck for passage back to the heart. There are also smaller external jugular veins which help collect blood from outer parts of the head. You cannot stop the blood flow to the brain by pressing the carotoid arteries because the vertebral arteries will just take over. But you can drastically drop the flow by pressing at the carotoid sinus which in turn causes the vagus nerve centre to stimulate the slowing of the heart rate to drop blood pressure. A person trained in the art of shimewaza can lapse another into unconsciousness very quickly: 3 to 12 seconds.

To cut off the air you must restrict the trachea (windpipe) by pressure. High up in the windpipe is the larynx and the hynoid bone   both can be ruptured and damaged, as can the thyroid cartilage (adams apple) and the cricoid cartilage at the base of the trachea.


Usually the radius bone of the wrist and forearm (thumb side) are used to execute this choking method. Choking is an unpleasant situation. A person being choked can struggle for minutes and make some pretty unpleasant gargling noises. Choking can be lethal and is only used as a last resort combat. If the trachea is collapsed, there is no recovery from this.

In competition fighting the strangle is most often used. Unless the person being strangled has a history of heart or blood pressure problems, they should recover consciousness. Holding a strangle on for 3 minutes or more can result in brain death.

More advice on these topics are covered fully in my books ' I thought you'd be bigger' and 'In your face.'

In the Ju Jutsu circles that I have travelled over the years, the generic term for all strangles and chokes was 'Shimewaza.' This covered bare handed or sometimes referred to as naked chokes. Also Gi, jackets or T-Shirt strangles and chokes. Plus compression, smothering or any constriction around the neck and throat.Neck cranks, twists and wrenches can also be put in this category but not strikes to these areas. They would come under the heading of 'Atemi waza.'


Never use any of the described methods without professional instruction and supervision plus knowledge of resuscitation. If you choose to use a strangle or choke in a street self defence situation. Be sure you are justified. It is good practice to have knowledge of the recovery position.

Don't fool around with these holds. Treat them with respect and only use them when you have no other options open to you. Train hard but train safe.

Kevin hopes to soon release a 2 disc DVD set on chokes and strangles.


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