Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions
So, you know those things you think you know? Or better yet, you know that quote by Mark Twain?
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
I am here to tell you about the dreaded choke hold. It’s not the end game most writers think it is.
You know what I mean. When the bad guy gets his hands around the woman’s (and sometimes even a man’s–hey, strangulation must be pretty respectable if it’s done to men, too) throat. That’s it, right? Unless someone else comes to save the damsel in distress or, sometimes, she finds something conveniently to hand to smash into his head.
I was watching Alias when I thought of this post, but the chokehold comes up at least once a season in any TV show with violence. Alias is only egregious because Sydney is supposed to be a highly trained, deadly CIA agent. We see her fight, and win, many times during each episode (yay, that’s great! Women who know how to fight!). She knows some kind of martial art. She knows how to use weapons and do other spy things. She’s kind of like a female James Bond. So why, the moment she’s in a chokehold, does she fail to do what any trained, professional fighter would do to break the hold?!
(I’ll tell you my suspicions: 1. rape culture 2. most writers don’t actually practice a martial art/take self defense classes 3. most TV writers are male, why would they question what they know? 4. everyone else is doing it, it must be true 5. writers can be lazy (I can say that because I’m a writer and it’s soooo easy to be lazy))
But back to Alias, Sydney and chokeholds. First, let’s have an anatomy lesson: elbows bend.
End of lesson.
Getting out of a choke hold is often one of the first things you learn in a self defense class, probably because it’s incredibly easy to learn and therefore gives students a feeling of power and control. And because any able bodied person can do it and many physically handicapped people can too. As suggested by the review above, it depends on anatomy and physics rather than body strength, agility or fancy martial arts knowledge.
If someone has you in this position, what you need to do is shoot one arm straight up into the air, rotate your body sharply away from your upraised arm, and bring that arm down, as hard as you can, on the other person’s elbows. Remember that anatomy lesson? Their elbows MUST bend under your blow.
That’s hard to picture from the description so I’m linking to a random video I found on the internet. Elbow down self defense for choke hold.
You are also weakening their hold on your neck by turning your body away from them and you’re ensuring that you get both their elbows, not just one. Now, as with all self defense moves, the more power and strength you put into it the better. And just because you’ve broken out of the choke hold doesn’t mean the other person will automatically stop trying to hurt you. Follow through is essential.
Keep in mind, I am not bad-mouthing the heavy thing to the head tactic. I just want to tell you the more direct route.
For Alias, this was bad, lazy writing. Sydney would know this move and she would have used it (or some other similar move instead of hanging out until the last possible second and searching through his clothes or whatever she does(. For all the other TV shows and movies that use this? BORING. A lot of women know self defense. A lot of women take martial arts. A lot of women save their own lives when they are attacked, whether that’s by a stranger or someone known to them. It’s not the 1960s Mad Men world anymore. Wouldn’t it be cool if some of the women on TV reflected our reality? Wouldn’t it be cool if we all knew how to protect ourselves?
But hey, if even super competent heroes like Sydney can’t get out of a chokehold, what ordinary woman could, right? Why should you—yes, you, sitting there reading this—think you could? Learned helplessness, you say!? Excuse me while I go practice some self defense.