Monday, November 26, 2007

Comfort Level

As a former judoka and current jujutsuka, I've been choked a lot.  More correctly, I've been strangled: had a skilled opponent cut off the blood to my brain until I quietly went to sleep or surrendered.  I've used the techniques a lot, also.  It used to be something of a specialty, since I'm a relatively small guy with strong hands, bony forearms and no fear of being on the ground on my back.  Many an opponent who thought they were winning suddenly slumped to the side.

Sorry if that sounds like a brag.  I'm trying to set context.

Strangles- Vascular Neck Restraints (VNRs) in the jargon of law enforcement- are great tools.  They work regardless of size, psychosis or drugs in the system, something that can't be said for any other force options including handguns.  They are extremely safe, with recovery complete and total in under a minute. They are easy and, though strength helps, small bony arms help more.

However, there have been deaths.  Never in sport.  Only once in martial arts as far as I have been able to determine (funny story, too) but several times in law enforcement. In as many of the cases as I have seen, the cause of death was listed as "asphyxia".  Suffocation.  Hmmmm.  It would seem that if blood was cut off, the cause of death would be listed as "anoxia".  A little more research and I come across a technique in some old DT manuals- the 'bar-arm choke'.  The officers were taught to take a flashlight, a baton or their forearm across the adam's apple and pull back hard.  Yes people died.  Bad technique being taught as proper technique.

The fallout was that about fifteen years ago, maybe more now, the VNRs were forbidden by many agencies.  They dropped off the radar screen.  A few agencies kept them, but classified them as "Deadly Force" and I have had administrators in one such agency tell me that they would rather a threat be shot than strangled- there is more case law supporting shooting.

For the last few years we have been given cautious permission to teach these techniques.  The officers get an extra safety briefing, a policy briefing and probably more information on physiology than they want.  Then they practice them on the instructors.

This is where is gets weird. I will get, in a normal class, forty strangles, eight chokes and eight neck cranks (all lethal force, right?  So no need to exclude spine or tracheal attacks as long as the students know the differences, the consequences and can choose conscientiously).  This is just a day for me and I encourage the class to get close, watch my eyes and skin color changes, apply more power, experiment with hand placement...and their eyes are wide with fear.  Not all, but a significant number are extremely creeped out.

The instructors are safe.  We know what we are doing.  Further, we are the only ones with sufficient experience to say, "Yes, this is safe."

So where is the fear coming from?  Is it so natural to be afraid of something you know nothing about?  Isn't part of the purpose of teaching to take cues from others about safety and significance?

A friend recently commented that I am in a place in my personal exploration where I am off the map, out in the margins where it is written: "Here be Dragons." That doesn't bother me much, because until I touch one for myself I don't know that dragons are bad.  Maybe I can't understand the student's fear because 'the unknown', to me, is simply stuff I don't know yet.  In life, most of the unknown has turned out pretty cool once you get to know it.


Steve Perry said...
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Steve Perry said...

If I might, a possibility: You know that chokes are safe, applied as they are supposed to be applied. But to somebody who remembers reading about that karate-expert security guard who was choked out in a 7-Eleven years ago in Portland and who died, it might be that the consequences of such an action and the worry about it ring louder than your assurances of what you know is true.

What if I accidentally kill this guy? How's that gonna look in my jacket?

And everybody who has gone to a spy or kung fu or war movie has, at one time, seen the Hero skulk up behind somebody, throw an arm around his neck, and blap! the guy is dead.

Yeah, it's just a movie, but it's like a lot of those bullshit images, the dances with knives, the shotgun round that blows a guy through a plate glass window. Lot of folks believe this stuff.

You are wading against a stream of this bad input. A student is apt to think, "Well, you say you know what your are doing, but ..." he's got all that garbage floating around in his head. Maybe you should address all that first, get it out and show them it ain't so ...

Anonymous said...

I think it's absolutely natural to be afraid of things you know nothing about, especially if they have the potential to cause harm. Sounds like you've had so much experience with these techniques that it doesn't even faze you anymore, and you know strangles intimately, but that four inches between the head and shoulders is still pretty unexplored territory for most people.

Molly said...

Several years ago I taught simple massage techniques to PT students. When it came to the neck, I had the most difficult time getting these students to pick up the head and move it around. They were all positive that they were going to break someone's neck, or cause permanent arterial or nerve damage. My supervisor decided that these techniques were too advanced, and we stuck with gentle effleurage in prone, a largely useless, "feel good" technique.