Some time ago, I shared my frustration with a fight scene I saw on television. (Yeah, go figure, right?) The scene showed our hero valiantly fighting a bad guy with direct and aggressive blocks and strikes… until the bad buy got his hands around her throat. Then that supposedly well-trained and aggressive fighter seemed to lose all training and sense, and battled the person choking her by grabbing his wrists to attempt pulling his hands away.
Now, a situation like that—a trained fighter demonstrating sudden incompetence and/or panic—is totally possible if the fighter never received proper training for a suddenly-changed situation. And many martial arts schools don’t teach how to set or escape a choke, and some that do teach them do so poorly. But in the instance mentioned above, when the character’s extensive training had been established through backstory and on-screen action, the abrupt shift from good fighter to startled victim on the floor happened so another character could arrive to save the day.
That’s not bad fight-scene writing. That’s bad writing: a storyline that sacrificed being true to the character for the sake of a forced plot point.
Being choked is a frightening thing. Really frightening. It’s the training experience most likely to put my adult students on edge, and I plan accordingly by including time to establish comfort and trust. But even when folks have trained together for awhile, permitting someone to apply pressure to the neck kicks off all sorts of adrenaline-fueled aversions. I’ve had students on the verge of tears, students pace the mat to calm down, break into nervous laughter, or close their eyes and take deep breaths as a trusted peer sets hands at their throat or tightens an arm around their neck. Chokes set off all our THIS IS NOT RIGHT STOP I MUST FIGHT RUN MAKE IT GO AWAY triggers.
And with good reason. Some well-set chokes can incapacitate a person in seconds. Some can cause a lasting and/or fatal injury in even less time, even though death itself might take unconsciousness and death take longer to occur. There isn’t much time to escape, and the stakes are high if you don’t.
There is no tap-out in real life.
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