Friday, July 27, 2012

Techniques: Rear Pushing Choke Defense

Some of the first techniques that students learn tend to be choke defenses. This is true in my current gym, Rhodes Fusion Fitness, and it was true in my Krav Maga training during freshman and sophomore year at UChicago. These techniques give a valuable introduction to both the body mechanics of self-defense (gross motor movements, short-circuiting, targeting, using momentum, etc.) and to the way in which self-defense is trained today (partners pair up and simulate attacks/defenses at ~50% speed, high repetitions, building sensitivity to hits, etc.). Some students are initially squeamish about making contact with a partner's neck. Choke defenses throw students in so they can build; if you are uncomfortable with choking or being choked, you are definitely uncomfortable with kicking to the groin or elbowing a collarbone.

This particular choke defense is one of my favorites. It has some sound body mechanics involved, is not strength dependent, and incorporates a brutal strike that has a high probability of putting an attacker down. I must admit that the attack itself, a rear pushing choke, is probably one of the more uncommon moves in an assailant's arsenal. But it is good to be prepared, and the fundamentals of this defense can apply in many other situations.

THE ATTACK
Rear pushing choke. An attacker grasps your neck from behind, one or two-handed, and pushes you straight ahead. The attack's name is a bit of a misnomer because it is hard to suffocate under a pushing choke from your back. Their weight is pressing on the back of your neck, not your windpipe, so your airflow should be (relatively) free. Instead, the primary danger is falling and/or being moved to a secondary location. It is not the tool of a brawler looking to rumble. Rear chokes are for predators looking for targets. The worst case scenarios include a faceplant into the concrete with your opponent crashing atop  you. Or a slam into a backalley wall. Or being hurled into a waiting van. If you find yourself in this position, a grizzly end awaits at the end of the attack.

POINTS TO CONSIDER
  1. Your attacker might be trying to throw you into a car, ram you into a wall, topple you to the ground, or maybe even choke you with an admittedly inefficient grip. The defense needs to work against all of these possibilities because you won't have time to figure out which objective your assailant has in mind. 
  2. Anyone who tries to choke you from behind is probably larger or stronger than you. At least, they think that they are larger and stronger than you. This is a big man strategy, much like a bear hug or a tackle. Our defense needs to work regardless of strength and size differences. 
  3. A rear attack means that you can't see your attacker. This seems like an obvious point, but even veteran self-defense students and teachers forget it. If you can't see your attacker, you can't see a lot of targets: Eye gouges, ear strikes, pressure points, etc. This severely limits your responses.
IN-DEPTH DEFENSE
The technique here is a modified version of the Haganah defense I learned at Rhodes Fusion Fitness. Ultimately, any technique can (and should) get modified with practice. In this case, one of the strikes was neither comfortable nor consistent. There is nothing sacred about any one technique. Admittedly, there are some relatively sacred principles that techniques should conform to (Can they be executed under stress? Do they work at full speed? Will they work on larger/stronger opponents? etc.) As long as you remember these points, however, you should always be looking for techniques that you can change to fit your own needs.
(All directions assume you are right-handed; sorry lefties. Switch the sides around if you prefer your left)
  1. You feel hands around your throat and a forward pushing motion from behind. Stutter step in the direction of the push. You will take a rapid series of steps, the exact number of which depends on the force of your push, to regain balance and prevent yourself from falling over. They are similar steps to those you take when you stumble on ice or trip on the sidewalk. 
  2. After a few balancing steps, plant yourself in a strong athletic stance with your right leg forward and your left leg back. Your lower body should resemble a front stance from Tae Kwon Do, although not as pronounced. (The image below is not quite a front stance worthy of a black belt, but it would work for this technique. For our purposes, imagine that his right leg is forward, not his left).
    Your stance gives you a moment of balance. Bend your torso forward so your spine is almost in line with the left leg. If you stand up too straight, your legs are stable, but your heavy upper body can still tip you around. Your attacker will push hard and continue to try and move you . You need to have your body leaning forward so you can distribute weight over your legs.
  3. SIMULTANEOUSLY with step 2, shoot your right arm out ahead of you with your palm flat. Do your best Superman pose. Your arm should be in line with your spine (and your rear leg), at a roughly 45 degree angle to the ground. You might feel foolish when you execute this step in open space. Try it again with your partner pushing you into a wall. This outstretched palm and arm will stop you from hitting any surfaces s/he tries to push you up against; you do not want to get pinned down. It also helps with balance. Even if it seems silly at first, you need to program it into your muscle memory in case you should ever stare down a wall in this position.
    (Note: Steps 1-3 happen quickly and almost concurrently. In self-defense lingo, we would call this 'establishing a base'. Without a balanced base, you are likely to topple as your attacker continues his forward momentum).
  4. You can't sustain a balanced posture for very long against a committed push. Once you have your base, take a forward step with your rear leg. As you do so, turn into your dominant leg and step back with it, spinning your body into the attacker. You are effectively switching your stance and direction; if your right leg was forward as you faced north, your right leg will now be forward as you face south (and into your attacker).
  5. As you spin, slam towards your opponent's head with a high right elbow. Your point of contact will be either the point of the elbow or just behind the elbow at the base of your tricep. This is a devastating blow that can easily concuss the attacker in one hit. Not only are you turning into the attack with your entire body weight, but your assailant has his own forward momentum. He is charging to meet your elbow head on. Literally. You want to strike with your elbow as (or immediately after) your right foot lands. After you hit, you will be more or less facing your attacker with your right elbow buried in his neck, temple, or jaw. This strike will stun your opponent, at the very least giving you a second to move to the next step.
    (Note 1: Students and partners often ask me how you know where the attacker's head is if he is behind you. You don't, but you DO know where is arms are. His hands are still around your throat and he is still standing right behind you. You want to use his arm as a rail to guide your own elbow into his head. You can't see the target, but you can feel all of the steps along the way)
    (Note 2: This is the modified strike from the original technique. Haganah teaches you to backfist, although it does leave room to modify the move if you want. The backfist doesn't work for me against the pushing choke, because the fist always lands behind the attacker's head. They are pushing into you even after you establish your base, and as you spin, they tend to keep on moving. But an elbow will hit them even if they fall into you turn)
  6. If you hit your opponent hard enough or in a vulnerable part of their head, the defense might just be over. Self-defense, however, isn't really about magical, one-hit death punches, so you need to prepare for a more realistic finish. After you hit, keep your elbow planted in your attacker's neck. With that right hand, grab the back of their shirt and dig the tip of your elbow into their chin. 
  7. With your left hand, lock up the assailant's right arm. Grab just above the elbow joint and hug their arm into your chest. The attacker's elbow joint hould should be trapped in the crook of your own left elbow as you pin it tight to your chest. Done properly, this will lock out the joint and prevent them from engaging their right arm.
    (Note: In the Haganah system, steps 6 and 7 are called "getting the reference point". This is just another term for a clinch or hold. There are a number of different reference points in the curriculum, and the goal of most techniques is to get your attacker into one of these reference points/clinches/holds.)
  8. Fire a series of knees to your locked down attacker. Aim for the thigh, the knee, the groin, or the ribs if flexibility permits. Avoid targeting the stomach. Overweight attackers and strong attackers might not even feel it, and if your knee is strong enough to penetrate a cushion of fat or a shield of abdominal muscles, then it is definitely strong enough  to damage a more vulnerable target.
  9. Push the attacker away and to the ground. Run.
    (Note: There are a lot of ways to end an encounter. Pushing out and running is by far the easiest. Other options include an incapacitation with an ankle break, a ground restraint, and 'taking a hostage' if against multiple foes.)
THOUGHTS
Definitely need to add pictures to these posts. Regarding the technique, the most important steps are definitely 1-5. Even if you forget 6-9 and just keep striking with your elbow, you have a good chance of surviving the encounter and taking down your attacker.
This is a great technique for women to learn, because the attack itself is one that a predator would deploy on a female. I am not suggesting that males will never face a rear pushing choke. Women are just a more likely target for a rear attack, especially from a stronger adversary, and this technique is well-suited to dealing with that. The first five steps of the defense are all about using the opponent's force against them. The stronger they push, the easier it is for you to spin an elbow into their face. Even if they initially have a tight grip on your neck, the force of the turn is enough to loosen it.

TRAINING THE TECHNIQUE
  1. The attacking partner needs to push with controlled aggression. If they aren't pushing with force, then the defending partner can't work on stutter stepping into a balanced stance.
  2. IMPORTANT: Make sure your partner keeps pushing you even after you stutter step and establish a base. I have seen a lot of attacking partners who see the defender get a base and then stop pushing. Do you think that a real attacker will see you establish a base and then think to themselves "Well shit, they established a base, so I shouldn't even bother pushing anymore!"? Test the base every time.
    (Note: Every time I teach this technique or see it taught, there are always at least two students who aren't honestly pushing after the base is established.
  3. As an attacking partner, do not let your arm naturally fall into the lockout position. Keep it neutral and let the defender grab it and clinch it on his own. 
  4. Get pushed into a wall. This teaches you to respect the outstretched "superman" hand.

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