How to survive a strangling?
October 16, 2008 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Someone sneaks up behind you and wraps a rope or belt around your neck to choke you. What is the best way to survive? [Yes, I watch too many violent movies]

e.g. (warning: violent)

In movies you typically see the victim grabbing at their neck, but that never seems to work. I'm wondering if there are better options and what the specific tactics and risks are.
posted by hihowareyou to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Heel to the shin, downward scraping motion, hard as you can.

If you can get an arm/hand up before the get it all the way around your neck you might get some leverage - they'll have your arm tangled up in the cord rather than just your neck.

Otherwise, do the heel - shin thing, throw in an eye-gouge or elbow to the kidneys if you have enough room.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:12 PM on October 16, 2008

This shows how to defend a rear strangle hold, and I'm sure that it doesn't vary too much for a belt/rope strangle.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 1:18 PM on October 16, 2008

A self-defense instructor once advised turning your head to the side, so the choking force would be on muscle/tendon instead of the windpipe itself, allowing you to breathe shallow and contemplate your next move. The example was of a person using their arm to lock your neck, though, not a rope.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:19 PM on October 16, 2008

I saw a demo of a self-defense move for this type of thing. It was amazingly simple.

The attackee simply raised both arms straight in the air then spun quickly towards the attacker. The arms broke the hold, whether by garrote or hands. It also put the attackee in position to go on the offensive.
posted by trinity8-director at 1:29 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Run backwards, into the nearest wall if there is one, or until the momentum knocks them down.
posted by fire&wings at 1:30 PM on October 16, 2008

In my I'm A Ninja dreams, I reach back and grab their wrists and, holding onto those, jump up and do a backflip and come down behind him, which gets my head out and now I've got his arms. Ho HO! Who's the attacker now?!
posted by Askr at 1:33 PM on October 16, 2008 [18 favorites]

In my not-too-ninja-ish martial arts training, we had a zillion techniques that start off with being strangled: all defense techniques featured the same starting motion ... turn your head to the side. After that, it opens up a bit: tucking your chin "under" to take off some of the force, then things like heel stomping, groin thumping, sudden drops to your knees, etc. A sudden drop would be less effective with a rope, obviously.
posted by adipocere at 1:39 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you need to break your attacker's hold on the rope and can get to his hands, pull on his pinkies. Anytime someone has grabbed me, I've gone for the pinkies, and people simply cannot keep a grip when that finger is being pulled back.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:47 PM on October 16, 2008

They way I've always heard to do it is (like Baby_Balrog said) to take the side of your foot, scrape it down their shin, and slam it into the in-step.
posted by Deflagro at 1:47 PM on October 16, 2008

The best way to survive is that your colleague watching you from a safe distance through a Barrett's scope explodes your assailant's head with .50BMG goodness. Then you can comb his brains out of your hair as you look down at his neck-stump and shout "Choke me, motherfucker?! Choke ME?!"

More generally, your partner is your best defense. Unless he's the one strangulizing you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:03 PM on October 16, 2008 [7 favorites]

A self-defense instructor once advised turning your head to the side, so the choking force would be on muscle/tendon instead of the windpipe itself, ...The example was of a person using their arm to lock your neck, though, not a rope.

This could be worse, not better, for a whole class of chokes that rely on crushing the carotid and/or jugular, rather than the windpipe.
posted by rodgerd at 2:10 PM on October 16, 2008

The shin thing works great if the attacker is standing close to you. Not so good if he/she is standing a bit back from you.

In what ridiculously little jiujitsu training I've had, the instructions for someone trying to choke you from behind (with hands, not with a garrotte, FWIW) were as follows:
1) Stay calm.
2) If they're close to you, hit them as hard as you can in the stomach with your elbow. They will double over, breaking their grip and allowing you to either get away from them or take them down with a hip throw.
If they're standing a bit back from you, take a step back and swing your extended arms around to thump them in the ribs. Once you've broken your attacker's grip, you can take them down or run from them.

And rule numero uno, according to my renshi: don't just stand there like an idiot. Do something, even if you don't remember any techniques on the spot.
posted by LN at 2:17 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

See, this is why I have a dog. (Not they are helpful if someone uses poison or gas or bombs....)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:42 PM on October 16, 2008

I'm sure not any kind of martial arts expert but a couple things I've learned that stops an attack right away:

Slam your head backwards. A broken nose stops most fights - there's just too much blood and it hurts a lot.

Groin shots. Reach for some genitals and squeeze as hard as you can and do not stop until the police force you to.

Reach back if you can (or turn or whatever) and stick your thumbs in their eyes - squeeze as hard as you can until stuff pops. Its gross, but it works. People with ruptured eyeballs dont fight back. If you are woman with long nails, this is even better, try and reach back and even if you cant see them, just start mauling their face.

And as mentioned, a strike to the foot hurts a lot and can distract them. Then start the mauling and eye-gouging. And run.
posted by elendil71 at 3:01 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thrash your head back in a desperate search for their nose.

Kick your heels up to find their groin, kneecaps, shins, even stomp their toes if you can.

Try and elbow them in the stomach or ribs.

Turn around.

Reach back with your hands to find their eyeballs.

Throw your assailant off-guard with an out-of-place question: "Do you prefer chunky, or extra smooth?"*

*This might not work.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:10 PM on October 16, 2008

Reach for your weapon of choice, which you are carrying concealed (legally), say thank you to Charlton Heston (perhaps as you pry it from his cold dead hands) and pull the trigger.
I recommend a 9mm Glock 19, but that is just because it's what I have available. Others have their opinions.

You may turn your head sideways while you're at it if you want to.
Remember to tell the police that you were in genuine fear for your life as you did all this.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 3:12 PM on October 16, 2008

I was told (albeit in a self-defense class that I took when I was like, 12) that the best thing to do is to stamp as forcefully as possible on to the top of the assailant's foot. This should cause a lot of pain as it will break bones if done correctly. If this is impossible then elbowing the stomach or grabbing the groin (if it's a male assailant) is a good option. I think the bottom line, like LN says is to do something. I like this question btw.
posted by ob at 3:42 PM on October 16, 2008

In Marathon Man, the CIA operative played by Roy Scheider hears the garrote as it is unsheathed behind him. With lightning reflexes, he inserts his hand between the wire and his neck, forming a barrier.

The garrote bites deep into his hand, but he's able to recover and fight off (and kill) the assailant.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:20 PM on October 16, 2008

The reason actors grab their throat is because they're grabbing the other actor in a bit of stage combat "I'm flailing for my life" trickery. (5 second stage combat: To drag someone by thier hair convincingly grab thier hair, the victim grags your wrists, you then drag them around by thier arms, but it appears to the audience that they are being pulled by the hair.) And long fight scenes with cool moves are more fun than real life fights.

If they're trying to kill you, anything goes. Since they're right behind you and both of thier hands are busy, you pretty much control the situation if you don't panic. The mentioned shin scrape is great. If they're oriented correctly, smashing thier face with your head is also good, but yah know, it's your life here, so fight dirty. Do all of these things. Plus reach back, grab their head, insert thumbs into eye sockets and crush. Grab testicles and twist. Apply elbow pummeling to their ribs.

If they're still trying to choke you after that, you might want to not piss off robots from the future.
posted by Ookseer at 5:47 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

In high school somebody choked me from behind. I slammed my head back as hard as I could and shattered his nose. It was terribly effective.
posted by substrate at 7:03 PM on October 16, 2008

I don't mean to hijack hihow's thread, but this question and the responses has me wondering...why don't more people "fight back" when they're attacked? Is it just because they panic or go into a state of shock? My intent is absolutely not to blame the victim, but (for example) in watching TV shows like I Survived and a woman is being held hostage over the course of hours and forced to perform oral sex on her attacker, it always makes me wonder - why not just bite down, very hard? Even if he has threatened you against such a maneuver, won't he be in too much pain to react if you do chomp his junk as hard as you can?
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:05 PM on October 16, 2008

Basic lines we teach in self defense (in which there are no rules, no fighting fair, and no honor):
Stomp, scream, poke, grab, twist.

Stomp. Not on the top of the foot, but on the toes. With your heel. Always with your heel and always on the toes. I have seen grown, inebriated men laugh off a pointed heel to the groin. I have never seen anyone take a good toe stomping. Crippling pain + inability to stand up = win. You back INTO him, not away from him. You move move move don't stop moving, while you're stomping on the motherfucker's toes.

Screaming should help throw him off, if he's not a trained killer.

If you can grab his hands, you pull them down across your breast. You might not be able to, so instead you crouch DOWN and move BACK. Fast. As you're doing this, you are bringing your head forward and then BACK as hard as you can. SNAP. Do it right and you'll break his nose or crush his eyesocket. You might wind up with his tooth in your skull, but you're fighting for your life here, right? If you come up from low enough, chances are he'll bite off his tongue.

From here, your reaching for eyeballs or testicles. You're clawing, poking, ripping out his fucking eyes. If you grab his junk, grab his balls not his penis. I'm assuming he's a man, if he's not...then well, do something else. You're not hitting his balls, you're grabbing them, and then you're twisting them.

Somewhere in this he lets you go. Now you're either a) going to kill him. And I mean kill him. No mercy. Or b) you're running away screaming for help. Pick a winner.

Valid alternatives:
1. Shoot your arms straight up in the air, turn 1/4 turn to left or right, bring down the arm at the elbow, crashing into his arm, his bicep, or his face. Done correctly you will break the grasp or at least the hold, you'll get another breath.

2. Dive to the ground on your knees if you can, he'll be pulled off balance. You hook his elbow and execute a wicked shoulder roll, which is immediately followed up with a knee or the hardest kick you can muster directly to the side of his head.

3. One of my favorite ways to escape the "From behind attack" is actually a twist/trip which results with my elbow on your adams apple.

Should you manage to fall without injuring him, GET ON YOUR BACK. DO NOT CRAWL AWAY ON YOUR HANDS AND KNEES. On your back. Legs up, knees bent. You're kicking at him, spinning, not letting him get behind you. You're aiming for major joints, knees especially. If he comes into you, you're lifting him up or pushing away. He reaches down, you grab him TOWARDS you and roll him to the side or kick him in the face. You have the advantage here. After he falls you decide whether or not you're attacking or running. I suggest attacking so the mutherfucker is still there when the 5-0 roll up.

Remember, in self defense there are no rules or fighting fair. See a brick? Use it. See a branch? Take it. Biting, pulling hair, screaming, and stomping are all valid.
posted by TomMelee at 8:22 PM on October 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

Tom has a point. My father has been in street brawls, and when I begged, pleaded and cajoled for self-defence classes, he gave me a hair-raising piece of advice. In a street fight, only one person walks away. If you wind up in that situation, you'd better be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the person walking away is you.

Screaming is always good, whether you are a man or woman. Not only does it attract passerby and/or police, but it keeps you breathing, which you need if you're going to keep moving throughout the fight. Nothing will sap your strength faster than unconsciously holding your breath during a fight.

And just to address Oriole's question about why people don't fight back - I suspect it's a mixture of shock and fear that paralyzes some people. I'm also of the opinion that we're socialized to think that fighting like a wounded animal is "above" us somehow - that members of civilized societies don't do those sorts of things. So people aren't willing to get their hands dirty in a fight. Just my two cents, though.
posted by LN at 5:57 AM on October 17, 2008

One thing to keep in mind is that outside the movies, there is a very real chance that you have about 5 seconds before losing consciousness.
posted by Nothing at 6:29 AM on October 17, 2008

Some reasons people don't fight back...

Being Indecisive - In your head it's easy to decide you're going to rake your foot down their shin. In reality people tend to panic. Instead of committing to a strong, specific move, they'll lash out indiscriminately in all directions. There's a word for that: flailing. It's not very effective.

Being Reactive - If somebody grabs your throat, the natural reaction is to try and pry their hands away. Your throat hurts, so you focus your attention on that, instead of attacking them on a different - and therefore unexpected - and therefore more successful front.

Being Squeamish - It's easy to say 'bite his junk off', it's incredibly hard to do. (Um, psychologically not physically.) Firstly you're potentially creating further danger for yourself. If you try that on your attacker and don't completely incapacitate him first go, he will be enraged, lurch after you and kill you. And you're not in a position where you can run away easily. (If you were, you'd have done it already, right?) Plus it takes time to psyche yourself up to doing something so far outside your normal experience. A skilled attacker will keep you off balance and not give you the chance to psyche yourself up like that.

Being Slow - As mentioned in the above post, if you are too slow to react, too slow to realise the gravity of the situation or too slow in the sense that you telegraph your moves then you're toast before you even have a chance to fight back.

Being Unprepared - Nothing adequately prepares you to fight for your life apart from by doing it, but some people are particularly badly prepared. It blows my mind that we live in a society which encourages girls to wear impractical clothes, to be conciliatory rather than agressive, to consider aggressive sports and violent films unfeminine, then blames them when they can't throw out a lifetime of conditioning in a split second to fight off a rapist. (Um, that was a general rant and not aimed at you Oriole.)
posted by the latin mouse at 9:18 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oriole: people don't fight back because they have been taught their entire lives not to fight. Modern society requires submission to authority from its subjects, so it's not surprising that most people submit when met by other sources of authority -- submission is the single most effective survival method modern people have, except when it's not, and situations in which the latter is true are far rarer than the former. Thus, surrender is the first thing most people reach for, even when struggle might be more effective.

There's an expression amongst self-defense trainers: "fight the way you train, train the way you fight". That is to say, people tend to react instinctively in life-or-death situations, so the best training involves practicing in a realistic manner until the desired behavior is instinctive. For most of us, our lives are essentially training us not to fight, so it's no surprise that people react that way when attacked. Breaking this passive mode usually requires training and practice to re-program the mind and body.
posted by vorfeed at 10:18 AM on October 17, 2008

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